On the Cusp of Creativity: UICA’s 'The Jump Off' explores the moment when artists make a change

Many artists experience a turning point — a personal crisis or epiphany, learning a new technique or taking a class, or reflecting on a negative critique or rejection — that propels them in a new direction.

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is exploring that jump off, that catalyst for change, in a special summer exhibit that also celebrates 40 years of experimentation and growth at the Grand Rapids arts institute.

The Jump Off, on display June 2 to Aug. 26, features more than 30 emerging and established artists working in a variety of mediums including painting, textiles, photography, sculpture, collage, video and mixed media.

Artists were selected from a national call for work, and the result is a unique, diverse and interesting mix of local, regional and national talent.

“I think people can expect to see a really big show. It’s going to take up a lot of space,” said UICA’s Exhibitions Curator Heather Duffy. “It is a show that is really intentionally designed to be part of our 40th year. The Jump Off is an exhibition that celebrates growth and evolution through the artistic process.”

Outside of studio visits and artist’s statements, most people do not see the creative process and what goes into making art, including the mistakes, trying new techniques, discovering a whole new medium and changes — both intentional and unintentional — that encourage growth.

“The Jump Off is an exhibition that looks at works that artists see as their signature style, but also works they don’t frequently show that demonstrate a change or shift in process for those artists,” Duffy said.

The exhibit includes two or more pieces from every artist, installed in a way that illustrates the evolution from earlier work to their current practice and highlights the pivotal piece or pieces that served as the spark for working with new materials, concepts and colors.

"In some cases, it’s an easily discernable evolution, but still recognizable as work from the same artist,” Duffy said. “In other cases, the point of departure caused a really huge shift.”

The artists also explain, in their own words, what prompted or inspired the new direction.

“There are so many different experiences described,” Duffy said. “That was interpreted pretty differently across the board by the different artists.”

For painter Laurel Dugan of Grand Rapids, that came in the way of asking herself, “Can I express space with color?”

This is her first time showing in a UICA exhibition, and the opportunity came at a serendipitous juncture in her painting life, she said. This marks her 10th year of serious studio practice, and she said she is starting to find her voice and see the fruition of having longstanding questions answered.

Dugan considers herself a full-time artist and also teaches at Sacred Heart Academy. One of the works she submitted uses the same composition as a previous piece, but with very different uses and shades of color.

“For years, I’ve wanted to express space as color, and that is what is happening now,” she said. “In the last three months, suddenly there has been a radical shift in direction. There’s an element of experimentation, always; I don’t know if there can be real growth without some risk. I’m always looking for ways to stretch myself and grow.”

Maggie Bandstra, a potter and painter from Grand Haven, said a series of life events prompted her to take up painting, including getting married, moving and being without a pottery studio for some time. For one piece, she submitted a painting of her son looking at the Grand Haven channel — her first painting after she stepped away from the pottery wheel.

Another piece is done as cuerda seca pot, which incorporates drawing and painting into the pottery. She also took a couple of classes at OxBow School of Art, which pushed her to experiment with color.

“I wanted to push my paintings to a stronger level and started playing around with abstraction and using dyes in my canvasses,” she said. “My work has significantly changed over the past 10 years. It’s been very experimental and just playing in mediums and materials and subjects.”

An elementary art teacher in Hudsonville, Bandstra said it’s a “hobby gone wild,” yet she considers herself a professional artist. Her work is represented in the Richard App Gallery and Art Cats Gallery in Muskegon, and she recently opened her own studio in Grand Haven, Seventh Street Gallery.

“The UICA is just a wonderful organization. It shows great work,” she said. “It’s just kind of fun to share that development and process of the road that I took to get where I’m at.”

The Jump Off
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
2 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
June 2-Aug. 26
uica.org, (616) 454-7000