Local artists share entries for this year's ArtPrize competition

BIG RAPIDS – The streets of Grand Rapids soon will be lined with sizable sculptures, massive paintings and interactive exhibits. It’s time again for ArtPrize and when area residents head to Grand Rapids to check out the annual art competition, they may spy several pieces created by their neighbors.

“I’m really excited,” said Kim Froese, of Newaygo. “I don’t know how people are going to respond to my piece – I’m excited to see their reactions. It’s just a new adventure.”

ArtPrize takes place from Wednesday, Sept. 24 to Sunday, Oct. 12, at a multitude of venues throughout downtown Grand Rapids. Of the 1,536 entries, several were submitted by artists from Mecosta, Osceola and Newaygo counties. From photography to sculptures, this year’s crop of local artists showcases unique talents.

“It’s fun. It’s really a unique experience,” said Robert Routley, a pyrographic artist. “You get to meet all these different artists from around the world. It’s different from, for example, going up to Artworks, where you meet more local artists. ArtPrize gives you a chance to meet people from all over the world.”

This year, Routley, of Stanwood, John Battle, of Paris, Amber Jackson, of Big Rapids, and Froese all have entered the competition. For Routley and Battle, this is their second year competing. For Froese and Jackson, this is their first year.

“I have been to ArtPrize before and I think it’s awesome,” Jackson said. “It takes people from all over the world and let’s us see their work. I’m excited to participate this year – I just want exposure for my piece. I can’t think of a single person not impacted by a cancer diagnosis. I hope to put a smile on someone’s face with my project.”

Jackson, an oncology nurse at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City, is entering a series of photographs, titled “Seasons - Journey of a Cancer Survivor,” showcasing her patient, Teresa, in remission from ovarian cancer. A lifelong lover of art, Jackson has had the idea for this project for about six years.

“I’ve always wanted to do a seasons-themed picture series,” Jackson said. “The idea evolved over time. There were plenty of patients I would have loved to do with this, but it seemed with Teresa all the elements fell into place.”

September also is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which makes the timing that much better, she said.

“A lot of people have trouble seeing the positive side of cancer,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping this piece shows there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a privilege to see as a chemo nurse. Cancer doesn’t mean death and it doesn’t have to be the defining moment of your life. There is life after cancer.”

Similarly, Froese also hopes her entry will raise awareness on a subject she is passionate about. Froese has been making art with hornet nests since 2011 after examining the many colors and intricate designs the nests can showcase.

“We’ve lost so many of our honeybees and if we keep losing our honeybees, we’re going to need our hornets to pick up the slack, so to speak,” she said. “Everybody thinks they’re evil little things and they are not. God made them for a reason and they have a purpose. We just need to realize that if they’re not bothering anyone, there is no reason to kill them.”

For her year-long project, titled “Face It - You Need Us,” she’s taken 90 hornet nests collected from her property and friends and molded them over many masks, which represent family, friends and other people she admires, like Sammy Davis Jr.

She hopes people will walk away from her piece with a little more understanding.

“I hope people will leave the bees alone, appreciate what they do and wonder about what colors are found in the nests,” Froese said. “I have found every color except for purple in these nests.”

While Froese and Jackson hope to raise awareness about issues they’re passionate about,

Routley hopes to draw attention to an art form itself.

“My hope is to get people to accept wood burning or pyrography as an art form,” he said. “People think of wood burning as a craft. Then you look on the Internet and there are a lot of people doing the same thing. It’s a unique art form.”

Routley has entered ArtPrize both years after winning a contest through Artists Creating Together, which awards the winner

entry into ArtPrize. His piece, titled “Birds of a Feather,” features different birds in fall settings. He created the piece through wood burning and used exterior house stains to color it. The piece took him about a year and a half to complete.

While Routley’s work is very detailed, Battle prefers making abstract art.

“I did learn how to paint photo-realistic pieces while studying commercial art at Ferris State University,” he said. “I prefer a style that is more expressive – like a child coloring with a box of crayons.”

His acrylic painting, titled “Blue Coffee Cup,” was inspired by a dish set he bought in a thrift store, which featured a Lenox China design. Like Routley, this is Battle’s second time at ArtPrize.

“I hope people who see it think it’s a nice color and design and that it’s visually interesting,” Battle said. “For art, to me, that’s what it needs to be. I don’t think still lifes have a deep meaning. It’s most or less decorative art.”

All the artists are excited for people to see their work while experiencing what others have to offer at the competition.

“It’s exciting to see what other people do,” Froese said. “I can’t wait to see some of the other pieces that have been made. I know how they’ll feel about their piece and how much they put into it of themselves. I will appreciate that.”