When Art Won't Let You Go
Grand Rapids hosts an event every fall called ArtPrize. For about three weeks downtown transforms itself into one big art gallery. Outdoors, in actual galleries, banks, coffee shops. About everywhere you turn. It always takes place during my birthday so I plan a celebration outing.
My friend and favorite artist, Elaine Harlow, usually has an entry on display. Here's a picture of her artwork in 2015, "Hidden In Plain Sight (The Hunger Project)"
From the ArtPrize website:
This project is made up of 31 paintings of various sizes of bowls, 19 bowls with food inside and 13 bowls left empty. These paintings are in response to youth hunger that is so pervasive in our own backyard. Working with Plainwell Michigan's Starr Elementary (my hometown), I was shocked to learn that 43% of students that attend Starr receive free lunches. We fail to see what is right before our own eyes and the vast need that is at hand. I have taken 43% of the bowls and left them empty, not fulfilling their intended purpose. As a society, we can gloss over poverty and hunger but beyond first glance are empty bowls and bellies. I plan on donating 5% of money I make on sales of these paintings during ArtPrize to Plainwell's Good Hands Plainwell program, an organization that provides lunches for school children on the weekends.
The day I visited ArtPrize, I started at Elaine's exhibit. The artists spend hours at ArtPrize, visiting with patrons and supporting other artists. She told me about a piece I had to see. In her words:
The best art moves you. Even after you've stepped away from it, the images leave a lasting impression.
I took her advice and went to see Julie Green's "The Last Supper." From the ArtPrize website:
For 15 years I've painted images of death row inmates' last meal requests in cobalt blue mineral paint onto second-hand ceramic plates. The individual plates function as both a portrait and a still life steeped in the traditions of painting and fine craft. The influences of Dutch Delftware and Spanish still life painting can be traced in my illustrations. Every plate in “The Last Supper” is accompanied by a description of the meal request, date and state -- but no more. Without naming the inmate or crime, the meals highlight the human dimension of capital punishment. The plates function as anonymous portraits that when grouped together suggest a memorial to lost life on a mass scale. 600 final meals and two first meals on the outside for exonerated men, are completed to date. I plan to continue adding fifty plates a year until capital punishment is abolished.
Photo Credit: mlive.com
I don't claim to be artsy. But that day, standing among the 600+ plates telling the story of a last supper for one inmate at a time. Not a number. A person with a name. A family. A past. Rarely a future. It haunted me. I wanted to apologize.
At the beginning of the display, Ms. Green shared this statement. I quote the following from there.
Oklahoma has higher per capita executions than Texas. I taught there, and that is how I came to read final meal requests in the morning paper.
The idea for this project started while she sat sipping coffee, perhaps tea, reading the morning paper. What have we come to?
I still don't know what to do with the images in my head after seeing this exhibit. I offer prayers. I try to spread kindness to those around me through myself, my family. I long for a better future. Kingdom come. To the gentleman who requested shrimp but none was available, so he ate a vending machine snack...
I hope you sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb someday and belly up to a platter of shrimp a mile high.
My artist friend got things absolutely right. I can't even play a game of Pictionary but art can move me. Father, let it move me to action. Amen