Natalia Rak

Currents to Unknown , 2019, paint. 26 Ionia Ave SW.   Photo: Carbon Stories for UICA

Currents to Unknown, 2019, paint. 26 Ionia Ave SW. Photo: Carbon Stories for UICA

Currents to Unknown is Located at 26 Ionia Ave SW, in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. The south-facing wall of the Richmond Stamp Building was painted by Natalia Rak. Rak is an internationally known, Poland-based artist that uses brightly colored paint to craft multi-story murals. Rak's subjects are predominantly larger than life situations that evoke mystery and metaphor, often using concepts or images from famous fables or stories.

All across the United States, towns of all sizes have been adopting the benefits of murals and public artworks. Several cities have committees, groups, and commissions that aim to promote local talent or bring in outside artists to engage the community and turn empty city walls into large public canvases. The result of their efforts has been shown to have long-lasting effects on neighborhoods.

UICA's Exit Space Project not only expands UICA's impact throughout our region but also connects the community to visitors and visitors to the vibrant neighborhoods in and around Grand Rapids. "Public art is, on its surface, beautiful artwork; but the value of art in the public space is its ability to create conversations," said Katherine Williams, Community Programs Coordinator. "Public art works to make areas feel more welcoming to visitors and more walkable for everyone. Often, experiencing art in your own community creates more than a conversation, it builds connections and gives people a sense of pride in their city, their neighborhood, and themselves."

"We are thrilled to work with regional, and -now- international, contemporary artists to transform these public spaces," shared Miranda Krajniak, UICA's Executive Director. "It's also been a rewarding experience to see the communities give input and feedback - and to watch people participate in these art pieces in their own neighborhoods - that communal effort has strengthened our passion for this project."

This mural project came together through the combined efforts of UICA, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, and Grand Rapids Sister Cities International. One of the reasons Natalia Rak was selected as the artist for this project is her connection to the Grand Rapids Sister City, Bielsko-Biała, Poland.

When asked about the inspiration for her mural in Grand Rapids, Rak said, "I was inspired, in part, by the shape of the specific building. The one half being high and the other half being lower - it was a more complex shape than many of my previous walls. I thought an image of water would fit the space well and allow me to create something beautiful while permitting me to be organic and have fun with the process. I also wanted to play with proportions and show elements with an unnatural contrast - in this case, a swan and a girl with relative sizes not normally found in real life. Plus, I still have a childlike curiosity, so some of this piece is, simply, fun and whimsical." 

"The process is very important to me," said Rak. "Even though I have a plan before I start, I find inspiration in the process. I like to let some parts of the work just appear through the exploration and the time spent working on the project. Painting should be fun, and I'm always trying new things and learning while I create each piece. I'm bringing some techniques I learned in Berlin, and some from Spain - and some from playing with very liquidy paints on canvas in my studio. Plus, I'm sure I'll try some new things here, too."