Campaign for art: Local artist enters big contest with big rewards
BLOOMINGTON, Nov 04, 2012 (Menafn - Herald-Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --For many people, winning a contest can mean quick money, new furniture or bragging rights. For Bloomington artist Joel Washington, winning the contest he is in means the world.
Washington is entered in the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series contest. If his piece "Rahsaan Roland Kirk" is chosen, he would win a spot in Art Basel Miami and possibly an art show at Rush Arts Gallery in New York, a space founded in 1995 by brothers Russell, Danny and Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons.
"In this case, where it's going to be at is big, but in New York, any place is a good place," Washington said. "It would be really huge for me."
If he wins, it will be the first time the longtime local artist has had a show outside Indiana. He found out about the contest when his girlfriend saw information about it online and encouraged him to enter.
"From there on, I started asking my friends to vote for me," he said.
Most of Washington's work is abstract, with many pieces featuring celebrities such as Michael Jackson and James Dean. But Washington's depiction of the jazz legend was his clear choice for the contest.
"It has a lot of personal reasons that I wanted to enter it," he said.
The piece is part of a seven-painting installation that Washington has worked on as a tribute to Kirk. The musician died in 1977 at age 42 after suffering a second stroke after performing in the Frangipani Room of the Indiana Memorial Union.
The Kirk painting is one Washington has sent oversees. In 2007, it was chosen for display at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, as part of the Arts in Embassies program. The Bangkok exhibit included works by Red Grooms, Robert Indiana and Kurt Vonnegut.
"I didn't get to go, but my art made it there, and that's the greatest feeling," Washington said.
Except for those paintings in Thailand, Washington's work hasn't made it out of the Hoosier state. He's sold a number of paintings that now hang in the Indiana State Museum and at the Indiana Memorial Union on the Bloomington campus.
Washington's abstract paintings start with his drawing. The outline is done boldly in black, then the work begins as he uses vibrant colors to finish the piece.
"In a lot of my work, still the struggle is also the same as the joy -- working on the colors," he said.
With the Kirk painting, Washington said he struggled because the picture included four saxophones, which he wanted to make look unique. Kirk was known for playing four saxophones and even had a special nose flute created, which is also in the painting. With so many different instruments, the use of color was important.
"I like to make the colors jump," Washington explained.
So Washington said he moved the colors around before he finally found the right balance.
"It was somewhat of a pain, but you keep at it."
Washington is a self-taught artist who was inspired by the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."
"Even now, the DVD is a textbook for me. There's so much in the movie every time I see it," he said.
Reaction to his work puts an almost shy smile on the artist. Compliments evoke a meaningful yet humble reaction from Washington. In the past, he's been told his paintings make people hear music or causes them to want to create their own artwork.
"You want them to feel something, but you never know if anybody is going to feel something," he said.
His collection holds good, intense memories, and just like a proud parent, he can't pick a favorite.
"It is like picking between kids. I've some at IU, so I've put some kids in college," he said with a slight smile.
And it was those IMU paintings that left Washington with one great memory. Washington, who works in the IMU, said he once saw a group of kids with a teacher standing in front of one of his paintings. When the teacher asked the group what kind of art it was, the kids responded that it was abstract. So the artist approached the group, introduced himself and took time to discuss the work.
"It makes you feel good to have them check out what you did," he said.
While he waits for voting to end on the contest, Washington is working on creating new work for an upcoming show while finishing up artwork for customers. He is hoping to create about 50 new pieces.
"But in this one, I'm going to try and show a little bit more stuff that steps outside what I normally do," he said. "It'll be a lot of different stuff there."
For Washington, creating the new work will be a challenge.
"It's hard being an artist. More than anything, it's hard to be original. It's a lot of hard work to get to the point of 'that's a Joel Washington,'" he said. "It takes work to get your work to that point."
As for the contest, Washington has no idea how he's doing, but he's hoping the community will help him get past the first round of voting.
"Please note this, because this means a lot to me if I get it," he said.
Vote for Joel Washington's "Rahsaan Roland Kirk" painting online through Wednesday at www.sapphireartisanseries.com/submission/list. On the site, find Washington's painting by entering "Rahsaan" in the search field.
Twelve artists will be selected through online voting. Those artists will be displayed and entered in the Scope Art Show 2012 during Art Basel Miami, a contemporary art exhibition held in Miami, Fla., each December.
Two winners from the Florida show will be chosen to exhibit at the Rush Arts Gallery in New York City.
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