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Foundation awards $25,000 fellowships to three RI artists
By Lauren Paola / February 11, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Rhode Island artists Anthony Giannini, Leslie Hirst, and Daniel Sousa have been awarded $25,000 fellowships by the Rhode Island Foundation through the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund. The program is considered to be one of the largest no-strings-attached awards available to artists in the United States.

Established in 2003, the fund provides fellowships each year, rotating among composers, writers, and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The $25,000 awards enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work, and explore new directions. In the last eight years, 24 composers, writers, and visual artists have received more than $600,000.

“These fellowships provide significant financial support that enables artists to further their work,” said Daniel Kertzner, the Foundation’s vice president for grant programs. “They enable Rhode Island artists to focus more time and resources on the creative process and contribute to their professional development. They echo the value the MacColl Johnsons placed on the role of artists in the community.” 

Giannini, a 2012 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, works out of his Pawtucket studio and recently completed a solo exhibition at the Oliver Francis Gallery in Dallas.

“I ask a lot from the material I collect. I want something mundane, exciting, tragic, heroic, and contradictory to work through. There has to be a bizarre associative quality between at least three different images before I even begin to appropriate and dismantle the imagery. Someone is being dunked, someone is being water-boarded, and Marc Summers is sliming the red team on television. To balance the seriousness of the imagery, there has to be some absurdity involved,” said the Providence resident.

Using a complex improvisational process involving image manipulation software, toner transfer, and wet sanding, Giannini says he attempts to push his sources to the limits of recognizability while opening up spaces of associative projection for viewers.

The fellowship will free him to build two individual bodies of large scale works for solo exhibitions at Walter Otero Contemporary Art in Puerto Rico in 2014 and 2016. In addition, Giannini plans to apply to The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program in Brooklyn, NY which offers postgraduate residencies for visual artists. 
Hirst received an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Pawtucket resident has received fellowships, grants, and residencies from the Rhode Island School of Design, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and Yaddo, among others. Her work has been exhibited internationally.

“The works that I create revolve around the materiality of the written word, its manipulation, distribution, accessibility, meaning, and how it is affected by place and time. I draw from a variety of sources that extend from structural linguistics and social sciences to advertising and news media to graffiti and data representation,” she said. “My processes begin with experimental word play and code building and borrow from practices at the intersection of typography, drawing, and even needlework. The resulting works - paintings, collages, artist's books, installations, and digital applications - are generated through systems of handwriting, and I unabashedly combine and invent techniques to hinder direct interpretations and reveal unexpected relationships between marks and language.”

Hirst will use the fellowship for travel and professional activities in association with an upcoming artist's residency in Venice, Italy, to pursue an audience-interactive public art project, and to give the public more access to her work. 

Sousa graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. His film “Feral” is a 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film and his work has been honored by the Busan International Short Film Festival, the Arizona International Film Festival, and the Annecy International Animation Festival.

“I approach filmmaking from a painter's perspective. I am not so much interested in telling stories as I am in describing states of mind, exploring the duration and fragility of fleeting moments, memories, and perceptions. My work tends to be physical, handmade, and organic. Every frame is precious and represents an individual and unique painting. But what happens in-between the frames, the alchemy of motion, is unquantifiable and is greater than the sum of its parts,” said the Pawtucket resident.

The fellowship will enable Sousa to devote more uninterrupted time and resources to pursue his personal film work, to rent studio space and production equipment, and hire animation assistants who will free him to continue producing. Additionally, Sousa says that the funds will enable him to apply to more local and international film festivals, which will widen the exposure of his work.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the MacColl Johnson fellowships in music composition, literature, and visual arts.

The recipients were chosen from nearly 200 applicants by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are recognized practicing artists and arts professionals. Applications were reviewed based on the quality of the work, artistic development, and creative contribution to the field of visual art, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance the career of emerging to mid-career artists. Visual artists of all media and disciplines were eligible to apply.

The panel also named three finalists, who received no cash award: Jennaca Davies, a North Kingstown jewelry designer with a Master’s degree in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from the Rhode Island School of Design; Mary Beth Meehan, a Providence photographer whose latest project documents the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants; and Asya Palatova, a Providence artist who markets her ceramics through her studio “gleena.”

Guidelines and applications for the 2014 fellowships, which will be awarded to composers, will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1, 2014. For more information and application details, see Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowships.

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