Faith-motivated works shine at ArtPrize


“This Little Light of Mine” invites refl ection on childlike faith. Photo by Ben DeMaso.

Art Prize, Grand Rapids’ annual fall art competition, is a place to find not only award-winning art, but work inspired by faith as well. Stretching beyond the “Northern Bible Belt” of Christianity that Grand Rapids has come to represent, Art Prize shows the influence of many different faith traditions on the artists’ work. What began as an uncertain foray into large-scale public art festivals has now become one of the city’s most well known annual events. Covering a huge variety of medias, nearly 1,500 works will be featured this year, coming from 45 different countries. Having so many cultures represented means there are numerous religious traditions displayed at Art Prize 2017.

Originally from India, now Wyoming, Mich., resident Harminder Boparai presented “Blessings” this year. A mixed media piece, his work features a figure kneeling, eyes turned skyward, with a bowl in their hands outstretched.

“The character is asking for a blessing from the person or thing they believe in… such as a god or a universal miracle,” Boparai shared.

Hands can also be outstretched to receive or to give, as they are in Grand Rapids native Paul Kerastas’ “In His Hands.” This piece depicts the traditional Sunday school song, displaying the hands of God, coming through the clouds and holding a polished earth. Paying homage to where he grew up, it is an Americo-centric globe with a twinkle coming from the Midwest.

He said that the hands are simultaneously “showing off” and “protecting” the world.

Jacqueline Gilmore is a Michigan native who has been contributing to Art Prize since 2011. This year she presented “Playing with Fire,”  an oil painting using impasto techniques showing a burning match against a stark black background. Impasto painting consists of thickly layering paint to create a 3-D appearance. Gilmore used this technique to make the match head pop out from the canvas.

“Playing with Fire: to interact with something, [that] if not respected, could become dangerous,” Gilmore began in her artist statement, explaining the meaning of the piece. Fires are like hot-button topics: they can be used for good and discussed well, but only with prudence. Some topics she mentioned as ‘playing with fire’ were gun violence, abortion and politics, as well as conversation around faith traditions.

The most explicitly connected to current events, Rosales and Hodge’s “Through the Looking Glass” depicts a scene where Muslim culture and American military forces collide. The piece features a brick façade that is falling apart, featuring both understanding (“human,” “victim”) and negative (“killer,” “terrorist”) terms used to describe Muslims. The piece invites the viewer to try to consider Muslims in a more positive light and understand their frequent status as victims. Rosales and Hodge hope that this piece, while initially uncomfortable, will encourage conversation and compassion.

Alongside Kerastas, Casey Eash took inspiration from Sunday school this year, treating Art Prize with “This Little Light of Mine.” A two piece work, Eash made a bronze torch placed in front of a large oil painting of eyes gazing through a frame. The eyes are fixed on the torch, the only source of light in the room. An art teacher from Marshall, Mich., Eash created this piece to encourage the viewer to “reflect on child-like faith” and its strengths.

Students still have the opportunity to see these works and many more at Art Prize, which will remain open until October 8. With over 175 venues around Grand Rapids, there is more than enough to see.