Dean Kugler entered Black Hawk College as a kinesiology major, and thought that a class in figure drawing might help him better understand the science of human movement.

"I took a couple of classes and one of them was a figure drawing class. It really clicked with me," he recalled.

A U.S. Army veteran medic, Kugler became fascinated with representations of the human form.

"I think there's a connectedness with the viewer that you can't get with any other subject matter," he said.

Kugler has his first exhibition in 17 years, titled "It Figures" and featuring drawings, paintings and sculptures of the human form, on display at Black Hawk's ArtSpace Gallery through Sept. 11.

His friend and fellow artist Steve Banks, who taught art at Black Hawk, convinced him to put his work on display, Kugler said.

The 45-year-old Kugler returned to art after taking about a 15-year break, he said.

"When I was graduating (from Western Illinois University) I was waiting to go to grad school and I started a construction company and it ended up being a creative outlet for me," he said.

Indeed, his Davenport-based Redbox Design Inc. allowed him to get creative with various aspects of home building and remodeling.

"I'll design something from scratch and when we make the product, it's a creative process," he said.

Kugler returned to art when his two children entered college.

"I told my wife, 'I'm gonna drive you crazy,'" he said of being an empty-nester.

"And she said, 'You should do some art,'" he recalled with a laugh.

Kugler said he always longed to return to art, especially when he traveled to see galleries, museums and art studios.

"You go and look at work in galleries and ... you just have that passion burning," he said.

For the third year, Kugler returns to Grand Rapids, Mich., this fall with an entry in ArtPrize, the largest art competition in the world, with more than 1,500 works of art at more than 160 venues within 3 square miles of the city.

ArtPrize, from Sept. 23 to Oct. 11, concludes with the awarding of two, $200,000 prizes — one picked by a jury and one picked by the public through voting on a smartphone app.

Location is the key to success in Grand Rapids, Kugler said. Two years ago, he had a sculpture in the back of a hall that didn't receive much traffic.

Last year, he had a prime spot — in the courtyard in front of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum — and was ranked in the top-25 of 1,700 artists until severe weather struck and any outdoors exhibits went without votes.

Kugler, who said artists have to find their own display space in the city, was promised that "last year was a fluke," and was invited to return to the Ford museum.

His entry this year is "The Desecration of Adam," a sculpture based on Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam," depicted on the Sistine Chapel.

Kugler told art students and instructors at Black Hawk this week that the idea came to him during last year's ArtPrize.

The sculpture, 12 feet wide and 12 feet high, depicts a black man in the same pose as Michelangelo's. There are, however, scars on his legs and arms and welts on his lip. Subtly depicted and only seen in stark light, are symbols of various groups that are discriminated against for reasons of religion, race, sexual orientation or indigenous nature.

It depicts not violations of civil rights but of human rights, "what we do to each other in spite of our sameness."

Kugler recruited his yoga instructor, "who looks like a damned Adonis," to pose for the sculpture. The man's eyes are covered with a serpent and his genitals are covered in a cloth, which Kugler said represents shame.

Kugler told the students that he welcomes visitors when he's creating his sculptures. Last year, he created his ArtPrize piece in the courtyard of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport.

"There's a connection with the viewers in public that you do not get in galleries," he said. "It's one thing to see the result and it's another thing to see the process."

He talked about taking last year's ArtPrize entry, a tall-winged angel, to Grand Rapids on the back of a truck and having people take pictures as they were speeding down the highway.

This year, he plans on opening the side of his truck so onlookers can get a view they might not otherwise receive.

"That's an exposure to art that most people don't have," he said.

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