Media release

Fellowships help artists grow

“We are providing the financial support necessary to enable these artists to put more time into their work. We hope this exceptional gift of time and money will enable them to invest in advancing their craft."

Three local artists have won what are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to visual artists in the United States.

David Barnes, Kelsey Miller and Eric Telfort will receive $25,000 awards from the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. They were selected from 117 applicants.

The fellowships are intended to enable them to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions.

“We are providing the financial support necessary to enable these artists to put more time into their work. We hope this exceptional gift of time and money will enable them to invest in advancing their craft,” said Ricky Bogert, who oversees the program at the Foundation.

Barnes describes his painting as a blend of confrontation and contemplation that reflect the precarious time in which we live, while simultaneously addressing more universal themes of human life such as transience and beauty.

“The thematic concerns in my work are intentionally mirrored by my technique. Typically my images are relatively thinly painted with speed and an economy of brushstrokes. The cumulative effect is an image that hovers between solidity and disintegration. This places the viewer in an uncertain or transitional space,” he explains.

The Middletown resident is a part-time faculty member at Bristol Community College, teaching classes that focus on drawing, painting and color theory. His work has been exhibited at Roger Williams University Art Gallery in Bristol, Atelier Newport, the Van Vessem Gallery in Tiverton, the Newport Art Museum and the Drury/Grosvenor Center for the Arts at St. George’s School in Middletown.

“Receiving a Fellowship will allow me to lighten my teaching load and spend more uninterrupted time in my studio. It will provide an opportunity to pursue creative avenues with my painting that I have been putting off. Specifically, it will open up blocks of time to create larger, more ambitious work,” he said.

Miller works primarily in printmaking. She describes her work as a visual representation of how she sees and makes sense of the world.

“Sometimes it is clear and declarative, and other times clouded and confused, like a dream that appears and disappears without beginning or end,” explained Miller. “The content began with loss and always circles back to it. Death has always been in my work. The political has always been in my work. Neither subject is fixed solely in anger or sadness. They encompass hope for the future and memory of the past.”

The Portsmouth resident is a Visiting Lecturer at Wellesley College with a focus on alternative print methods, drawing, lithography and screen printing. In the past year, her work has been exhibited in Cortona, Italy, and at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Mass., Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, Ill., and Jamestown Arts Center. Her latest work, We Can See it Coming, is on view through June 6 at the Davis Museum in Wellesley, Mass. as part of the exhibition, Q’20, Wellesley Faculty Artists.

Miller earned her B.A. from Wellesley College and her M.F.A. from the University of Connecticut. The fellowship will enable her to allocate more time to her studio practice and she is looking forward to exhibiting her new work

“The resources made available through this Fellowship are a call to expand my practice by working with processes and materials that are new and challenging. Large-scale prints and installations have been important to my work for a number of years, but I am often restricted by the time and finances that are available to me. Now I can push beyond the familiar and comfortable and take bigger risks with scale and materials,” said Miller.

Telfort describes his paintings as representations of the imitative childhood moments he recalls from growing up in the Little Haiti section of Miami, Fla.

“I found inspiration in the very forms of religious and entertainment media that helped shaped my imagination. My work speaks to the resourcefulness of children to create in modest conditions and the influence of popular culture and celebrity on that short, but remarkable time of childhood,” he explains.

The Providence resident is an assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where his classes focus on painting and digital illustration. His work has been exhibited in the National Gallery in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; in Providence at the SEEN Gallery, AS220 and the Red Door Gallery; and at the New York Academy of Art. He earned a B.F.A. in illustration from RISD and an M.F.A. in drawing, painting and sculpture from the New York Academy of Art.

“I’m driven by the fact few people who have my particular socio-economic background have had the opportunities afforded to me to learn how to paint, and be involved in contributing to contemporary art discourse. I would like to make good on that privilege by continuing to work at my craft, and creating work that can promote meaningful and relational dialogue from a more diverse population occupying a common space such as a communal art gallery,” said Telfort.

“The fellowship will impact my growth as an artist by providing necessary funds to travel to once inaccessible spaces to expand my artistic reach and acquire studio space to develop a wide range of artistic projects including paintings, a graphic novel, and hosting forums that delve into contemporary social political topics in art. Having a studio would empower me to create larger scale work, and invite the public to open studio experiences to get a more intimate view into the physical spaces my work is made,” he said.

Telfort also hopes to host a month-long show at a local gallery and dress the space to look like his childhood bedroom. The show that would include performances by local youth groups as well as a painting that visitors could interact with.

“People would be forced to confront what it means to be a participant of a spectacle. I would host an art demo session where I paint and explain my process, and conduct a discussion session where I can talk more intimately about my artistic interests as they relate to contemporary social political themes,” he said.

The panel also named three finalists. Gabrielle Banks of Providence, Nafis White of Providence and Saberah Malik of Warwick received $3,000 fellowships and a two-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center.

The selection panel also named semi-finalists. Allison Bianco of Greenville, Rebecca Davis of South Kingstown and Tzu-Ju Chen of Providence received $1,500 fellowships.

All the recipients were chosen by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are professional artists. They were selected based on the quality of the work samples, artistic development and the creative contribution their genre, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance their careers as emerging-to-mid-career artists.

Applicants had to be legal residents of Rhode Island. High school students, college and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and artists who have advanced levels of career achievement were not eligible.

Established in 2003, the MacColl Johnson fellowships rotate among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. The next round will be awarded to composers. The application will be available on the Foundation’s website after July 1.

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 fellowships.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $47 million and awarded a record $56 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2019. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.