Award-winning artist knows a lot about Jack

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published December 9, 2015

 These five paintings in Hershenson’s series landed him in the top 25 artists in the 2D ArtPrize category and earned a spot in the top five of the 2015 MI Great Artist competition.

These five paintings in Hershenson’s series landed him in the top 25 artists in the 2D ArtPrize category and earned a spot in the top five of the 2015 MI Great Artist competition.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLAWSON — Don’t tell artist Kenneth Hershenson that he doesn’t know Jack.

The artist is receiving acclaim for his most recent series of paintings, “I DO Know Jack!”

Five paintings in the series were accepted into ArtPrize and displayed in the DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids before Hershenson’s work was named in the top 25 artists in the 2D ArtPrize category.

The Clawson resident also was chosen as one of five artists to vie for the top spot in the 2015 MI Great Artist competition. The finalists were announced by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson last month.

“These are supremely talented individuals,” Patterson stated in a press release. “Their skill and passion is evident in the incredible works they’ve created. I encourage everyone to go to Park West Gallery and see these wonderful pieces in person.”

The MI Great Artist competition started with 109 entrants. The top 25 artists were determined by popular online vote, and the final five were chosen by a panel of judges.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Hershenson said. “I think ArtPrize was the most incredible experience of my life, artistically. I stood there with my artwork, basically, for the 19 days, and to have 250,000 to 300,000 people going by and 99 percent of the comments were positive, and be in the top 25 public vote, just blew me away. I think it’s still sinking in.”

Hershenson said being named in the top five was rewarding to him, as his artwork was judged to make that short list.

The series receiving all of the buzz has been on Hershenson’s mind for a long time.

“It’s an idea I had 30 years ago,” he said. “It first popped in my mind — I have no idea why — but Jack cheese popped in my mind. A wheel of cheese with a jack on it.”

For decades he kept sketches and ideas of the series while he raised his family and had a “regular” job.

“I kept them in a folder for 30 years, thinking someday I’m going to get to this,” he said.

Receiving the accolades has not only been a shining moment for the Clawson resident, but also validation of a calling he has had since he was a boy.

Hershenson, 62, just recently began a career as a full-time artist after retiring from a corporate career as an architectural designer with Starbucks. With Starbucks, he was asked to design one of its busiest locations in the world; that Starbucks, located in Japan, was featured in the movie, “Lost in Translation.”

But while enjoying the satisfaction of a successful career and providing for his family, there always was a purpose bubbling inside to pursue his dream as a full-time artist.

He took the plunge in 2013.

“I left Starbucks saying, ‘I’m not going to go to my grave without attempting to do this,’” he said.

Hershenson fashioned a studio in his Clawson home. The series, “I DO Know Jack,” began. His goal is to complete the series of 30 paintings by 2020.

Completed works include “Jack the Ripper,” “Jack in the Box,” “Apple Jack” and “A Pair of Jacks.”

All of Hershenson’s paintings have catchy titles with plays on words. Upcoming works include “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack and Coke.”

The acrylic paintings utilize color, space, geometry, abstraction and playful imagery that captured the eye of onlookers at ArtPrize.

Hershenson said that seeing the series come to life and living out a dream at his age has infinite meaning for him. He said it is hard to formulate the words to describe what it feels like to live out his calling, and he encourages everyone to follow their inner desires.

“It’s been a lifelong dream,” he said. “That’s why all my choices in my real life — even though the enforcement I got was, ‘You can’t make a living as an artist’ — always included something where I would do some type of creativity.”

Hershenson said he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife, Wendy.

His artwork is now on display and is for sale at Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery in Royal Oak.

Owner Liz Morton has been displaying art in her Washington Avenue restaurant for about 10 years to support local artists, many of whom were restaurant employees.

“We started displaying their work and it just kind of evolved, and wouldn’t it be nice to display local artists and give them a place to showcase their work,” she said.

Morton said recent buzz for “I DO Know Jack” has been positive.

“They love seeing it, because they love seeing something new,” she said. “And we’ve had a lot of great feedback from Ken’s artwork.”

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