Three UNC Greensboro faculty members – two from the School of Art and one from the School of Dance – were awarded fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council for 2019 after being selected through a rigorous panel screening process. Nearly 500 artists applied for the fellowships and 20 were selected.
Fellowship winners receive $10,000 to set aside time to work, purchase supplies and equipment, or pursue other artistic goals. Read about the three artists, their inspiration, and their projects below.
Barbara Campbell Thomas, visual art
In recent years, Associate Professor of Art Barbara Campbell Thomas learned the art of quilt-making from her mother, which resonated with her current practice in painting.
“In the months following my mother’s visit, I spent many evenings piecing together quilt blocks. The visual thinking at work as I sewed together color and pattern was deeply linked to the paintings simultaneously underway in my studio,” she says. “Surprisingly, I started to see quilting as the flipside of painting, and immediately a new strain of influence and possibility opened up before me, eventually leading me to meld the medium of painting with the medium of quilting in order to create a reworked definition of painting.”
Thomas will use the grant to expand her studio practice, purchasing a high-end industrial sewing machine capable of sewing together different types of fabrics, such as fake fur, corduroy, and heavy weight fabric. The grant will also allow her to buy supplies such as professional grade spray paint and unprimed artists’ grade linen. Through studio upgrades and material purchases, she plans to move from small, mid-sized paintings to large, wall-spanning paintings with more range of material and freedom to experiment. The award will also allow her more time to work in her studio and the ability to design a new professional website for her work.
Thomas’ work has been exhibited nationally, in such venues as the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art, Marcia Wood Gallery, the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, and 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. She is preparing for a fall 2019 solo exhibition of paintings at The Painting Center in New York City.
Mariam Stephan, visual art
Associate Professor of Art Mariam Stephan is at work on a group of large diptychs and triptychs which use landscape as a metaphor for a world of psychological and physical upheaval. She is using Francisco de Goya’s sequenced etchings as a model in her creation of multi-canvas paintings, painting and digital image pairings, and collages to explore the idea of a fractured space that is both sequential and cyclical.
“Spanish painters have always stood out to me, in particular Francisco de Goya in his use of dark and energetic relationships of both the seen and unseen forces that surround us,” Stephan says. “We continue to live in an age of conflict, where religion, ideology, even nature, is undulating and contracting around us. Seeing and experiencing my strongest influences firsthand will allow me to actually know their materiality, their scale, and their presence.”
The grant will allow her to visit the Prado Museum and the Raina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain, to see the work of Picasso and Goya. From experiencing the art she will see in Madrid, Stephan plans to make her own work more grounded in a strong historical context and intends to absorb the ways Picasso and Goya intertwine past, present, real, and imagined scenarios. The grant will also allow her to invest in materials for a solo show she will create at Artspace in Raleigh this year. She plans to have four test photogravures made from an ongoing series of drawings, and to develop captions for each in homage to Goya’s “Disasters of War” series. She has already started her series of drawings and is working with poet Julia Johnson, English professor at the University of Kentucky.
Stephan’s past work has appeared in solo and group shows in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Cairo, Egypt. Her work is included in the Pierogi Flat files in Brooklyn, as well as in the permanent collection of the Mobile Museum of Art. She received a 2010-11 Fulbright Scholars Award to Egypt for a project entitled “Painting Bridging Time: The Egyptian Fayum Mummy Portraits.”
Duane Cyrus, dance
Professor of Dance Duane Cyrus, a second-time fellowship recipient, plans to further develop “Hero Complexities,” an interdisciplinary dance work inspired by heroic acts of his uncle, Charles W. David Jr., a Caribbean-American U.S. Coast Guardsman who died saving nearly 100 servicemen during World War II. The work is meant to initiate discussions with communities in North Carolina and abroad about David’s legacy and the contributions and challenges of military service for African Americans. Receiving the fellowship is an important step toward Cyrus’ goal of bringing artists to the region and providing performance opportunities for other local artists.
“The grant will help me build a team that supports the creation of work and engage audiences as I continue to research African American and Afro-Caribbean culture, histories, and imagery,” says Cyrus.
Cyrus plans to produce a full-length performance that investigates the lives of African-Americans from the early to mid-20th century, with the Jazz, Harlem Renaissance, World War II, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights eras represented. “Hero Complexities” is the current project that ties into that larger performance goal. The grant will help him build a team that supports the creation of the total work, continue his research of 20th century African-Americans and refine his method for developing word, “Theatre of Movement,” where he creates dance, imagery, and spatial design through improvisation, physical demonstration and verbal prompting. He uses research questions and Theatre of Movement to work with dancers, poets, actors, visual artists, choreographers, and directors.
Cyrus has danced with the Martha Graham Dance Company and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and in musical theater, including the original London production of Disney’s “The Lion King.” Throughout his career he has worked with a variety of professional and student artists at venues across the United States and at universities in China. He has been named a Coleman Entrepreneurship Fellow and a Bessie Award nominee.
By Susan Kirby-Smith
Photography by Martin W. Kane