Sept. 28 2016 11:22 AM

Local artists make connections at Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize

“Breath,” a life-size metal sculpture of a woman in a victorious pose, was created for this year’s ArtPrize competition by local artists Deborah Fehrenbach, of St. Johns, and Pat Skvarenina, of Owosso.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse
Deborah Fehrenbach is used to making art small enough to wrap around a finger or dangle from an earlobe, but her latest project is large enough to wear jewelry. “Breath,” a 6-foot-tall copper and steel sculpture of a woman, was created by Fehrenbach and Pat Skvarenina for this year’s ArtPrize competition.

“This is my first sculpture and my first collaboration,” Fehrenbach said, “It was a very growing experience.”

ArtPrize, the self-described “radically open, independently organized art competition,” draws an estimated 400,000 people to downtown Grand Rapids over a 19-day period. This year’s event, which kicked off Wednesday and runs through Oct. 9, features 1,453 entries spread across 171 venues, all eligible for a cut of the competition’s $720,000 in prize money. Among those entries are dozens of pieces made by Lansing-area artists. Some are hoping to snag some prize money — or at least make the prestigious short list — while others are content to get some exposure and add a line to their resume.

St. Johns resident Fehrenbach, 54, and Owosso resident Skaverenina, 65, bonded over their love of art. The two have “play dates” where they paint, make pottery or experiment with other types of art. This is the first ArtPrize experience for the duo.

“One of the things we have always wanted to do is a sculpture, and we have always wanted to be in ArtPrize,” Fehrenbach said. “This year, we said ‘We’re just going to do it.’”

The duo started designing the piece in April. While Fehrenbach was confident in her metal-working abilities, she didn’t realize how much work it would take to build something the size of “Breath.” The life-size female figure is made up of small copper plates which were treated to achieve a greenish-blue hue and then attached to a steel frame.

Lansing businesses La Fille Gallery and Luke Landscaping worked together on “The Anchor,” a 25-foot-tall sculpture installed near Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena.
Ty Forquer

“In the last four weeks, we have worked seven days a week — and some very long days,” Fehrenbach said. “The copper alone was over 400 pieces that needed to be patterned and cut to fit. We totally underestimated how much time it would take.”

The completed sculpture, a feminine form with one hand thrusting victoriously in the air, sits in a small park near the JW Marriott hotel. The sculpture represents perseverance — a metaphor that could easily describe the process of making art.

“It’s trying to capture the moment you realize that you have struggled and have overcome — whether it’s physical, health or mental issues — and coming to that point where you know you have survived, you have reached a place that is good,” Fehrenbach said.

While the duo behind “Breath” is hoping their sculpture creates some buzz in this year’s competition, local artist Barbara Hranilovich isn’t interested in the hand-shaking or business card distributing that’s part of winning the popular vote.

“I don’t even care if people vote,” she said. “I’m not that kind of a marketer.”

A veteran commercial illustrator and gallery artist, Hranilovich, 63, is also participating in ArtPrize for the first time.

“There’s so much buzz around it,” she said. “I wanted to see it from the inside out.”

Her work, a 30-by-40-inch acrylic painting called “Deep Deep Woods,” is displayed at Monroe Community Church, an intimate venue well north of ArtPrize’s busy downtown core.

“The smaller venues are more personal,” Hranilovich said. “It’s a more rewarding experience.”

Even for established artists like Hranilovich, ArtPrize represents a chance to connect with art lovers in a different part of the state.

“A lot of people are out looking for art,” she explained. “If people are looking for one piece, maybe they’ll also see your work. They might never have seen it otherwise.”

The event is also a chance for artists from around the world to connect with each other. Joshua Moore, a 32-year-old painter who lives in north Lansing, made an important connection a few years ago while exhibiting at ArtPrize. His work caught the eye of decorated American realist painter Paul Collins, who lives in Grand Rapids.

“He saw my work and immediately took me in as his apprentice,” Moore said. “I’ve been working with him for the last five years. You can definitely see his legacy in the paintings, both in the technique and the substance of the series.”

Moore’s entry, “Copper Ghosts,” is on display at the DeVos Place Convention Center. (Moore and his entry are pictured on this week’s cover.) The series of realistic oil paintings is based on the stories of copper miners from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“The whole series is inspired by the town of Clifton, Mich., and the copper mining industry that sprung up from that town,” he explained. “Clifton was the first profitable copper mine in the U.P. and grew to be a huge cultural phenomenon.”

The town was deserted once the mine was depleted. Today, just a few gravestones and skeletal structures remain to tell visitors of the once-thriving town.

“You walk into the forest, and you find all these tombstones that are returning to nature,” Moore said. “Seeing that, seeing all those names, I felt I had to do a series of paintings to honor the miners and their history in Michigan.”

The paintings range from portraits of the miners to landscapes and even a painting of one of the gravestones.

“I tried to show all sorts of different aspects of the miners’ lives, from them actually in the mine working to their families and events in their lives to mine ruins,” he said. “It’s definitely an ode to the working class.”

Lansing artist Michelle Detering stands under her ArtPrize entry, “Equus,” a set of paintings inspired by wild horses of southern France.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

Photographer and painter Michelle Detering also appreciates the chance to connect with other artists.

“I enjoy being a part of the whole experience,” she said. “I love walking around Art- Prize and checking out the other entries.”

Detering, 42, is participating in her third ArtPrize event. This year’s entry, “Equus,” is a series of three encaustic paintings on display at the Courtyard Marriott hotel. The paintings are based on wild horses Detering saw in southern France. Participating in ArtPrize means a lot of trips to Grand Rapids for the Lansing-based artist, but the result is worth it.

“It does take a lot of work, but I enjoy being a part of the whole experience,” she said. “It’s like a movement of art that’s accessible to everyone. That’s really cool to be a part of.”


Through Oct. 9
Downtown Grand Rapids