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Family of artists creates city-wide game of 'I Spy' for ArtPrize Eight

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THE FEED

Aaron Zenz and his six kids placed a thousand rocks with hand-painted faces around Grand Rapids for visitors to find while they explore the city, which has transformed into one giant venue for displaying and interacting with art.
"Rock Around" by Aaron Zenz can be spotted in different locations while exploring Grand Rapids during ArtPrize.

/Carly Schweppe

"Rock Around" by Aaron Zenz can be spotted in different locations while exploring Grand Rapids during ArtPrize.


Zenz tells visitors the story behind his art outside the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.

Zenz tells visitors the story behind his art outside the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.  /Carly Schweppe

A distressed yellow monster found in a secret location just a few blocks from the Children's Museum.

A distressed yellow monster found in a secret location just a few blocks from the Children's Museum.  /Carly Schweppe

Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

At this year’s ArtPrize, there are 171 venues with 1,453 entries. Art is displayed in galleries and museums. It’s in coffee shops, restaurants, banks and hospitals. It’s on bridges, at the corners of streets and in parks.

Art can be found all over the place, something Aaron Zenz, an author and illustrator from Spring Lake, Mich., and his six kids, ages 5 to 17, demonstrate with the 1,000 rocks they painted into colorful creatures and placed in secret spots around Grand Rapids for their entry titled “Rock Around.”

For the piece, each rock was painted one of seven different colors—a color for every family member working on the project—and then filled in with all kinds of facial expressions and details like stripes, polka dots, bow ties, mustaches and eye glasses. The rocks were painted in pairs, meaning every rock has a twin. Half of the rocks are displayed outside the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and the other 500 matching rocks are spread throughout the city so that people can see how many they are able to find during their day at ArtPrize.

“It’s this kind of interactive thing,” Zenz said. “So as they’re walking around and enjoying all the art they can be looking over their shoulder and ‘Oh, there’s one! I see one up on top of that thing!’ or ‘There’s one tucked underneath there!’ And it becomes just like a giant game of ‘I Spy.’”

Zenz encourages people to take pictures of any of the rocks found out on the loose in the city and to share them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #RockAroundGR.

The Zenz family became inspired in this kind of art four or five years ago when they watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a documentary by the street artist Banksy.

“After we got done watching it,” Zenz said, “my daughter who was ten at the time said, ‘I’m going to be a street artist when I grow up. That’s what I want to do, Dad.’ I was kind of horrified, like, ‘Oh no, what did I do?’ But she was so excited about what she had seen that I didn’t want to squash her enthusiasm.”

Zenz came up with the idea to gather rocks together, paint faces on them then hide them around their town as a way of doing a stealthy kind of public street art without the vandalism aspect seen in the film.

When he posted the family’s experience of painting and placing the rocks, Zenz received a large amount of positive feedback on his blog. People from New York to Australia sent messages about wanting to hold their own rock painting parties with family and friends.

Since their first street art project with the rocks, the Zenz’s have repeated the process with both sticks and leaves. And while they’ve attended ArtPrize all eight years, Zenz didn’t know how exactly to format their street art to the competition until last year.

“I didn’t know how to adapt it because there’s no venue if you’re just putting it all around,” Zenz said. “So I thought of the idea of painting them in pairs, half of them being here and half of them being tucked around town. It’s a lot bigger than what we’ve done in the past. In the past when we did it, we painted about 40 objects and hid them. So this was a big undertaking to do 1,000. It’s been a lot of fun for the family.”

While out walking around these next couple weeks, look for signs on sidewalks indicating an ArtPrize venue is nearby and remember to keep an eye out for artwork even when there aren’t any official signs.

Art is everywhere. All you have to do is notice it. 


Carly recently graduated from Hope College in Holland, MI. She is an assistant editor for Vinyl, an online poetry and prose journal. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot and Hobart.

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