Two men who have given considerable free time to artistic projects throughout their lives are establishing second careers prioritizing their favorite pastimes, mostly self-taught.
Kenneth Hershenson of Royal Oak stepped away from his career as an architectural designer to create realistic images using acrylics on canvas. Steve Kay of West Bloomfield sold his used auto dealership to devote himself to an abstract approach using paint and Plexiglas for three-dimensional effects.
Both artists will display their talents as part of this year’s ArtPrize competition spread across Grand Rapids from Sept. 20-Oct. 8. Hershenson is entering five images from his series I DO Know Jack, showing them at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids. Kay is entering his piece Candy Cosmos, on view at Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant and Pizza.
ArtPrize, in its ninth year, is an open, independently organized international competition that takes place each fall in Grand Rapids. More than $500,000 in prizes are awarded each year as the result of separate public and jury votes.
Any artist working in any medium from anywhere in the world can participate. Art is exhibited throughout downtown Grand Rapids as hosted by museums, restaurants, parks, theaters and offices — some is even exhibited on bridges — among other spaces.
Artists and venues register for the competition and then find each other through an online connection process. No one at ArtPrize selects a single artist or artwork, directs an artist where to show work or directs a venue about what to show.
In 2016, 1,453 works created by artists from 40 states and 44 countries were exhibited in 170 venues open to the public. The event has attracted over 500,000 visitors in a single year.
“In 2015, soon after being in the final Top 25 Two-Dimensional Public Vote at ArtPrize Seven with the first five paintings in my series, I won the 2015 MI Great Artist Award sponsored by Oakland County and Park West Gallery,” says Hershenson, 64, whose still-incomplete series has brought other exhibit recognition, publication presence and the sale of digital rights to a casino enterprise.
The idea for the series came to mind 30 years ago, but at that time, Hershenson was limited in the attention he could give to painting. Somehow, he envisioned a wheel of cheese, thought about pepper jack cheese and then associated the concept with toy jacks. Soon, other jack associations entered his thinking process, and five years ago, he began painting them on canvas, building on word plays.
“When I was a kid, I liked to play with jacks,” explains the artist, who will be displaying Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Clubs, Jack and Coke and two more.
Before he began the jack theme, Hershenson painted landscapes and still lifes in his home studio.
Hershenson, whose family moved to Michigan after his bar mitzvah in California, graduated from Oak Park High School, where he had one art class. That class followed random classes on the West Coast and came before various workshops.
At Michigan State University, he studied industrial design and landscape architecture in anticipation of a more practical career.
“I like the tactile feel of a brush on canvas,” says Hershenson, who appreciates the encouragement of his wife, Wendy Shepherd, and the family gained with two grown stepchildren. “I use open acrylics on gallery-wrapped canvases. Open acrylics do not dry as fast as standard acrylic paints, and they allow me to blend colors longer and more successfully.
“I prepare my canvases by applying white gesso, allowing that to dry, and then sanding with a fine paper. I repeat that three or four times to attain a semi-smooth surface. Each painting is completed with a thin coat of clear polymer medium and then a clear varnish.”
Beyond ArtPrize, Hershenson has lined up other places to showcase his artistry, including Park West Gallery in Southfield, where he will be represented Oct. 25-Nov. 30.
Kay is newer to the professional art world.
“I went to ArtPrize last year as a visitor and got the idea to enter my own work this year,” says Kay, 55, who works out of a home studio and has been represented by the Danielle Peleg Gallery in West Bloomfield.
“I have experimented with drawing, painting and sculpture. I didn’t take any of it seriously until friends of my wife, Robyn, noticed pieces around our home and said how much they liked each one.”
Candy Cosmos, which measures 48 by 33 inches, was planned with a drawing of abstract shapes. Working with a sign shop, Kay developed painted shapes using acrylics mounted onto the clear material and enhanced the images with Swarovski crystals.
“I wanted to create depth, shadows, color and shine,” Kay explains. “People thought the shapes reminded them of candy so that became part of the title. Because the candy looked like it was floating in space, I added the word ‘Cosmos.’”
Kay, who graduated from North Farmington High School and has been a longtime member of Temple Israel, studied business at Michigan State University. He has taken occasional classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
When he is not getting serious about art, Kay devotes time to his family, which includes 8-year-old twins.
“I like working with Plexiglas because the material is strong,” Kay says. “Plexiglas seems to make each piece timeless.”
ArtPrize runs Sept. 20-Oct. 8 throughout Grand Rapids.