If art itself is a subjective affair, you can certainly quantify an artist’s commitment to his work — at least in the case of Chris O’Rourke and “Windows,” the impressive and imposing sculpture (20 feet high, 1,700 pounds) only partly captured in the photo above. As he told a TV station in Grand Rapids, Mich., he put 2,600 hours into fabricating it, along with about $50,000 in materials and resources (power, etc.). As he told CityLife, it cost him $3,000 in gas to haul the piece to Michigan. And why Michigan? As he told the TV station, it’s a “hail Mary.”
Grand Rapids is the site of the lucrative annual ArtPrize, the winner of which comes home with $200,000. And O’Rourke could use the money. An architectural metal-worker, he’s seen the economy slow down his business to the point he fears he might lose the house and workshop he built in the northwestern part of the valley.
So, if you’re an artist, perhaps the best way to meet such a challenge is to invest in your talent and double down. “I live in a gambling town,” he says. “I don’t gamble, but I will always bet on myself because I believe in myself.”
“Windows” is — in size and spirit — the large-scale manifestation of that belief. He gave each of its six sections a different finish, deftly hiding the welds for a clean, seamless feel. Bold and contemporary, it’s the sort of piece that will wholly occupy any location in which it’s sited, and O’Rourke figured he had a decent shot at the house-saving money.
He didn’t win. “But you can’t win if you’re not out there,” he says, adding that he placed No. 50 out of more than 1,500 entries — out of the money, but perhaps not out of luck. He says the mayor of a city in Florida took a shine to the piece and might push to buy it as the city’s signature public art.
For now, “Windows” lays sideways on a trailer at his home, ready, he hopes, to head for Florida soon, but until then serving as quantifiable, empirical evidence of the way art can give form to one’s life.
“I’m so passionate about what I do,” he said, “that my heart was holding a gun to my head, and I didn’t have a choice.”