Imagine you’ve just finished your graduate degree in painting or sculpture, ready to unleash your artistic vision on the world.
Only instead of facing the usual frustrations of finding work while continuing to make art, a fairy godmother waves her wand over you, ensuring all your wants and needs are met.
For a year, you’re provided studio space for working, a furnished apartment in Manchester for living, a stipend so you can eat, an adjunct position teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University and an exhibition at a Richmond gallery.
Such is the magic wand of the Fountainhead Arts Fellowships. The highly competitive awards, sponsored by VCUarts and Fountainhead Development Services, go to one recent MFA graduate in three departments: Sculpture and Extended Media, Painting and Printmaking, and Craft and Material Studies.
Ron Johnson, assistant professor and administrative director of VCU’s painting and printmaking department sees the fellowships as being of benefit to both the fellow and department. Besides giving the fellow teaching experience immediately after graduating, it allows for a working studio.
“It gives them an entirely different community to engage,” says. “For our department, it’s really a great resource to have a young artist teach classes and to engage with our current grad students and undergrad students.”
Whitney Oldenburg, this year’s painting and printmaking fellow and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, got the word last May that she needed to be moved here by August.
Busy getting her thesis ready and applying for jobs and residencies all over the country, the phone call came as a happy surprise. Another award of $10,000 followed, along with shows in New York and Chicago, keeping the momentum going. “The non-stop crazy continues,” she says.
At Reynolds, the highly textured three-dimensional paintings of “The Compound” explore how something registers visually as a painting, but up close, the body also reacts to the space it occupies as an object in the world. Her goal is to make work that responds to the body and mind at the same time, creating a different head-space for the viewer, so she’s thrilled that people instinctively want to touch them.
Also exhibiting is her counterpart, sculpture and extended media fellow Zachary Trow, a recent graduate of Hunter College, who quickly nails the best aspects of the fellowship as teaching, time and stability for a year.
“This has really been an amazing experience working with my fellow faculty and seeing how the top sculpture program in the country functions,” he says. “The Fountainhead program is long enough for you to get settled and provides enough economic support to allow you to focus on teaching and making work.”
“Air Rhythms,” his landscape- like sculptures, focus on ungrounded worlds and how people perceive locations before and after they physically inhabit the space. Using language and live recordings from the sites, Trow tries to develop an individual relationship to the locations, even when results take time to unfold.
“I’m observing the ritual of attending a shared collective experience,” he says. “I’m interested in how events can oscillate between the epic and monumental to the forgotten while acknowledging what remains and disappears.”
The fellowship year is winding down, which means that after July, the two will be back in the real world, looking for jobs and applying for residencies, essentially back to where they were a year ago.
Trow is the first to acknowledge that there’s never an easy time to be an artist, but he sees the current artistic climate as an outstanding time to feed off of the collective energy and challenge history.
“It’s a lifestyle choice,” he says. “And it’s provided me with the opportunity to test our daily perception.”
VCUarts Fountainhead Fellowship Exhibitions: Whitney Oldenburg’s “The Compound and Zachary Trow’s “Air Rhythms,” through May 20 at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 West Main Street, 355-6553 or Reynoldsgallery.com