The term starving artist is one Pennsylvania native Bill Secunda is familiar with.
“It’s definitely real,” Secunda said. “You spend a lot of time and money trying to get to these shows and finding people who will be interested in your work, and it’s just amazing how those costs begin to add up.”
But hitting rock bottom has never stopped him, and hasn’t stopped any of the other approximately 1,200 artists at Ann Arbor’s art fair this past week.
From Wednesday to Saturday, the Ann Arbor art fairs attracted more than 500,000 people to the streets of downtown Ann Arbor. The influx of people meant blocked streets, minimal available parking, and increased profit for many Ann Arbor businesses.
Art fairgoers may have noticed Secunda’s 34 foot-long 600-pound spider on the corner of East and South University, or the Gate Keeper, a brawny, armor-clad, eight-foot tall monster, on the corner of South University and Tappan.
Like many artists at the art fair, Secunda described his job as just one of those things that feels right. “The biggest part of it is that I started off doing this for fun and it’s still fun.”
Secunda explains, however, that these fun times come with many trials and tribulations.
“Every time you get knocked down you just have to get up and keep going,” Secunda said. Stopping is “never a question. You just have to pay your dues.”
Secunda, who specializes in large metal sculptures, has only been doing art full-time for a little under six years.
“(Before my first show) I was never in a gallery in my life, never had any art classes,” Secunda said. “I took two courses at a community college to learn how to weld.”
From there Secunda continued to work with metal, later opening his own construction company.
Secunda said the changing point in his life came after an accident resulting in the deaths of his best friend and his best friend’s wife.
“I took two weeks off and said ‘I’m going to play around the house,’ and ended up building a five foot-tall praying mantis,” Secunda said. “It was weird because four people in my family ended up blowing a water tank so I had four water tanks to use on this.”
Secunda, who has been to the Ann Arbor art fair the past four years, was introduced to Maggie Ladd, executive director of the South University Art Fair, at a show in Miami.
“We go all around the country talking to artists to be in the fair,” Ladd said. “We go to about two major events a year.”
Ladd said her goal is to have new, exciting, and above all, fresh artists in the fair.
“We re-invite about 70 to 100 artists and we jury in the rest,” Ladd said. “We’ve had a lot of comments (about all the new artists). The audience is really excited about it.”
One of the booths that clearly excited fairgoers contained Milwaukee artist Marc Sijan’s lifelike sculptures. The crowd on the corner of Maynard and William thought the sculptures looked so real that they might blink eventually.
“People will say the only thing that’s missing is the pulse, and I’m working on that,” Sijan said.
This artist gets his reputation from his meticulous recreations of the human body.
“My job is to interpret reality,” Sijan said. “I have to be a sculptor and a painter. I work with a magnifying glass, dental instruments, and a triple zero brush (to make fingerprints and pores in the skin).”
Sijan has been featured in 40 one-man museum exhibitions.
“Many artists have been in group museum shows, but to do a one-man museum show is very special,” Sijan said. “Museums only do that two or three times a year.”
Even Sijan can find a home in Ann Arbor’s art fair, which he has attended since 1971.
“My roots are here,” Sijan said. “I started doing art fairs 30 years ago.”
School of Art and Design junior Lauren Berry attended her first art fair this past week as one of the three artists chosen for the Emerging Artist Program with the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.
“At first it was kind of overwhelming,” Berry said. “I was really nervous about what to expect. I had never sold any of my own work before.”
Berry, who specializes in metal jewelry, applied to the program with dozens of other art students and considers herself very lucky to have been chosen.
“By the end (of the art fair), I felt like a pro,” Berry said. “The whole experience turned out to be much more than I planned on it being. It was a lot bigger, and went better than I had anticipated.”
Although Berry is uncertain about her future plans, she hopes to return to the fair. “I just learned so much from it.”