Artists dive into water colors in ‘Our Rivers, Our Lakes’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 30, 2015

 Lulu Zheng took the best-of-show award in “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” for her “Water Dance #2.”

Lulu Zheng took the best-of-show award in “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” for her “Water Dance #2.”

Photos by K. Michelle Moran


CITY — Living in Michigan, artists don’t have to go far to find inspiration for “Our Rivers, Our Lakes.” For many, they need only look out their window or head to their community park.

The Grosse Pointe Art Center hosted an opening reception for the 13th annual “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” on July 24 that drew dozens of artists and visitors to the gallery to take in scenic landscapes, water-inspired abstract works and more.

“This is the only show that we do annually, and it is one of our favorites,” GPAC Executive Director Coleen Downey said.

If the best-of-show winner’s name sounds familiar, it should: Birmingham artist Lulu Zheng won the same honor in 2013’s “Our Rivers, Our Lakes,” and she received third place last year in this show. Her mixed-media painting, “Water Dance #2,” is an image of Zheng herself swimming at night, and the texture of the paint resembles moving water.

“My work focuses on water and underwater scenes. … This topic just fit my work,” Zheng said of “Our Rivers, Our Lakes.”

She said she wanted to capture the rich contrast and color of the evening water scene.

“I usually paint in daylight,” Zheng said. “(Painting a night image) is a very different feeling. I loved the night scene and the light. There’s a little bit of mystery.”

Grosse Pointe City artist Lori Zurvalec, who has also been featured in previous “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” shows, took home one of the top prizes this year. Zurvalec has two related works in “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” — the assemblage/mixed-media piece “Falling/By a Thread” and her second-place-winning, mixed-media-on-board painting “Whirl, Swirl, Down & Gone” — and both came out of her trip this January to Niagara Falls, where her husband was playing in a hockey tournament.

“The world is so black and white and gray (at that time),” she said. “I was overlooking the falls, and I kept drawing and drawing and drawing,” Zurvalec said. She said those drawings formed the basis for the two works in the show.

“I think waterfalls are a metaphor for life,” she said of her colorful, award-winning painting, an abstract piece with strokes of oil paint that glisten and change in the light the way real water does. Waterfalls, like time, are an unstoppable, forward-moving force, the artist said.

“You cannot stop the day,” Zurvalec said. “Your moments are limited, so treasure the moments. Pay attention to the moments.”

Barbara Carr, of Grosse Pointe Woods, earned third place for the acrylic painting, “St. Clair — Shores.”

“I paint outside, not from photos, and I love it immensely,” Carr said. She said she’s been painting like this for 57 years now.

“I’ve just always loved color and water and boats,” she said of her vibrant-hued painting, which depicts an inlet in St. Clair Shores.

Although water isn’t visible in Scott Brown’s honorable mention-winning photo, “Summer Sprite,” he said he captured the shot between the ocean and a pool, so it’s certainly in the image’s environment.

During a family reunion at Hilton Head in South Carolina, the Grosse Pointe Woods artist took a number of photos, including this one of his 7-year-old granddaughter, Ella Medrano, in silhouette against a glorious sunrise as she appeared to grasp the sun. Although the sun looks small and white in the shot, Brown said it was “incredibly huge and red” to the naked eye.

“I usually take pictures to (use as a basis) to paint with pastels … but sometimes a picture should just be a picture,” Brown said of his decision not to paint this scene, which he captured so strikingly with his camera.

Another honorable mention winner, Kathleen McNamee, of Grosse Pointe Farms, also had an interesting story about the origins of her piece, an etching titled “Under the Sea.”

“It’s an etching that came about in a challenge to find materials that were not just paper,” she said. “Conveniently, I had a rotted old curtain at that time. And that started it.”

The fittingly named Judith Waterman, of Plymouth, had perhaps the most unique explanation for why she submitted her honorable mention-winning mixed-media piece, “Pond.”

“I was working on it at home, and the cable guy said that it was very good,” she said. “So, who am I to deny the cable guy?”

“Pond” was the result of a multifaceted process that included printing the lily pad-esque circles — each of which was made by hand from four to seven layers — on a commercial gelatin plate. In addition to layers of paint and gluing the circles onto the canvas, Waterman said she then applied two layers of Liquitex Pouring Medium to create a clear, glossy finish.

“It makes it look like water,” Waterman said. “It feels like water. … I wanted the lily pads to look shiny and wet.”

Also winning an honorable mention was Julie Sabit, of Harper Woods, for the oil painting “Not Done Yet.”

Juror Joan Farago, of Grosse Pointe Park, who has been featured in previous “Our Rivers, Our Lakes” shows, said she was “very honored” to be asked to jury this year, as the abstract landscape artist has a particular interest in water. She chose 66 entries by 50 different artists, out of the 115 works submitted by 66 artists that were for consideration.
“I wanted to get a very beautiful, rich look, because that’s the way our waters are,” she said. “I was really excited about the amount of pieces that were submitted. I did look for stroke, direction to lead the eye and color.”

“Our Rivers, Our Lakes” contains a range of media, including stoneware, carved wood, mosaic and metal sculptures.

“I’m thrilled with it,” Farago said of the show as a whole. “I was so happy to see these strong pieces. The light in (these works) is important, as our waterways, of course, reflect light.”

The GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval Ave. in the Village. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. For more information, email, visit or call (313) 881-3454.