The Artist’s Magazine’s 2013 Annual Competition | Meet the Jurors (Part 1)

The Artist’s Magazine’s 2013 Annual Art Competition
Back Stage With the Judges

The 30 paintings that won awards in The Artist’s Magazine’s 2013 annual competition are splendid; wonderful, too, were the finalists in each category, which made our jurors’ decisions extremely difficult. We are grateful to our exacting jurors: Douglas Atwill, Ron Monsma, Amy Weiskopf, John Agnew, and Judith T. Greenberg. Read their comments on the winning pictures and their advice on entering this and any other competition.

(See the winning pictures and read about the artists’ processes in the December 2013 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.)

Juror for Landscape/Interior: Douglas Atwill

Bend in the River Galisteo III copy

Bend in the River, Galisteo III (acrylic, 18×18) by Douglas Atwill

What guidelines did you use to judge the Landscape/Interior category?

What does a judge look for in a landscape painting? There is no reason a landscape cannot be painted without depth, but when it is used with originality and talent, it adds immeasurably to a canvas. Landscape almost by definition is a natural rendition, so matching the exact, finicky colors of nature is a goal. This can be more difficult that it appears, to replicate the first violet touches of the middle ground, so different from the adult violet of the far distance. Composition can tell a lot about who the painter is. A striking composition can announce that you are a contemporary painter, not a 19th century parson with his watercolors in the woods.

But taking the traditional landscape layout — sky above, horizon, mid-ground and foreground — can be a more demanding matrix into which you put your picture, asking for invention at each turn. It is all subjective, of course, and I apologize if my prejudices and likes are not yours.

What were your feelings about this year’s entries?

There were plenty of good qualities in each of the paintings I looked at and I am uneasy about choosing between them. But the editors of our magazine have insisted I do this. It seems so unfair to do so… but I had a grand two days looking again and again at these 86 beautiful paintings. The art of American landscape painting is not about to decline with so many able practitioners of the ways to delight the eye.

Tell us why you awarded the first place prize to In the Valley of the Suns (acrylic, 36×36) by Darien Bogart (www.coexpressions.com).

A grand mixing of elements: close-up, mid-distance, far-distance, and a sky of angled clouds. A traditional composition, it takes your eye deep into the painting, exploring all the way to the violet hills. I suppose every painting does not need a sense of depth, a place to look into, but this one has it. It must have been very clear air in that countryside, because there is little sense of sfumato. In the Valley of the Suns passes Gertrude Stein’s first test of a modern painting… I like looking at it.

Second Place: Old Harbor in Cap Ferrat (oil, 24×24) by Derek Penix (www.derekpenix.com)

Old Harbor in Cap Ferrat is an original, well-painted version of the time-old motif of boats in a harbor. It is hard here to find something different, but this painting achieves that. First of all, there is an intelligently subdued color palette and an interesting composition that makes you look across the moored boats to the far side of the basin. Sunlight is there, but, again, with restraint. Finally, there’s a buttery use of paint in this handsome work.

Third Place: Patzcauro Morning (oil, 18×24) by Ned Mueller

A lively, animated and slightly staged Mexican scene with a professional use of sunlight, shadows and complex, bright colors. I feel the painter may have asked the horses to stand just so and the men sit over there, not to move. Not what you call “a slice of active life,” it is an impressive design, nonetheless. We look quickly back to the buff building and then return to inspect the animals and squatting citizens. Patzcauro Morning shows a brisk, capable use of paint with many elements to consider.

Honorable Mention: Zastarye (oil, 24×40) by Tatyana Chernikh (facebook.com/TatyanaChernikh)

The essence of a late summer day in the country – hot with a light breeze. The road going back is no-nonsense, dirt with scruffy grasses down the middle….but it brings you right into the farmhouse oasis at the back. Flying birds may be a cliché, but everything is rendered like a classic, English landscape. The painted details of the grasses and wildflowers are top notch.

Honorable Mention: New Jersey Twins (oil, 18×24) by Dennis Joseph Yanoski (www.dennisjosephyanoski.com)

Water is both fun and difficult to paint, in all its variety. This is a straightforward composition, avoiding the tricks of rocks, birds, water, and sand. The brownish colors in the translucence of the twin waves tell you it is not the West Indies or Tahiti, but the Atlantic shore: an honest, painterly painting.

Honorable Mention: Sunlit Grass, February (oil, 36×36) by Peter Fiore (www.peterfiore.com)

Sunlit Grass is a beautiful painting with sienna and burnt-sienna grasses in a shadow of late afternoon violet-blue. Yellow sunlight in the far mid-distance asks us to look up high into the painting. Quality of paint is superb, with an expert sense of the colors of nature. I think this is one of the best paintings of the New England Impressionists.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

The best advice given to me was to close the studio door. It takes a lot more hours to make a painting career than just evenings and weekends. At some point it will be obvious that you must paint full time, giving the easel the prime spot in your life, your family and your hours of the day. It is a wonderful way to spend the rest of your life.

Featured in the May 2010 of The Artist’s Magazine, Douglas Atwill paints the southwestern landscape in acrylic; he lives in Santa Fe. He has had yearly solo shows at Meyer East Gallery in Santa Fe since 1988. To learn more, visit his Web site at www.dougatwillstudio.com.


Juror for Portrait & Figure: Ron Monsma

10, Sentinel, Pastel, 30x40in

The Sentinel (pastel, 30×40) by Ron Monsma 

What guidelines did you use to jury the Portrait & Figure category?

I looked first for entries with the highest level of technical skill: excellent drawing, composition, special articulation, and quality and application of materials. I looked for a completeness of vision and for those works that continued to engage me.

What were your feelings about this year’s entries?

Overall the finalists were very strong, as was expected. There were a good number of figure works in the direction of narrative painting, including those that were painted more as portraits. Many were very subtle and enigmatic, which I am drawn to, and a few that I felt were a bit heavy handed – but that is, of course, my view. I was surprised by the small number of actual nude figure works – I expected to see more, but all in all, I felt privileged to view such a great variety of excellent works.

Tell us why you awarded the first place prize to Extasis (acrylic, 33×32) by John Jude Palencar (www.johnjudepalencar.com)?

The first place selection was for me, hands down, an easy choice; this enigmatic painting struck me immediately. The figure is handled masterfully; I thought at first of Northern Renaissance painting but there is something of a mannerist approach to the figure, as well. The figure is strange and scarred; an apocalyptic vision inhabiting a bleak landscape; a futuristic Saint Sebastian. There is a suggestion of personal enlightenment in the halo (even in the title of this painting). The muted tones are beautiful and harmonized and there is a great understanding of anatomy in the rendering of the figure. The hands are finely drawn and there is completeness in the work’s entire resolution and vision.

The composition, color harmonies, detail and overall resolution of the painting are so complete and realized, and there is strangeness to the entire image that engages beyond the beautiful execution: a really stunning work.

Second Place: Absolution (oil, 24×20) by Munroe d’Antignac (www.dantignacfineart.com)

This is a very strong painting; a mysterious and simple image. The gaze of the woman is direct and intense. Absolution is composed beautifully and made all the more striking by the contrast of the black dress and hair against the muted yellow sky. This is a deceptively physical painting; the tones are unified and beautiful, the image complete, and the overall handling beautiful.

Third Place: Wedding Night (oil,14×32) by Nick Alm (www.nickalm.com)

This quiet painting is so emotionally charged that not much needs to be said. Composed in tones of yellow, black and white, its palette is subtle, but this subtlety belies the weight of the intimate scene we are presented with. The paint is handled confidently and efficiently. I think of Whistler in Wedding Night’s harmonies and Hopper in the introspective gaze of the woman, but this piece stands on its own in terms of emotional statement.

Honorable Mention: Body and Soul (oil, 38×52) by Joseph Lauer (www.joseph-lauer.com)

I found this a fascinating approach to a decidedly American portrait, a contemporary American Gothic vision. Body and Soul is largely dominated by the cage of the tractor, worn and gritty, at once obscuring and framing the figure in such a way that suggests the farmer and his work are one and the same; (one might even infer that the cage acts as a self-imposed prison.) Little of the field being worked is shown, and yet one can almost feel and taste the soil. The light and color are saturated, physical and intense, reminiscent of Potthast.

Honorable Mention: Ukulele Daydream (oil, 18×24) by Rob Rey (www.robreyfineart.com)

Ukulele Daydream struck me at once by the artist’s handling of paint: very physical, wet in wet painting with every brushstroke counting and none out of place: a real tour de force of bravura brushwork. The color harmonies and light are beautifully handled, and the figure feels very natural.

Honorable Mention: Old Man Jackson (oil, 24×36) By Dean Mitchell (www.deanmitchellstudio.com)

I chose this work because of the artist’s excellent abstract and minimal approach to the portrait. The angular nature of the forms is nicely augmented by the angular brushwork. Everything in this composition pulls you to feel the slump and weight of a life long-lived: Old Man Jackson is a great portrait study.

Ron Monsma’s Comments on the Works of the Finalists:

When presented with so many works of such a high caliber, and with such a wide variety, the decision process becomes daunting, as anyone who has juried a competition like this would know. I wanted there to be more categories: Figures in Interiors; The Nude Figure; Traditional Portraits; Narrative Figures, etc. It would have made the process less frustrating, because there are just so many fine works that really are in different genres.

Technical skill was an easy one; most all of the finalist works were handled with great skill. There were, however, a number of works that spoke to me on another level—sometimes narrative, but more so on an emotional level; works that, once I got past the technical skill, kept engaging me. These are my selections—and they are not the only works that I was fascinated by or that continued to engage, but this time around, they are the works I chose.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

It would be difficult for me, in view of the excellent finalists’ works, to give any suggestions—but I’ll try. Any artist entering competitions knows that, at some point, subjectivity enters into the selection process. My selections are just that—my selections. We sometimes try to guess which works to enter based on who the juror is. I didn’t feel that was the case however in looking at these entries. Nonetheless, I would always suggest that artists not paint to specifically target a particular competition, but to enter their strongest and most striking works. One issue I did note was that some of the works, done from photo sources, had issues with the depth of field in the painting (a portrait for instance with a large hand or hands in the foreground.) The best works done from photos are those where you cannot tell.

Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend, Ron Monsma works in both pastel and oil. In 2008 he won the Jack Richeson Best of Show Award in The Pastel 100 Competition sponsored by Pastel Journal. He is represented by Miller Gallery in Cincinnati. To learn more, visit www.ronmonsma.com.


Juror for Abstract/Experimental: Judith T. Greenberg

From the Garden (mixed media collage, 29x22) by Judith T. Greenberg

From the Garden (mixed media collage, 29×22) by Judith T. Greenberg

What were your guidelines for judging the Abstract/Experimental category?

I looked for overall impact, originality, a unique “voice.” Seeing that each part is important to the whole, I look for a color story that is integral to the piece and also the use of experiment as a tool to create movement, depth, texture, and to evince purposefulness.

What were your feelings about this year’s entries:

I thought there was a broad spectrum, with some very competent and realized. Others appeared to be less so.

Tell us why you awarded the first prize painting to Burst of Color (acrylic, 22×30) by Denise Athanas (www.deniseathanas.com)?

Burst of Color had all the things I was looking for. My immediate reaction was WOW. I could feel the hand and engagement of the artist. I like the painterly quality, the energetic movement of the brush strokes, and the restrained hints of lavender and blue that can be looked at as windows of light. The effect of the piece overall is dynamic and exciting. This is an energetic & forceful piece. It combines beautiful color choices, rhythmic movement and lively mark making. The build-up of color creates a depth in the larger areas while the bold painterly lines, confidently applied, define the movement that carries the viewer to this very special place.

Second Place: Tropia (acrylic, 15×23) by Mel Grunau (www.mjgrunau.com)

This charged piece uses saturated complementary blues and oranges to fill the larger areas while the whites define both positive and negative spaces. These spaces are broken into with gestural groups of lines that sweep in and about. The result makes this viewer think of the life force of moving water and its interaction with its surroundings.

Third Place: It’s In the Telling (mixed watermedia, 30×22) by Elaine Daily-Birnbaum (www.dailyart.us)

It’s In The Telling presents luminous blocks of layered color, which define the composition. Whimsical lines have been scratched into these areas, creating a rich textured surface that reveal the history of the process. The interplay between the colors is exuberant and beautiful.

Honorable Mention: Blue Horizon (acrylic, 36×36) by Sally Cooper (www.sally-cooper.com)

This composition defies the boundaries of its substrate. The gradations of the dominant burgundy color create a surprising depth. This piece can ‘read’ like a cut out shape with intersecting lines creating openings within it or like a bird’s eye map of complexities and simplicity.

Honorable Mention: Waterways (soft pastel and watercolor, 20×20) by Colette Odya Smith (www.coletteodyasmith.net)

Waterways takes the viewer to an adventurous but familiar place of constant change. The undulating force of the cool water runs over and through the warmth of the shadowed ochre earth. This is a good example of how the fluidity of paint mimics the fluidity of its subject.

Honorable Mention: Urban (acrylic and ink, 60×48) by Vanessa Katz (www.vanessakatzart.com)

Irregular square and rectangular shapes, possibly representing buildings, sit on top of a pleasing soft backdrop in Urban. These shapes, some opaque, and some stained, are enhanced with whimsical marks, paint and drips. The result is both bold and lyrical.

Do you have words of wisdom or advice for future contestants?

Just keep up the painting journey. Technically, it’s most important to have a good quality and true color reproduction of the original.

Judith T. Greenberg has studied at the Pratt Institute and has a master of fine arts in painting from the University of Wisconsin. Her mixed media process encompasses printmaking and collage. Her work was most recently featured in the January/February 2013 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. To learn more, visit her Web site at www.jtgreenberg.com.

{Read Part 2 of this article here!}

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