Editor’s Letter | Crossing Cultures

Artistic Excellence winners from around the world

By Kristin Hoerth

Ballerinas Blue (detail) by Michael Fitzpatrick.

Ballerinas Blue (detail) by Michael Fitzpatrick.

This story was featured in the December 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Judging the annual Artistic Excellence competition, which is now in its seventh year, is a herculean task. The editorial team here at Southwest Art invests countless hours reviewing nearly 2,000 individual entries, viewing many of them multiple times over and making many difficult decisions as the field is gradually narrowed down. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because it’s a unique chance to experience paintings and other artworks that I might not otherwise see, and to discover many new artists.

This year’s 13 top winners are a geographically diverse bunch. Some of them hail from right here in the West, while others live around the globe. Among the westerners, two are in Colorado, three in California, and one in Washington. One honoree comes from Ohio and another from New Jersey. And that leaves five winners from other countries: two from Canada and one each from China, France, and the United Kingdom.

Despite this diversity, however, I see vastly more parallels than differences among the winning artworks, which confirms the universality of the artistic language that can be shared across continents. For example, the success of both Rob Rey’s and Cecile Baird’s winning paintings depends, to a great extent, on glowing light. Rey portrays a small, seemingly illuminated bird amidst turquoise paper lanterns. “We have all these lights around us, but it’s the living things that really illuminate the world,” he says. Baird explains, “I’ve always been inspired by the old masters and the dramatic lighting they used, but I like to put a contemporary spin on it.” Her captivating still life featuring a sliced banana does just that.

Another parallel can be found in the winning works by Michael Fitzpatrick and Bruce Lawes. In Fitzpatrick’s painting of three seated ballerinas, the girls themselves are portrayed in detailed realism, while nearly everything around them is loose and gestural, created with squeegees, palette knives, rulers, and other tools. “The abstract makes the real look more real,” Fitzpatrick says. A similar approach is at work in Lawes’ depiction of a realistic African elephant with an impressionistic background. “What happens is, your eye goes to the sharper image, and then it starts to wander around the softer areas,” Lawes explains.

There are many other similarities and coincidences to be found among this year’s wonderful, and sometimes surprising, Artistic Excellence winners. In addition to discovering talented new painters to collect, I hope you will enjoy the reminder that fine art truly crosses all cultures.

This story was featured in the December 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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