Commerce Township self-taught painter is winner of 2017 MI Great Artist online competition

A self-taught painter whose portraits of his daughter in various nature settings caught the eyes of the public – and ultimately the judges – was chosen as the winner of the 2017 MI Great Artist online competition.

Thomas Tunney, 57, smiled broadly as he was presented with a check for $1,500 Wednesday by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson during a reception at Park West Gallery in Southfield.

“I was kind of shocked,” Tunney said. “I was real excited to get to the top 20, and then I wanted to make the top five. When I was named top five that was the high point and I figured I had a chance. It’s all subjective. Anyone of us could have won… I was humbled and honored to have been chosen.”

A throng of Tunney supporters and family cheered enthusiastically as Patterson announced Tunney as the winner. Patterson lauded Tunney and the other four finalists, thanking them for being part of the competition – now in its fifth year – and congratulating them for the inspired work they created.

“I think last night we had a re-enactment of ‘A Star is Born,’” Patterson said. “Last night was the first time Tom Tunney has exhibited his work publicly. It won’t be the last time.”

Tunney, who lives in Commerce Township with his wife Kristi and their five children, is the manager of a Bloomfield Township real estate company. He began his career as a singer in a rock band and toured for 15 years. He took up painting as a hobby 35 years ago. His entry into the MI Great Artist competition – done at the urging of his family – marked the first public showing of his work. His family was brought to tears when he was announced the winner.

Tunney’s prize package includes five submitted artworks framed by Park West Gallery; a group exhibition at Park West Gallery; business counseling and other services from the Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center; his artwork featured on a poster to promote one of Oakland County’s signature quality of life events; a solo exhibition at Park West Gallery; and a two-month solo exhibition at the Oakland County Galleria in the Executive Office Building in Waterford.

The prize package for the finalists totaled more than $16,000 in cash and prizes. The other finalists
(with their medium and hometown) were:

  • Meredith Bailey, watercolor, Rochester Hills
  • Michael Bollerud, pencil on paper, Taylor
  • Margret Grace McDermott, oil paint, Clarkston
  • Jennifer Whaley, graphite drawings, of Rochester Hills

Bailey, Bollerud and Whaley were finalists in 2015, the last time the competition was held. The finalist each received a $375 cash prize, framing of five artworks by Park West Gallery, a group exhibition and a suite of business services from the Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center.

The finalists were chosen from a field of 232 artists from Oakland, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, St. Clair, Shiawassee and Wayne counties who entered the online competition in July in hopes their entries would catch the discerning eye of the public. After 34,000 online votes were cast during two weeks the field was whittled down in August to 20 artists. A panel of art experts selected the five finalists and ultimately chose the winner.

The judges were Park West Gallery founder and CEO Albert Scaglione; Elliott W. Broom, vice president of museum operations at the Detroit Institute of Arts; Dominic Pangborn, founder of Pangborn Design Collection and former professor at the College of Creative Studies; artist Don Tocco; and Kristie Everett Zamora, coordinator of arts and culture for Oakland County's Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs.

Patterson and Scaglione launched the contest in 2012 as a quality of life initiative to identify and support up-and-coming artists. MI Great Artist partners include Oakland County, Park West Gallery, and Oakland County Prosper®.

“It gets stronger every year,” Patterson said. “We’re just one out of 3,000 counties in America. To think of the talent we have in one county, imagine what we have in the counties across the country. It’s amazing.”