UICA Focuses on the Mitten with “Coming Home” exhibition

Rick-Beerhorst,-Portrait-of-Emily-#4

Now that the ArtPrize crowds have gone and the dust has settled, the UICA opens its doors for the “Coming Home” exhibition, a show that features artists who have been touched by the mitten—be it habitation, education or otherwise.

Besides celebrating homegrown artists, “Coming Home” is about elevating the creative culture of Grand Rapids. Miranda Krajniak, executive director of the UICA, is excited to invest in local talent. “ArtPrize allows us to show work from all over the world and is a really broad conversation about artists,” she said. “I really love when we take it back to Michigan artists, because there is a certain flavor.”

One of “Coming Home’s” featured artist’s, Rick Beerhorst, is known for his folksy paintings that often portray women and literature. “My work had this sort of quirky obsessive quality and you know, very dependent on an implied narrative—kind of remaining enigmatic but still kind of implied,” he said. “I did these pieces for years and years.”

After two decades of painting, Beerhorst found himself facing depression and the first creative block of his career. “I just got to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I just felt like I had—I don’t know if I exactly painted myself into a corner, but maybe just exhausted something.”

Instead of abandoning his craft, Beerhorst began a meditative exercise in art making. He started a series of drawings of a simple still life—a stack of books and a broken clock he arranged on a table. “These drawings weren’t meant to be exhibited or sold,” he said. “It was just me trying to come back to life and trying to get through this tunnel. I did this every morning and after about a month or so, it was like something started to break loose inside of me.”

Rick Beerhorst, Morgan #5
Rick Beerhorst, Morgan #5

Beerhorst’s “Coming Home” collection features colorful and expressive head-on portraits of women. The paintings are a vehicle for the examination of pain and loss. “As I would work up these paintings, after maybe a few hours of building the image, the last thing I would do is I’d take these drywall knives of different sizes and just srcchh! and just try not to think too much and in a sense, destroy it, or ruin it, or wound it,” he said. “In the process, these paintings began to take on this kind of magical quality which is for me a way to talk about suffering.”

Krajiniak is excited for this shift in Beerhorst’s work and appreciates the risk he’s taking as an artist. “To move from what he knows is sellable, and popular, and good, and loved, and rewarded into something that is a total risk, that takes such a level of fortitude and courage,” she said. “I think that Rick has shown both those qualities in this work and I think that it’s going to come back to him in spades.”

Artwork by Nathan Heuer is part of the UICA "Coming Home" exhibition.
Artwork by Nathan Heuer is part of the UICA “Coming Home” exhibition.

Across the gallery from Beerhorst’s collection are the meticulous drawings of one Nathan Heuer. Heuer’s precise drawings primarily depict the ruins of commercial and manmade structures. The bricks of an abandoned motel crumble to the fractured pavement around it. Rust-coated signs with nothing left to advertise stand like forgotten monuments. A mall fountain sits empty; its once slick and shiny tiles dry and cracked.

“Those are things that are not that old, but we chose to abandon them because either we outsource jobs or we thought the hotel didn’t look new enough to stay in,” Heuer said. “There is a consumer complicity in the whole thing and that’s why I choose these more contemporary structures.”

White space is used to draw focus to the structure, effectively and intentionally erasing the environment that it’s in. “I want to pull these artifacts, these buildings, out of context—the things that are every day for us—so that we view them with a broader and bigger perspective,” Heuer said. “By pulling all context away, so we consider this as an artifact, we start to view what we do and our everyday experience in a very different way.”

It’s easy to admire the careful and clean lines he uses, but his drawings are more than intricate representations of reality. “I simply hope that the works will cause people to go into this kind of contemplative moment,” Heuer said. “You know, thinking about the decisions that we make as a society and the place of those decisions in the bigger context of history, and maybe make a more sustainable decision. If they do that, then the work succeeded.”

“Coming Home” opened on Nov. 3 and will be showing at the UICA until January 2018.

Heuer’s precise drawings primarily depict the ruins of commercial and manmade structures.
Heuer’s precise drawings primarily depict the ruins of commercial and manmade structures.

*Images courtesy of Rick Beerhorst and Nathan Heuer

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