Sketchy characters

Grand Rapids isn't a place that conjures images of wild eccentricity, the city's primary cultural exports seemingly being Amway reps, mountains of adequately comfortable office furniture and Meijer's vast acres of thrift. Unlikely a locale as it may seem, in that idyllic mid-American town, in a run-down bachelor pad, across the street from a church and an old cemetery, one man and his unpretentious Web site have inspired a creative mutiny.

For years, members of the city's innovative music community came to 10 Eastern Ave. SE, former home of musician Rich Vogel and several friends, to practice and record. Bands such as Cat Time, the Phantom Wedding Band, Mommy Won't Wake Up, Lake Success and the Cartridge Family gathered in the basement, the air thick with the stench of long neglected litter boxes, to make music and toss around ideas. In 2002, Vogel (of Night Toucher, LSDudes and formerly of Cat Time) started the Web site to showcase the outrageous local music scene.

Vogel has since married and moved into a new home, and his online endeavor has moved on with him. A while ago, he began displaying a dizzying collection of found photos — everyday snapshots culled from popular shareware networks online, presented in his own whimsical context. The sheer volume of media attention from international publications spurred him to shift focus toward another equally innovative section of

A small community of artists was congregating on the site's "Drawrings" board, which allowed the public to access a basic drawing program, one as crude as the painting program Vogel used on his Commodore 64 as a teen in the '80s. Artists with such screen names as Poopmustache, Tthunderdan, Pompous Percival, Les Tristes and Naranjohn began drawing pictures and exhibiting the results, accompanied by a short statement. Word spread, and as the site grew popular, visitors began competing with one another, flexing their mouse skills. A gallery of disparate images grew.

Vogel's "Drawrings" board, now getting half a million page views per day, enables the community to freely and anonymously create and share images summoned from the deepest recesses of their minds. As with any medium that freely plumbs the depths, the imagery can be juvenile. Bloody zombies and exaggerated nudes abound; one board is devoted solely to penis drawings. But Vogel, who moderates the board himself, says he sees this as "an expected side effect of having a completely open forum." He cringes at references like "low brow" and "high art." Instead, he chooses to appreciate the energy and time these everyday artists spend creating one single 300-by-300 pixel image.

From this bizarre accumulation comes Make Draw, a one-night art show featuring a collection of funny, outlandish and awe-inspiring images printed out from the site. Many works are truly stunning in their beauty, specifically because of the attention to form and detail. The most striking is a series of highly stylized, melancholy birds by artist "LM," in which a penguin, owl, rooster and duck look like creatures from a fantastic cartoon. With huge heads, tiny feet and eyes full of wonder, they're like rejected mascots for forgotten products, strange and cute yet vacant and ominous-looking.

For every lovingly or painstakingly rendered drawing, there's another slapdash one that touches on something so simple and universally understood that you have to laugh and enjoy it. One such image depicts a typical codger in a park, hunched over his cane. As a young woman jogs by, with only her powder-blue hot pants and tribal tattoo visible in the picture frame, he thinks: "Life's Unfair."

With more than 25,000 images, about 700 of which are culled for Make Draw, has drawn a line, establishing an unrestrained environment for expression. By providing this forum, Vogel inadvertently brought together a scene that doesn't profit on popularity, but on effort and imagination.


Make Draw is Wednesday, Aug. 23, as part of "This Week in Art" at Motor City Brewing Works, 470 W. Canfield Detroit; 313-832-2700. Proceeds from sales of the art work, each available for under $10, support the Web site and Vogel's self-published books of the drawings.

Benjamin Hernandez is a local filmmaker and writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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