East Lansing Professor Turns Painter for ArtPrize Competition

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018, 11:04 am
Sarah Spohn

MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences Professor Karl Gude’s 5.5 foot canvas “Chasing the Pack” is part of the international art competition, ArtPrize, through October 7. It’s on display at The B.O.B. restaurant, in Grand Rapids.

Gude started out drawing as a teenager, when his father sent him to his room.

Drawing led the teenager to buy art books, and he became fascinated by impressionist works. “My very first painting as a junior in high school was some woman sitting at a table in Paris, with a bottle of wine, and looking very pained,” Gude said. “I thought that’s what I had to do, to be an Impressionist.”

Many things have changed since that painting in 1971.

Before coming to East Lansing, Gude was a journalist for 27 years in New York City and Washington, D.C. A coworker at Newsweek showed Gude a letter of interest from Michigan State University, expressing their idea to start a new visual and infographics program. The opportunity appealed to Gude, who was burned out from the 24-7 news cycle.

Gude was also missing important moments with his family, because of work, like little league games, and weekends.

Leaving his high-rise office overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle, Gude, his wife, and two children moved to East Lansing.

While he spent years as a commercial artist, Gude had never displayed his personal work. Inspired by a 1986 New York Daily News illustration he did of a bicyclist (pictured above), and equipped with a huge photo backdrop canvas, Gude decided to begin playing with paint on the canvas.

The project came with plenty of frustration, and many revisions.

“If you were to get up close to it, you’d see that it actually has a lot of texture to it under the thin patina of finished painting,” Gude said. “The reason for that is all the different iterations that came before it. I actually use that as a metaphor for how we are as people. We have this exterior patina or look to us when we make an impression, but underneath that – how we got to this place is a pretty bumpy ride.”

An estimated 500 hours went into “Chasing the Pack,” (pictured above) over a span of three years. “At first, I just sort of goofed around with it,” Gude said. “I painted it entirely as a day scene, and then I tried to paint the entire thing with a one-inch brush…I tried an impressionistic, rushed style, and tried to do the whole painting in two days with a thick brush and I hated it.”

He spent hours switching the clouds, and adding a thunderstorm or small details like a tiny bee. “I’m just a realist who likes to create the illusion of drama,” Gude said, “I was thinking of it as visual theatre. That’s why I threw the red rosebush in it, and the leaves blowing in the foreground to give it movement. I wanted people to just wish they could be there, or wish they were that cyclist. I wanted them to just sort of have their breath taken away a little bit.”

Gude spoke about the process of getting into ArtPrize. “There’s no jury that chooses you,” he said. “You just submit your work, and hope a venue sees it and offers you a place in their building. If somebody says ‘hey we’ll hang that,’ you’re in ArtPrize. That’s all it takes. So I got invited to the B.O.B.”

The B.O.B., or Big Old Building on Monroe St. is a well-trafficked venue during the art competition, with three floors of entries.

Although Gude doesn’t expect to win any of the $500,000 prizes awarded from public and jury votes, he does admit it would be a nice feeling. The artist describes himself as “terribly insecure” when it comes to his painting.

“I’ve never taken an art class,” Gude said. “It all came from me going to my room and finding a love for drawing. One day I decided painting must be just filling in and coloring your drawings, so I tried that. You know – you do something enough, and you get pretty good at it.”

“I’ve learned so many different ways to paint, that I feel like much a more confident painter now. That’s what I learned,” Gude said. “I’m 63, kind of moving toward retirement, and I’m thinking I could actually enjoy painting as a retirement kind of thing.”



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