Meet three up-and-coming artists featured at this year's Ann Arbor Art Fair

Each of the three fairs that comprise the Ann Arbor Art Fair offers an Emerging Artist program to highlight up-and-coming artists. We chatted with three of them.
This story is part of a series about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. It is made possible by the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Destination Ann Arbor, Larry and Lucie Nisson, and the University Musical Society.

Every summer, downtown Ann Arbor is flooded with visitors to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, which comprises three distinct and independently juried fairs: the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original; the Guild of Artists and Artisans' Summer Art Fair; and the Ann Arbor State Street District Art Fair.
The fair, which will take place July 18-20 this year, typically brings in close to half a million visitors each year, and is renowned for being the largest juried art fair in the United States. With more than 1,000 different artist booths to choose from — to say nothing of the food vendors, live music, and brick-and-mortar shops — it can be difficult to focus on any one thing.
But each of the three fairs also offers an Emerging Artist program to highlight up-and-coming artists and, in some cases, provide those artists with mentorship opportunities.
"Each of us does it differently, but basically, we're setting the foundation for new artists that are entering the art fair journey, so to speak," says Karen Delhey, executive director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans.
We recently chatted with three of 2024's Emerging Artists about their backgrounds, work, interests, and aspirations for this year's art fair.

David Reyes is pushing forward
David Reyes started taking photos after his older sister gave him her camera, a Nikon D3000.
"She said I could have it if I just figured out how to use it," Reyes says.
At first, Reyes was primarily drawn to light and shadow. He says he photographed objects when he liked "how the light [was] hitting [them]," and stuck to a black-and-white palette, which gave him the most opportunity to experiment with contrast.
Recently, though, Reyes has become more interested in pairing his passion for light and shadow with a commitment to social justice.
 Doug CoombeDavid Reyes with some prints of his photos.
"What I love about photography … isn't just the ability to produce a beautiful image, but the ability to have a message behind the image," he says.
He says photography became a way of "liberating marginalized communities," and amplifying voices that might not otherwise be heard.
Reyes grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Eastern Michigan University last year with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and economics. He's currently studying for the LSAT and he describes law school as another avenue for "helping."
Reyes' artistic inspirations include the groundbreaking Hungarian photographer André Kertész, and Alberto Korda, whose 1960 portrait of Che Guevara has become iconic. Reyes says that seeing Korda, in particular, capture "crucial times in history" on film – not "to entertain others, but to … document" – was "huge" for him.
courtesy David ReyesA photo by David Reyes In his own photos, Reyes says, he'd like to depict people and their stories. On a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Toledo, he took portraits of the people he met, "whether they were a Christian missionary or a Subway worker or just somebody trying to get to a wedding."
And while his sister's camera was eventually stolen — Reyes left it on a bench during a photo shoot and returned to find it gone — he's had no trouble transitioning to the Fujifilm X100V he now uses.
Reyes showed his work for the first time at the Ann Arbor Art Fair last year, but this year he'll be featured as part of New Art, New Artists, a program of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original. The program is designed for Michigan college students to exhibit their work, receive mentoring, and keep 100% of their sales revenue. Reyes, along with five other student artists, was selected for the program by a jury.
"Instead of just having a picture of the moment, I want to be able to push forward and really have a strong foundation for us to consider whatever the image may display," he says.
Bo N Inthivong's career plunge
"Anything that's beautiful speaks to me," says Bo N Inthivong, a Traverse City-based artist whose work will be featured as part of the Ann Arbor State Street District Art Fair's Emerging Artists program.
Inthivong, who works in pen and ink, describes his creative process both as a form of therapy and as an act of "remembrance." When he's in the midst of that process, he doesn't think about potential reactions to his work. 

"I'm just, like, 'This is my interpretation of what I find beautiful in that moment, in that time," he says.
Inthivong describes his background as "eclectic." His father is a self-taught painter and his brothers are also artists. He was 4 years old when he and his family fled their native Laos for a refugee camp in "terrible condition," he says. They lived in the camp for a year and a half. A Mennonite church eventually sponsored his family's immigration to northern Indiana.
 courtesy Bo N InthivongBo N Inthivong.
Inthivong studied visual communication design and art history at Purdue University before working as a graphic designer for an Indiana-based agency. Later, in Chicago, he worked for a toy company, where he made mock-ups of potential toys. He says he eventually "dabbled in doggie clothing couture" for a company launched by one of his brothers. Inthivong traveled, too, living in Los Angeles and Forth Worth, Texas, before settling in Traverse City.
He says he's been making art since he was a child, but only fully devoted himself to professional practice a few years ago, a move he describes as a "career plunge." He says he built his first art studio and "started to bring back [his] art" while in Fort Worth.
"I really just want to express myself and do the things that I love," he says.
At first, he experimented with collage art, combining decades-old fashion posters with a Japanese print-style design, before transitioning to the pen-and-ink work he focuses on now. Inthivong says his style had always been "a little bit here and a little bit there," but applications to art fairs seemed to require a more cohesive approach.
courtesy Bo N InthivongA print by Bo N Inthivong.
"For me," he says, "the hardest part was finding a cohesive look or [creating] a collection."
He began to focus more narrowly on scenes from nature, and to develop his skills in stippling and ink washes. For his first time at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, he says he plans to show black-and-white prints with "hints of gold metallic," featuring scenes of moons, cats, butterflies, and birds. 

He describes himself as "social but also an introvert," a dichotomy well-suited to the atmosphere of an art fair, where he's able to publicly present the work he created in private.
"When I'm making art, I'm always sort of secluded and feel isolated," Inthivong says. "I always have this conflict between showing my art and not showing my art."
Inthivong says he enjoys the interactions he has with people at art fairs.
"I love the art collectors and the art appreciators and the people that get art and understand and appreciate the process you go through to create [something]," he says. "I think I just feed off of that positivity."
Melinda Vukonich's need to do more
"I don't claim to know where inspiration comes from," says Melinda Vukonich, a Royal-Oak based artist whose work will be featured as part of the Summer Art Fair's Emerging Artists program.
Vukonich describes painting and drawing as "meditative" acts that naturally prompt her to "gravitate towards images that are calming." But, she adds, "I also am fascinated by anything weird and metaphysical or occult or strange."
Vukonich makes oil paintings and uses Photoshop on a Wacom tablet for her illustrations, which frequently feature mermaids, aliens, and other fantastical creatures in bright, vibrant colors. She says she's drawn to anything that "lies outside of what we understand," and she maintains a similar openness toward interpretations of her work.
"I think of myself as a conduit for the images to come through me, and I am totally open to the idea that a viewer has their own interpretation of [a piece of art,]" she says. "In fact, I love when a viewer has an interpretation of something I've done that is nowhere near where my head was at."
Meghan LaPrairieMelinda Vukonich. 
Recently, for example, she says she's found herself drawing human figures without pupils, because "it sort of denotes [an] altered state, or a meditative state, or maybe a trance," which she finds "peaceful."
But, Vukonich adds, "some people … look at [the drawings] and they're totally put off."
After studying illustration at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Vukonich says she took her career in a "corporate direction," creating storyboards for a marketing firm and digital games for all sorts of companies.
"For a while, I thought that just getting a job in art — doing any kind of art — would be fulfilling. And it was for a while, but I started to need to do more," she says.
 courtesy Melinda VukonichA painting by Melinda Vukonich.
Eventually, she got a job at a company that creates educational software for children.
"I get to be a part of teaching kids things that I think are valuable life skills, like financial education and mental health," Vukonich says. "So I feel good about it — but at the same time, it's freeing to be able to express myself on my own."
Now, Vukonich balances a day job with both her creative work and being a mom — all of which, she admits, "is kind of exhausting." But like Inthivong, Vukonich appreciates the camaraderie of art fairs. She says she's most looking forward to "connecting with other artists and people in the art community at large" while at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
"Ever since art school, I've been a little bit isolated as far as an art community goes, and I would love to have something like that back," she says. "I never feel like I belong so much as I do when I'm surrounded by artists. Being in our own little group of weirdos is so fulfilling."

Natalia Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and others.

David Reyes photos by Doug Coombe.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.