Rockford’s Heckman returns with billboards for ArtPrize

Cancer-stricken artist vows ‘If it’s the last thing I do’

Rockford artist Mark Heckman refuses to be down in the mouth about his health when winning ArtPrize could give him another shot at realizing his dream of creating a lasting monument to Grand Rapids.

Heckman has adopted a tooth fairy persona for ArtPrize.

Heckman has adopted a tooth fairy persona for ArtPrize.

Heckman, who is battling stage III non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is unveiling a series of artistic billboards to draw attention to his renewed effort to erect a giant tooth sculpture to honor the city as the first in the nation to fluoridate its water.

“I don’t want sympathy – I want votes,” said Heckman, who has adopted the persona of The Tooth Fairy for his artistic campaign. “I’m going to keep fighting tooth and nail for this project—if it’s the last thing I do.”

His ArtPrize entry centers around a number of CBS outdoor billboards in downtown Grand Rapids, including the tongue-in-cheek “First In Fluoride” which depicts George Washington and the Tooth Fairy crossing the city’s Grand River with a mammoth molar.

“It’s a fact that the father of our country had terrible dentures,” Heckman said, noting that Washington had lost all but one of his teeth by the time of his inauguration. “He probably should have spent more time brushing and less time cutting down cherry trees.”

Heckman, who has garnered worldwide attention with his billboards about AIDS, racism and various environmental issues, has also painted a pair of side-by-side billboards that promote Grand Rapids Tap Water with the advertising slogan, “Tastes Great. Less Fillings.”

“I feel the art world has a giant cavity that is waiting to be filled with my project,” he said. “There is no question that a giant tooth would draw attention to Grand Rapids’ place in dental history.” ArtPrize, which has drawn artists from around the world to the biggest competition of its kind, will be decided by a public vote between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7.

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