Friday, April 8, 2011

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Menahga artist gaining recognition
Friday, 08 April 2011 13:07

Kayleen Horsma at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan last fall with her painting, The Right Stuff.

Blossoming, self-taught Menahga artist Kayleen (Ylitalo) Horsma has a gift for capturing on canvas the expressions of ordinary folks engaged in some of life's most recognizable moments.

In a fashion similar to Norman Rockwell, this wife and mother of six, without fleshing out every detail, portrays everyday postures and expressions of people with the strokes of a paint brush. Her artistic horizons have broadened considerably, due in part to her participation last fall in the second annual ArtPrize contest held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The international contest, which had 1,713 artists participating from 44 states and 21 countries, was held Wednesday, September 22, through Sunday, October 10, 2010.

Kayleen was one of four Minnesota artists who participated in this one-of-a-kind contest, which was started in 2009 as a social/art experiment by Amway heir Rick DeVos. Her featured work – a 5-foot-square oil painting titled "The Right Stuff," on stretched Belgian linen – was one of 1,500 works displayed in 193 venues throughout the Grand Rapids area during the two-and-a-half-week contest.

"It was a really good experience, and I would encourage anybody who is interested to check it out," said Kayleen.

The only requirement for artists to participate in the contest is for them to make a connection with the owner of a Grand Rapids property who agrees to allow the artist’s work to be displayed on their property during the contest. All of the artists in the contest benefit from having their art viewed by a substantial audience; winners are judged "American Idol-style" by the voting public, which is a unique aspect of the contest. The first-place participant is awarded $250,000; second place wins $100,000; third place wins $50,000; and fourth through 10th place participants win $7,000 apiece, for a grand total of $449,000 in cash prizes.

Kayleen, who had never been away from her family for that length of time before, explained her reasons for participating in 2010 before the contest took place.

"I am going there for the experience, education, and to gain connections in the hope of winning a larger following for sales of my artworks," she said.

She is pleased to report that those objectives have been met, and she is now reaping benefits from the experience. Her blog ( has received more hits since her artwork was shown at ArtPrize, which in turn has led to more sales with Ugallery, as well as on Facebook.

"It's good for the artist, but really, it's a boon for Grand Rapids ..." because of what it does for their economy. Over the course of the contest, attendees not only view lots of great art at all the different venues, they stay in the area and go to concerts and patronize local businesses, including restaurants and hotels.

Kayleen's work, "The Right Stuff," was accepted and displayed by the Grand Valley Artists at Altens Place, a gallery in downtown Grand Rapids.

"I did two shows out there," she said. "I met a lot of artists who I stay in touch with now. The networking has been very good."

The Michigan event gained much more exposure for Horsma’s art; an estimated 32,000 people attended at her exhibit during the two-and-a-half week contest.

“It was kind of scary at first," she said, but the locals helped to put her at ease.

"You knew you were in a large city, but it felt like a small town." Grand Rapids has a population of over 190,000.

Kayleen spent a considerable amount of time volunteering at the gallery where her art was displayed. Some viewers prefer to talk to the artist, while others prefer to view the work in silence. "It was interesting to find out what types of people were drawn to my work," she said.

She has become more optimistic that her art has a future market, because a large number of viewers who expressed interest in her work are in the 20- to 40-year-old age range. Art professors and connoisseurs gave her positive reviews, too.

Kayleen has also gained the experience of being interviewed by radio and TV reporters.

Her featured piece at the contest, "The Right Stuff," honors the style and flair of artist Malcom Liepke. It depicts a gallery setting with two men and a woman in the foreground, with Norman Rockwell paintings on the gallery walls in the background, as well as other "browsers." The four Norman Rockwell paintings in the background of Kayleen's painting are, from left to right, "No Swimming," "Strictly A Sharpshooter," "100th Yr of Baseball" and "The Flirts."

After returning from Grand Rapids, Kayleen was doing an Internet search for Artprize articles and found a blog written by writer and illustrator A.E. Kieren of New York, New York, titled "More Artprize Highlights" in which he posted a picture of her painting and commented, "I saw this and thought 'Malcolm Liepke entered ArtPrize!' But nay, this painter is just an acolyte of Liepke's. She admits it in her statement. That's okay though, since I myself have been known to be a great admirer of Mr. Liepke."

She said she may consider returning to ArtPrize, this time with a goal of connecting with a larger venue in Grand Rapids, perhaps a museum. The museums had larger attendance numbers (estimated at about 80,000). Her next oil painting for the show would be about eight feet by 20 feet and she does have a composition in mind.

Kayleen did not see many familiar faces at ArtPrize, but was happy to see a few. Those who visited her in Michigan during the contest included two sisters (Donelle Aho of Marquette, Michigan, and Audrey Miller from Buffalo, Minnesota); high school classmate Rachael (Siltala) Wattenhofer, a Menahga native living near Grand Rapids who is the daughter-in-law of Kayleen's Dorset art mentor Raymond Wattenhofer (; and a couple of friends also native to the Menahga area, SaYon Komulainen who lives near Minneapolis, and Pete Odland, who lives near Grand Rapids.

Kayleen visited Pete and his family at his home. She said the beautiful landscape where they live reminds her of the Smoky Hills near Wolf Lake.

During the ArtPrize contest, when Kayleen was not volunteering at the gallery or visiting with friends, she enjoyed venturing out to view the works of other artists that were on display throughout Grand Rapids.

Her work is currently for sale on Ugallery, which is an online art gallery that sells the work of emerging artists. Some of her pieces have been included, at various times, among Ugallery's top 50 pieces of art, which are distinguished as the most popular, eye-catching works on the site. There are now about 4,000 pieces of artwork listed on Ugallery. To view some of Kayleen's art online, visit the site at, or to read more about her experience with Ugallery visit the local arts guild blog

Kayleen said she has reevaluated her previous prices and dropped them in order to break into a soft art market due to the overall economy. So far, this strategy has been working in her favor. She said she hopes that prices will surpass the previous purchase tag prices, making the investment financially worthwhile.

In addition to its online viewing, Ugallery hosts prestigious shows throughout the year. Kayleen recently announced that she is among 10 artists chosen (from the roughly 400 artists represented by Ugallery) to show her work at The Spring Affordable Art Fair in New York City, May 5-8. The Affordable Art Fair is similar to an art fair that we may think of, but on a much grander scale, with the exhibitors being noted galleries and not individual artists. On the web site for this event (www.aafnyc. com), it says, "AAF in NYC is a place to discover and buy works of art from today's hottest young talent and well-known names ..." Ugallery is the only "online" gallery that attends the AAF.

Needless to say, Kayleen is excited about having her work chosen for display at the event. "This is a HUGE deal for me,” she said. “Galleries exhibiting at this show are from Canada, Australia, London, Spain, UK, England, Argentina, Vietnam, Netherlands, Paris, as well as many states here in the U.S."

The show also exhibits on different dates around the world, including in Amsterdam, Bristol, Brussels, London, Melbourne, Milan, Paris, Singapore and Sydney.

p1194600One of Kayleen's latest works on Ugallery is a piece titled, "Not on the Lips," which is a classic portrayal of a man making a move to kiss a woman on the lips, and as he does, she turns her head at that moment so the kiss lands on her cheek instead of her lips. This is but one of many examples of a Kayleen Horsma painting of an experience that many people can relate to in their own lives. She focuses in on the mood and expressing individual personalities. "I love painting people, trying to capture the different moods," Kayleen said.

One customer commented after purchasing her work online, "Just received 'Chosen to Love.' While I knew I'd like the painting, I didn't expect it to take my breath away. Thank you!"

When painting, Kayleen says she focuses on three main things: Mood, contrast between light and dark, and keeping it simple.

"Often I don't refer to any model or picture, and with no under drawing, I just begin to paint. I like the magic of seeing what will be the end result, without knowing before hand. I think it's that simplicity of technique and the mood that's captured which people are drawn to."

Recently, Kayleen was contacted by Artifacts Gallery in Cambria, California, which is near the Hearst Castle. The current plan is to test market her work at the gallery. If that goes well, the company will eventually publish her work. Their 5,000-square-foot gallery features the works of about 85 of the top artists in the country, including Bev Doolittle, Steve Hanks and Charles Wysocki. If it all works in her favor, the price of a print of her paintings could run upward of $1,200 dollars, making the present potentially an ideal time to purchase a Horsma original. She is also considering a contract with an agency which assists in commercial sales and show bookings.

Kayleen's artwork was shown at a variety of places during 2010, including the Artfair at Devos Center in Grand Rapids, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, Vertin Gallery in Calumet, Michigan, the APW Gallery in New York, New York, and Your Art's Desire in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Locally, she is one of a handful of people involved in the Menahga Arts Guild, a new organization started last summer to promote the arts in the community and to help artists connect.

Kayleen was recently nominated for "The Gilded Feather Award" as a potential Master Artist, a program which recognizes outstanding regional artists who have made a significant contribution to the arts in Central Minnesota. She said she would like to thank Executive Director Mark Turner of the McKnight Foundation and Grants Coordinator Nancy Leasman of the Five Wings Arts Council for their assistance over the years, as well as a special mention of thanks to her supporters for the generous spirit and contributions that they have shown.

Kayleen and her husband, Jay, live with their six children near Menahga and operate Chet's Pumping Service.

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