This year marks the 10th Annual Pawtucket Foundation Prize Exhibition. Past winners include art school graduates, self-taught artists, native Rhode Islanders, artists who have emigrated from around the world, established names and burgeoning ones. For each of these artists, being chosen has been deeply meaningful.
As a tribute to the Pawtucket Foundation for their vision and support, and with thanks to the hundreds of artists who have participated in this exhibition over the years, Pawtucket Arts Collaborative Board member Sandra Basile interviewed each of the past winners. Each week another interview will be added and the series will be posted throughout the run-up to the opening on March 30th and throughout the exhibition.
Set in the West oil on canvas 24 x 48
Holly Gaboriault, a Providence native, practically grew up in the studios and classrooms of the Rhode Island School of Design. Starting when she was five, and continuing for ten years, Holly took classes at RISD’s Young Artist Program, where she was both nurtured and inspired. Her appreciation for art was also cultivated at a young age by her fourth grade social studies teacher, an educator with a passion for world cultures and archeology.
“I had a fantastic experience when I was very young,” Gaboriault reflects back. “By the time I was nine years old, I knew I was going to be an artist and that I’d go to RISD.”
Gaboriault fulfilled that early vision, graduating from RISD in 2001, with a BFA in Illustration. Teachers, fellow artists and collaborators have urged her on. Renowned RI artist, Peter Geiser, has been an important mentor. After RISD, Gaboriault worked as an illustrator, a graphic designer, and a creator of public and community art.
Gaboriault’s painting, Set in the West, won first prize in the 2011 Pawtucket Foundation Prize Exhibition. On first sight, the image is all about the brilliant cacophony of color and pattern – a celebration of African textile patterns and a totemic salute to the woman who carries an outsized vessel on her head. But the magnetic focus of Set in the West is the subject’s unassuming gaze and presence as she looks out from the painting, directly at the viewer.
Asked how her art has evolved since 2011, Gaboriault says “I continue to be inspired by world fashion and textiles. I like to combine pieces from different parts of the world into visual conversations.”
Gaboriault exhibits her art throughout the country. She is a writer and filmmaker, producing and directing a documentary film series, the RI ART ARCHIVE PROJECT. She serves on the Boards of many non-profit arts organizations, giving back to her home state – embracing and enriching the multi-faceted art world in Rhode Island. Gaboriault currently works as Director of Programs at the Providence Atheneaum.
“My initiation into the Rhode Island art world is a direct result of having joined the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative,” says artist Saberah Malik, of East Greenwich. “At PAC, I found incredible support and encouragement, respect for my work and promotional opportunities. (My fellow artists and the leaders at PAC gave me) the confidence to work as hard as I do today to become a better artist, and I believe winning the Pawtucket Foundation award was the jumpstart to a very serious ongoing art practice.”
Malik joined the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative in 2008. Today, she is acclaimed in Rhode Island, and her work is exhibited in galleries and museums across the country and internationally.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Malik studied graphic design at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Panjab University. She and her husband came to live and work in the United States in 1979, but Malik did not become a practicing visual artist until later in her life, after their two sons left home for college and their careers. Malik studied Industrial Design at Pratt in Brooklyn, New York and Surface Design at CCRI in Warwick, RI.
“I had to reinvent myself as an artist,” Malik says.
Malik explains that her prize-winning work, IV Loves, is made up of the four words for “love” in Urdu, Arabic, Pashto and Farsi, languages spoken in Afghanistan.
Saberah Malik IV Loves mixed media 60 x 30 x 3
For viewers not familiar with these languages, IV Loves becomes a meditation on the graceful forms of the Arabic writing system. The enlarged pen strokes, translated into colorful works on cut-out wood, operate as words and as abstract, dynamic, lines and shapes. IV Loves is about language, the intermingling of different mother tongues, about a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country, and about a single, shared and universal emotion. It plays with the visual artistry of the written word, as well as its context within human expression and communication. The title of Malik’s work, in English, acts as a translator for English-only speakers and focuses attention on the ultimate subject of this work.
“My work is neither political, nor rebellious or activist, seeks neither to provoke or create disquiet, but in its gentle beauty strives to bring about a change in socio-political and aesthetic attitudes,” says Malik. “I find myself unable to show gruesome horrors of war; the media fulfills that role as best they can. I create antidotes to the world’s unhappy realities, hence words of love for love instead of hatred.”
Malik’s experience of life as an artist in Rhode Island has been positive. She gives credit, in part, to the founding principles of the smallest state.
“Having learned something about the establishment of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations as a place of tolerance and welcome, it is hopeful to witness Roger Williams’ spirit still present here. So far I have not felt alienated as an artist due to my ethnicity, and I hope this spirit continues for all artists of diversity living and working here.”
In addition to the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, she has exhibited her work at the Art League of Rhode Island, the Chazan Gallery, the Convention Center, the Newport Art Museum, the Providence Art Club, the Bannister Gallery at RIC, the URI Providence Campus Gallery, and the Warwick Museum of Art.
“My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the volunteers and board members at PAC, and good wishes for continuing the good work in years to come. And to the Pawtucket Foundation. Winning the prize was an absolute and unexpected surprise and honor. It encouraged me to believe in myself. And to believe that what I was attempting to say in my work was being heard, irrespective of any cultural unfamiliarities.”
Children of Cultures, Photograph
“The Pawtucket Foundation prize meant a great deal to me,” says Astra Wijaya. “It gave me a confidence boost when I was a young artist. I am still appreciative of that.”
Chinese-Indonesian by birth, Wijawa grew up in Singapore and Indonesia. From an early age he loved Japanese comic books – he read them constantly, comparing the styles of different comic book artists. This led him to study drawing, animation, and illustration at Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore.
“Eventually, I became interested in a fairly broad range of visual arts, including photography,” Wijaya says, adding that “Surrealism was the first art movement that I studied and it has had a lasting effect on me.”
After a year studying photography in Taipei, Taiwan, Wijaya came to the United States to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. He graduated in 2008, in Photography.
In early 2009 Wijaya responded to the Call for Artists for the Pawtucket Foundation Prize Exhibition, the theme of which was multiculturalism. Wijaya’s prize-winning photograph was one of a series named Children of Cultures.
“The series takes a humorous look at young people who grew up consuming and merging Western culture with their native cultures,” Wijaya explains.
With the help of his girlfriend who served as his model, Wijawa created a mash-up of American cultural icons, like Marilyn Monroe in his prize-winning photograph, with traditional Asian fashion and consumer references.
“I would not have been able to come up with the series without the guidance of my RISD professors and peers,” Wijaya says with gratitude. His girlfriend helped, too. She and Astra are now married.
The Pawtucket Foundation prize money went toward financing graduate school at Parsons New School for Design, where Wijaya majored in Design and Technology, and Game Design. Now a graphic artist and video game artist, living and working in Troy, New York, Wijaya is also a scholar of Japanese Pop culture.
“Congratulations to the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative for the upcoming 10th Exhibition! I am proud and thankful to have taken part in the earlier one.”
See more: Astra Wijaya
Untitled #1, The Terror Series, Photograph: film, digital print: 20 x 24”
“I had just gotten out of graduate school when I won the Pawtucket Foundation Prize,” recalls Millee Tibbs, from her studio in Detroit. “It was so validating to win an award like that. I was thrilled.”
Millee Tibbs garnered first prize for Untitled #1, a color photograph, one of a group she called “The Terror Series.” Through Tibbs’ lens, a familiar, placid, New England scene is transformed into a landscape imbued with menace by way of light, shadow and color. It is a powerful image.
Originally from Alabama, Tibbs came to Rhode Island after undergraduate study at Vassar to go to RISD. She graduated with a Masters in Photography in 2007, then lived near the Steel Yard at the Monohasset Mill and had a studio in Pawtucket.
“It was a fantastic community of artists,” Tibbs says.
Winning the Pawtucket Foundation prize – $4,000 for that initial show – was a surpise for Tibbs. And it was serendipitous. She used it to cover expenses for travel to West Africa so that she could assist on a photographic, anthropologic project in Senegal. “I guess you could say I used the money to invest in my own education,” Tibbs remarks.
An Assistant Professor of Photography in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art & Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit since 2011, Tibbs continues to create her own work. Her photography, some of which is three-dimensional, plays with surfaces, expectations and traditions in art historical theory. It is exhibited nationally and internationally.
Tibbs’ ties to Rhode Island are ongoing. In the fall of 2016, Tibbs was part of a two-person exhibition, “No-Man’s Land,” at the Chazan Gallery in Providence.
“Exhibiting is important. It shifts what the work is about. It makes me responsible for a conversation with viewers.
“I loved living and working in Rhode Island,” says Tibbs. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s supportive and friendly to artists. It’s manageable. And it’s close to the largest art city in the world – New York – a place I can’t imagine living in. Also, the winters are mild in Rhode Island, compared with Detroit. Mostly, I love the people. I can’t say enough about the community of artists and the arts.”
The recognition and support of the Pawtucket Foundation is a shining example of just that community.
“A big ‘thank you’ to the Pawtucket Foundation,” says Tibbs.
See more: Tibbs
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