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ArtPrize artist profile: The Dufala brothers

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Artists create moving toilets for contest entry

One curious phenomenon will flush out the onlookers this Friday at 6 p.m. Those strolling the downtown area admiring Art Prize entries may have their walk interrupted by loud voices, much like those at a horse race. But this race is all about toilets.

Yes, toilets. Among the paintings and sculptures entered in Art Prize, will be a race involving homemade toilet-tricycles. The artist daring enough to enter this curious piece of art is Billy Blaise Dufala, a member of the duo The Dufala Bothers from Philadelphia. Though the art is credited to both the Dufala brothers, only Billy will come to Grand Rapids.

Dufala, 28, and his older brother Steven Dufala, 32, are a pair of artists forging their own path through the art world with their cool modern art style. With both parents artistically inclined it was hard for the brothers to not get interested. The whole family—with Billy the youngest and Steven the middle brother of five—had “instrument lessons, and piano lessons.”

Both brothers graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with their art certificate. Since then Steven Dufala started the Man Man band, which his brother is now a part of. It “pays the bills” Billy Dufala says, “we are on the road four-six months out of the year on tour.” The band released its latest album, Rabbit Habits, in 2008 and is known for its use of various instruments, along with piano. Billy Dufala plays the flute and the saxophone under his stage name Chang Wang.

In February 2009 the brothers won first place in the West Prize competition, with an ice cream truck turned war machine that still served ice cream and earned the winner’s purse of $25,000. Dufala says the truck “was built as part of a show that was touring” and after winning the competition was sold to the West collection. 

Dufala entered Art Prize because, he says, “I heard about it last minute, in the third week of July. My sister-in-law had already entered.” Dufala goes on to say how excited he was when he heard about the voting system, the community focus, and the $250,000 first prize. “I was in the middle of eating a burger, and I dropped it! I knocked the plate off the table too!” he said.

Dufala likes the community angle to the competition, “bringing [his work] to the people,” and for this reason decided to display his tricycle/toilet piece.

The tricycles have been shown before, in the gallery district in Philadelphia, but Dufala loved the project so much that he wanted to bring them to Grand Rapids.

Dufala loves the reactions he gets while riding the toilet tricycles. “People don’t know what to make of it,” he says. “They think ‘what the hell?’, no matter what the age!” Dufala is less concerned about what people make of his work than if they have fun with it. “Some will really read into it and some will take it at surface value, whatever [they] want.”

To kick off his exhibit Dufala is hosting a race with the tricycles on Friday, September 25. During the days before the race he will be out riding one of the tricycles, in a “having fun” way, not a “vote for me!” way. The race will start at Lafontsee Galleries, 820 Monroe, at 6 p.m..

To help draw people to the race Dufala wanted to enlist the help of a local band. He “called every single high school or middle school in the area” and finally heard back from Paul Boelkins, band director at Forest Hills Eastern High School. The Forest Hills Eastern drum line and the color guard “Will be playing for 5-10 minutes to generate interest before the race and afterwards,” Boelkins says.

For the remainder of the Art Prize contest, there will be an exhibit at Lafontsee Galleries featuring footage from a previous race. 

Dufala has plans for the prize money if he wins. “I want to continue to make awesome things! I just want to make bigger, cooler stuff.”  He would also look to purchase a piece of real estate in Philadelphia, so he could “effect the neighborhood, a low income area, in a hold on to the community way.” 

Billy would “love to be making records and making art for the rest of [his] life.” The brothers also hope to continue teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where they are currently team teaching a class with another friend.

Art lovers and toilet lingerers will appreciate both the humor and the art in The Dufula Brothers‘ work.

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