Story by Sarah Spohn
For some, art is a lengthy, precise process. For others, it’s a ‘throw paint around and see what sticks’ kinda feel. For 36-year-old Lansing resident and Flint native Michael J. Steibel, art is about the journey.
Steibel had visited Artprize, an international art competition, spanning the entire city of Grand Rapids, for a few years before entering his original pieces.
“I thought to myself, ‘man, it would be cool to experience this and be a part of it,'” Steibel said. “Since I do art, I put the two and two together, and went out and applied in 2016, and ended up getting into that one.”
Art and music were always outlets of self-expression for Steibel, but it wasn’t until a few years ago, where his outlook on both shifted.
“The goals have changed over the years, and the way I think about it definitely has changed,” he said. “When I was younger, I thought of art and music as a means to an end. So the end would be that you could be a successful artist if you make a career out of this, or a musician if you make it ‘big.’”
Now, Steibel looks at art as a free-flowing journey, rather than a careful step-by-step process. His 2018 entry, “The Divine Dance” is all about experiential art. The three-piece watercolor canvas series is inspired by Christian Mystics.
“Instead of swimming upstream against the current, (the idea is) to let it go – to ride with the current, ride with the journey and see where it takes you,” Steibel said. “Whether or not that’s off a waterfall – I don’t know,” he laughs.
“Instead of trying to do something, you just let it happen. Whether you think its good or bad or whatever. Usually, for the most part, you end up having a bit more fun riding with the current.”
The three canvases took a few hours to complete on a leisurely May afternoon. Steibel splatted around watercolor paint with a putty knife, to create different textures on the canvas.
“With watercolor, you can manipulate it really easy. It kind of flows where it wants to flow, so you kind of let it,” he said. “The biggest thing with approaching it this kind of way is restraint from trying to do too much.”
The artist also experiments with other kinds of art including mixed media, collages, as well as audio visual projects, including a 2017 entry, “Cotton Swabs,” created with friend, Brendan Hamilton.
While art always comes from a place of effortlessness for Steibel, there are times where months will go by, without even touching a canvas. After decades of making art, Steibel has an entire garage full of paintings, to hopefully go on exhibit one day soon. But for now, expectations are removed from he process of creating art.
“At this point, I’ve given myself to take all expectations away from it, which allows me to actually enjoy it,” he said. “Usually, if you have that approach, you pretty much like it all. It’s when you start trying to make a great masterpiece that usually you cross the frustrations, emotions, or not meeting what you wanted it to look like because you’re trying to control things.”
“I think when you try to control things, you end up losing sight of the actual journey. You’re not in control. With ‘The Divine Dance’, the theme of it is to kind of let go, see what happens, and embrace the opportunity –instead of maybe something you have in mind. This piece in particular was to point out the effortlessness of creating art.”
Though Artprize gives over $500,000 in awards — both through people’s choice voting and juried awards, for Steibel, this competition wasn’t so much about winning. He wanted to meet people, and become a larger part of the community.
Previous years Artprize photos by Sarah Spohn.
With Artprize, celebrating its tenth annual event, they’ve created Facebook groups for artists to meet eachother, and follow along the each artist’s journey along the way.
“You get to see the process of them loading their pieces up in their car, or traveling 24 hours to get here, or shipping them across seas,” Steibel said. “You’re all in this together, and you’re all rooting for eachother. It is a competition, but for the most part, everybody’s having fun and excited for everybody else.”
The entire city is united, with art of all kinds –ranging from photographs to giant installation art across buildings, and even the river, all over downtown, Westside, East Grand Rapids, Heartside, Uptown neighborhood and everywhere in between. Artprize is just one way community comes together for the art-appreciating city og Grand Rapids.
“On a surface level, it brings together community,” Steibel said, “and Artprize is a good way to represent that. I think it kind of displays where culture is at, because it’s an expression of what everybody’s going through.”
“I think ultimately it makes everything more colorful, even if it is dark and brooding art, it creates a narrative for that community. It also creates purpose for individuals.”
“The Divine Dance” is on display now for the entire duration of Artprize (Sept. 19-Oct.7) at Mayan Buzz Cafe (208 Grandville Ave. SW). The venue is in a highly foot trafficked area, across from The Intersection music venue, and not too far from Founder’s Brewing Company. Over 20 other entries are also on display at Mayan Buzz Cafe.