Local artist Ira Russell poses with his sculpture of blues legend B.B. King, which was featured in this year’s ArtPrize festival.

Local artist Ira Russell poses with his sculpture of blues legend B.B. King, which was featured in this year’s ArtPrize festival.

Photo provided by Ira Russell


Local sculptor featured in ArtPrize festival

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published October 9, 2018

 More of Russell’s artwork is pictured. The Southfield resident worked as an engineer before taking up sculpting.

More of Russell’s artwork is pictured. The Southfield resident worked as an engineer before taking up sculpting.

Photo provided by Ira Russell

SOUTHFIELD — When you use the analytical side of your brain all the time, you might be surprised what the creative side can do. 

Engineer-turned-sculptor Ira Russell, of Southfield, was recently featured in ArtPrize, the international art festival in Grand Rapids. 

The independently organized art competition takes place each fall, and more than $500,000 in prizes are awarded each year by both public vote and jury vote. 

This year’s festival was held from Sept. 19 to Oct. 7. 

Russell entered into the 3D art category with his relief sculpture piece “Playing the Blues,” a 20-inch-by-30-inch-by-3-inch cold cast bronze sculpture of blues artist B.B. King. 

Last year, Russell entered relief sculptures of Bob Marley, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. 

A relief sculpture is a work that projects from, but also belongs to, a wall. 

Russell said he enjoys drawing and painting, but he got into sculpting after seeing an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

“I spent 40 years using the left brain, so I wanted to do something more creative,” Russell said. 

Soon after, he started taking classes at the College for Creative Studies and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, and he studied under a master sculptor for around five years. 

The transition from analytics to artistry was an interesting one, Russell said. 

“It was a little bit of a struggle. You tend to be very deductive, and you want to do step-by-step kind of things when you’re an engineer,” Russell said. “To release the creative side takes a lot of work.” 

Although sculpting is relatively new to Russell, music has been a lifelong passion of his.

“I’ve personally had an interest in music lifelong. There were some key people in my college days that I was interested in from different genres,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, that would be an interesting topic to tackle.’” 

In June, ArtPrize officials announced that the festival would be taking place every other year instead of annually, as it has been traditionally held. 

“For the last decade, ArtPrize has infused the city of Grand Rapids with unparalleled energy, staging world-class exhibitions that have engaged over 3 million visitors from near and far with contemporary art,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss stated in a news release. “This next evolution of the event will generate new ways for us all to be inspired and challenged, to come together as a community and deepen our connection.”

For more information, go to artprize.org.