GOING FOR THE BIG PRIZE: Locals participate in prestigious ArtPrize contest

GRAND RAPIDS — Local entrants in the tenth annual ArtPrize contest found inspiration from a variety of different sources; from images that may not seem apparent on the surface, to the books in a local library, to a quiet man going for a walk.
Richard Piippo of Big Rapids, Christine Kulikamp of Big Prairie Township and students at Reed City Area Public Schools have their work displayed at what organizers call the most-attended public art event in the world.

ArtPrize — which opens Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 7 — expects to draw more than 500,000 visitors and will award a $200,000 prize awarded entirely by public vote and another $200,000 prize awarded by a jury of art experts. The event is free to attend. For more information, visit artprize.org.

Richard Piippo, of Big Rapids, poses beside his work “Monolith.” The piece will be on display at the tenth annual ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids this fall. (Courtesy photo)

“MONOLITH”

On the surface, Richard Piippo’s work “Monolith” may not look like much but an imposing, black box. The free-standing exhibit is 7-feet-tall, 4-feet-wide and is painted all-black.

But Piippo invites viewers to look a little closer — and even put their hands on “Monolith.” When they do, the heat from their bodies will show images underneath the black paint that he hopes will provoke thought and inspiration.

“Most of what I do in my professional life has been the result of on-the-job training at Ferris State,” said Piippo, who has worked at the university’s photo services department for more than 20 years. “When I started off, it was mostly working in darkrooms. Now, I fly drones. That got me correlating the use of multiple materials in my different works. Just being able to use a range of stuff to make something that didn’t exist before, whether electronic or physical, is nice.”

“Monolith” is a wood-frame structure that incorporates automotive-grade painting materials, as well as a unique powder pigment. The pigment, Piippo said, is temperature-reactive. When the thermometer reads at a level below 86.5 degrees Fahrenheit, “Monolith” appears to be entirely black. But when it’s hotter than that — say, for example, when a 98-degree person presses their hand against the piece — the paint turns transparent.

Piippo takes advantage of that transparency in his work by putting images below the surface of the paint. His goal, he said, is to show pictures that will inspire feelings and opinions toward sensitive subjects.

At the highest level of “Monolith” — an area that only adults should be able to reach — are graphic pictures from concentration camps during World War II and the American slavery era. In the middle are images from school shootings.

Near the bottom are images of families with children. Some of the pictures contain barcodes, which, when scanned by a smartphone camera, take the viewer to bias-free reference websites that provide information on what is depicted.

“I didn’t provide any context to the photos — they’re just photos. More important to me than making a statement is allowing the viewer to develop their own opinions,” Piippo said. “What I want all ages to do is receive an emotion and interpret why they feel that emotion.”

“Monolith” is on display at Grand Rapids City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW Apt 4.

Christine Kulikamp, of Big Prairie Township, poses beside her watercolor painting, “Ray.” The piece will be on display at the tenth annual ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids this fall. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

“RAY”

Christine Kulikamp meets a lot of interesting people on her travels. She spends her summers at Sarns Resort, near Morley, and winters at the Bit-O-Heaven mobile home park, in Hidalgo County, Texas, near the Mexican border.

Some of those people, she says, she photographs, in order to use the image later for watercolor portraits. That’s how she came to paint a man she only knows as “Ray” — and made a new friend in the process.

“At Bit-O-Heaven, there is a man who people have seen walking around the park for a number of years. They only know him as a guy who wears a hat, looks at the ground as he walks and keeps to himself,” Kulikamp said. “I was outside painting one day and I saw him, so I went over and started talking. He was wonderful to speak with — very intelligent and interesting — so, I asked if I could paint him.”

The process took about two weeks. Kulikamp said she felt little pressure in creating a flattering image of the man — rather, her goal was to accurately tell his story on the canvas. When she showed Ray, his family, and the Bit-O-Heaven community, she said they all liked it, but the greater reward was what came after.

“Now, he walks with his head up. People come up to him, they talk and he smiles. His family became my friends, and that’s what art is all about,” Kulikamp said.

It turns out Ray always had quite a story to tell, Kulikamp said. Now close to 80 years old, he previously worked as an engineer before retirement and has several patents. He still does some work on the side, she said.

“I found out that when Ray was walking around, he was thinking of what to do and how to help people, even as old as he is,” Kulikamp said. “I found that so remarkable — so, the message I’m trying to send with this painting is to never give up on your dreams. If you can do good for society, then do it.”

“Ray” is on display at Sundance Grill and Bar, 151 Ottawa Ave. NW, in Grand Rapids.

Students from Reed City Area Public Schools pose beside their work “Adventure Awaits,” which will be on display at the tenth annual ArtPrize contest this fall. (Courtesy photo)

“ADVENTURE AWAITS”

More than 40 students from three classes at Reed City Area Public Schools teamed up to create “Adventure Awaits,” a stained glass work made in tribute to the printed word.

“Adventure Awaits” — a collaboration between Vicky Krantz’s advanced art class, Sarah Morlock’s world cultures class and Brian Koopman’s shop class — is up for the Youth Collaboration Award, a special exhibit designed to give people under 18 a chance to show off their art chops. Cash prizes will be awarded to schools and nonprofit organizations who participate, based on both a public vote and a jury vote.

Krantz and Morlock explained the students started with a 65-by-35-inch piece of Plexiglas — rectangular in shape, designed to look like a bookshelf. They cut out individually shaped, colorful pieces of glass and attached it to the larger piece, in order to fill the shelf with books.

After that, they used crushed, black-colored glass to fill in the space between the books, giving depth to the piece. Students completed “Adventure Awaits” in about two weeks, using one hour of class time every day in the time span.

Since it was completed in spring, the piece has been hanging in the Reed City Area District Library. Krantz intends to transport it to Grand Rapids this week.

“Early on, we decided we were going to hang it in the library when it was done, so we thought we wanted to do something with a book theme,” Krantz said. “It was interesting to put 40 different heads together and come up with an idea that made sense for everyone. We decided on ‘Adventure Awaits,’ because of the idea that a book can take you anywhere.”

Krantz and Morlock agreed the project was an excellent teaching opportunity for the group.

“We wanted the kids to be able to have that experience, to have something to be proud of. They learned how to work together as a team to accomplish a task,” Morlock said. “We’re really proud of them, and more important, they’re proud of themselves. They know exactly which part of the project they worked on, and they’re happy to point it out to you. They care.”

The teachers say they hope to be able to take their students to see the piece on display at a field trip.

“A lot of the kids don’t have very many opportunities like this to get out of the area, to speak with adults and see art on display,” Krantz said. “They’re learning a lot about taking ownership and pride in what they do, and they’re also learning about art and getting out of their comfort zone.”

“Adventure Awaits” is also on display at Sundance Grill and Bar, 151 Ottawa Ave. NW, in Grand Rapids.

Other local participants at ArtPrize include Abbey Wood of Morley, Marilyn Rutkowski of Canadian Lakes and Jeff Riopelle of LeRoy.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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