The drawing at 4 Fulton Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan is a fanciful portrait of our experiences in the city. We arrived in Grand Rapids prepared to spend the three-week art extravaganza that is Artprize hunkered down on a wall that turned out to be about 15 feet taller than Google Streetview had led us to believe. It was a BIG wall.
Knowing we had a large wall, small crew, and hundreds of thousands of people to talk to over the course of a few weeks, we had brought with us a large pile of tape fish made on thin plastic sheets back in our studio in advance. The question then became, what story do we tell with these fish in a city we know almost nothing about?
As we were brainstorming in the parking lot in front of the wall we were constantly distracted by wheeled things moving down the adjacent sidewalk. The range of wheeled transportation we saw was fascinating – scooters, roller blades, skateboards, bicycles, tandem bikes, walkers, wheelchairs – you name it, we saw it. Knowing nothing about Grand Rapids, it seemed that at the very least it was a city that loved its wheels.
From there we were off. We drew a proportional version of that sidewalk onto the wall, complete with trees, telephone pole and bus station. That is where the fun began. We installed the 16-foot-long catfish descending upon the street and taking the very thing that defined our experience in Grand Rapids so far… wheels. These aquatic golden retrievers are clumsy chaos causers – grabbing children’s bicycles, taking an unsuspecting roller blader for a ride, and even lifting a full-sized city bus into the air.
The characters in the mural were inspired by the people we saw whizzing by us. For those we could catch we did portraits from life, having them pose as themselves in this world of scaled wheel-snatchers.
Multiple times over the course of our stay in the parking lot we saw a young man ride by on a tall bike, but were never quite able to stop him in time to commit his character to the wall. Having been told about his portrait by a friend, he stopped by the mural and we were finally able draw a more accurate version. Turns out, his bike was not as tall as we thought, and he made it himself.
Locals who saw the piece and talked to us about the story of its inception confirmed our assessment of Grand Rapids as a city on the go. Several people even recognized “tall bike guy” from around town.
In the middle of the making of the mural, we experienced the Michigan weather that everyone had been warning us about since we first arrived. A rain storm with 18 to 20 mph winds hit the wall hard. While most of the mural remained in tact, we found the crumpled carcasses of several of the fish (being nothing but big tape sponges) in sad heaps on the ground. Luckily that was the only storm we got, so we hung the fallen fish up on the fence to dry and were able to reinstall them by the end of the day.
What turned out to be the craziest element to draw was the 160-foot-long chainlink fence that ran along the entire wall. While the result was awesome, the process of making such an intricate pattern was bonkers slow. We literally spent four days kneeling next to the wall ripping tape into thin lines and then zig-zagging those lines up and down the wall. Worth it.
The final phase of the mural came after we were voted into the top 20 Artprize finalists. As a gesture of thanks for the public support, we made efforts to save the wheels of the city from the catfish scourge we had brought by air-lifting in paratrooping cats! You can see the felines below trying to playfully deal with the situation.
Over the course of the entire project we were talking non-stop. The crowds visiting the city for Artprize were astounding and there would be days where we would only get an hour of work done amongst the conversations with group after group of curious, engaged people. So good to see such a wide range of people interested in looking at and talking about art!