Local artists team up to present sculpture at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 24, 2014

 From left, artists Joan Schwartz, Darcel Deneau and Ruth Tyszka stand with their sculpture, “Just Listening,” which will be part of the ArtPrize art competition in Grand Rapids from Sept. 24-Oct. 12.

From left, artists Joan Schwartz, Darcel Deneau and Ruth Tyszka stand with their sculpture, “Just Listening,” which will be part of the ArtPrize art competition in Grand Rapids from Sept. 24-Oct. 12.

Photo courtesy of PD Rearick


HUNTINGTON WOODS — ArtPrize in Grand Rapids is one of the biggest art competitions in the country, and artists who work in all types of mediums compete to take home one of two $200,000 grand prizes, as well as $60,000 in category prizes.

For three local artists, competing in ArtPrize, which begins Sept. 24 and runs through Oct. 12, was more about getting a message across and showing teamwork in coming up with their sculpture, “Just Listening.”

Through mixed media, Joan Schwartz, of Huntington Woods; Ruth Tyszka, of Bloomfield Hills; and Darcel Deneau, of Novi, created their take on Lady Justice, the nation’s judicial system and government security.

“Our piece is meant to raise a question of the Lady Justice personification of our justice system in the United States,” Tyszka said. “Our justice system and due process is one of the things we are proud of in this country, but when it came to light how much information Americans actually have, this contributes a question to that dialogue. Are we compromising our ideals of justice?”

Lady Justice normally is featured holding a set of scales representing balance and wearing a blindfold showing objectivity.

One of the first ways the three artists’ sculpture differs is the usual blindfold is tucked down below one eye. Additionally, instead of holding a scale, “Just Listening” features Lady Justice holding a globe above her head made out of circuit boards and listening to the people with a pair of in-ear headphones.

Finally, Lady Justice is standing on a platform of data server cases to represent the massive collection and storage of electronic data.

“Lady Justice ironically has a blindfold, and this Lady Justice has a blindfold, but it is flipped down so one eye is able to see and justice is disregarded,” Deneau said. “Ruth is an artists and a lawyer, so we came up with this theme of injustice as it was recurring in our conversations. Through meetings and hours of conversations, we came up with this idea of ‘Just Listening.’”

Deneau said she primarily is a landscape painter after graduating with a degree in painting in 2002. For Schwartz, she said she has done art her whole life, but about 10 years ago, after having a career as a pediatric nurse, she found a passion for doing mosaic art and moved forward as a full-time artist.

After working as a full-time attorney and doing art part-time, Tyszka decided to move to a more 50-50 schedule and now teaches art at the Creative Art Studio in Royal Oak and is governing chair for the Society of American Mosaic Artists.

Getting three artists with extensive backgrounds in art to work on the same piece just took a lot of talking, Schwartz said, but once they got going, they were able to use everyone’s individual skills.

“It was a learning process using lots of materials with mixed media, mostly glass and parts of newspaper articles regarding the (National Security Agency),” she said. “Two of us have a background in mosaic art, and with the 13-inch globe over the top of the structure, we used more traditional stained glass with some painting. We just wanted to give our own thought-provoking piece to put out there.”

During the 19 days of ArtPrize, patrons will vote with a mobile application on which piece of art they think deserves the $200,000 public vote grand prize. A jury will determine who gets the other $200,000 grand prize.

When applying to be part of ArtPrize, artists must connect with a venue to show their art, and the venues select which artists and pieces they want to display. “Just Listening” will be displayed at the Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain St. NE, in Grand Rapids.

To have the chance to compete in ArtPrize and display at Fountain Street Church is a great honor, Tyszka said, and the three artists hope the public will look at their piece and ask more questions.

“First Street Church is a venue that gets a lot of mention from juries, and they typically have a social-justice-theme art show exhibit there in conjunction with ArtPrize,” she said. “This venue contacted us and thought our theme fit well with their social justice theme, and we are excited to be there, and we think we will be a good fit, as well, as our piece talks about the issues of justice and due process.”

For more information about ArtPrize, visit www.artprize.org.