TRAVERSE CITY — Paul Welch knows he doesn’t have a lot of time.
The 80-year-old retired art instructor and veteran artist spent most of his career focused on teaching young artists rather than working on his own art. He’s focused more on his art since retiring from Northwest Michigan College 24 years ago. But Welch began to feel he left things undone as time ticked past.
That’s why he decided earlier this year to throw his hat in the ring for the prestigious ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids. He knew getting into the juried art show was a long shot. Organizers sift through nearly 6,000 works of art each year and send rejection letters to more than 4,000 artists.
“I’m 80 years old,” Welch said. “So I figured ‘Hey I’m going to do this.’ I entered it, I guess, just for the challenge.”
The 6-foot-3-inch tall former college football player now walks with a cane. He doesn’t have a Facebook page and knows Twitter only by name. He knew if he was going to succeed in the effort he’d need some help tackling technological hurdles.
“I had to get my granddaughter to help me with the entry,” he said. Submissions for ArtPrize must be digitally submitted, no prints are accepted.
Knowing the entry, his first try at the show, might be his last, Welch decided to go big. While other artists vied for space inside restaurants and building lobbies, Welch decided the best place for his work is somewhere where people can see it, where they can enjoy it.
He enlisted the help of several friends to execute his proposal to hang a 24-by-18-foot collage of his self portrait on the side of a building. The original painting was a mixture of acrylic paints and colored pencil not much bigger than a dinner plate. Traverse City photographer John Williams helped Welch scan and manipulate the painting to create the giant collage. And Britten Banners offered it’s unique facilities to print the massive work.