Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend a few days in Grand Rapids, Michigan at ArtPrize 2012, a sprawling international art fair featuring over 1,500 installations by more than 1,700 artists in venues throughout the city including the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, as well as countless art galleries, cafes, sidewalks, and even smack dab in the middle of a river. The entire affair centers around popular vote that determines ten winners (a maximum award of $200,000) as well as several juried awards. You can see the 2012 winners here. It was a great trip and I saw more art three days than I’ve seen in person in the past year.
One of the most outstanding artworks I encountered in Grand Rapids was this gargantuan drawing on exhibit at the GRAM by artist Chris LaPorte who attended the New York Academy of Art and now lives and works in Michigan. By day he works as a caricature artist, having drawn some 85,000 portraits over the last 18 years, but he also spends significant hours in his studio where he labors over gargantuan life-size pencil drawings, one of which actually won the top ArtPrize honor back in 2010. This latest work, City Band, began when LaPorte discovered an 80-year-old photograph of his grandfather’s high school marching band while rummaging through his mother’s basement. The photograph is somewhat blurry and damaged with age, but he decided to use the piece as inspiration for a drawing that now spans 13 x 26 feet and was drawn with over 100 2H pencils spanning roughly 1,200 hours of drawing time.
It’s important to note that City Band is not a photo-realistic interpretation of an old photograph, a suggestion that’s often made by other who describe LaPorte’s work. The ratio of photo to drawing is 1/540 meaning that the quality of the original image was so poor in relation to the scale of the canvas that the vast majority of details came from the artist’s head as he worked. In that sense the drawing becomes a sort of historical fiction, where LaPorte added myriad details, stories, and patterns all of which center around a theme regarding the unrelenting passing of time, a sort of visual rhythm that pulses through the entire piece.
I urge you to watch the video above by filmmaker Mary Matthews to learn more about the artwork and you can see many more photos over on his recently updated website.