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Making Art History: Five Baltimore-based Artists Selected for Historic Mayoral Portrait Commissions

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Today, the City of Baltimore announced the selection of the five artists for the esteemed Faces of Leadership Mayor’s Portraits Competition. This historic opportunity showcases Baltimore’s elected mayoral  leadership through the lens of contemporary art, creating a visual archive of the individuals who have shaped our city’s narrative for generations to come.

This initiative, originating from a February call for submissions, garnered over 180 entries from portrait artists across the state. A distinguished panel of judges, comprising Tonya Miller Hall, Sr. Advisor of Arts & Culture, Mayor’s Office, Samuel Hoi, Jeffrey Kent, Erika M. McClammy, Esq., Cara Ober, and Jenenne Whitfield, evaluated the submissions against a detailed rubric focusing on accuracy and likeness, composition and technique, originality and interpretation, emotional impact and engagement, and presentation and professionalism.

From there, 17 selected proposals advanced to the final stage, where the four previous and current mayors chose their top three portrait artists through a blind review process, with the artists’ names redacted to ensure an impartial selection. The Mayors evaluated the artists’ work based on composition, skill, and their personal reactions to it. Where multiple Mayors chose the same artist as their top pick, the jurors used a lottery system to make the final selection, maintaining the goal of having five different artists for the project.

The forthcoming commission will bridge the gap between the city’s last commissioned portrait of Mayor Martin O’Malley whose tenure concluded in 1999. The new commissions will include the former and current mayor and the five selected artists represent a diverse spectrum of leadership and innovation within Baltimore’s rich tapestry. Their contributions will not only leave an indelible mark on the city but also serve as a source of inspiration for future generations.

 

The Mayors selected the following artists:
• Megan Lewis – Selected by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
• Andrew Pisacane (Gaia) – Selected by Mayor Sheila Dixon
• Kennedy Ringgold – Selected by Mayor Catherine Pugh
• Ernest Shaw – Selected by Mayor Brandon Scott
• Karen Warshal – Selected by Mayor Jack Young

“These Baltimore-based artists have shown their talent, passion, and dedication to our city by capturing the story of leadership in Baltimore,” said Mayor Brandon Scott. “Their work will live on in City Hall, and help shape Baltimore’s vibrant culture and promising future for generations to come. It is an honor to recognize their contributions through this competition and ensure that their work lives on in our city’s history forever.”

“What’s so significant about this opportunity is giving Baltimore-based artists a leading role in creating our own art history,” said juror Cara Ober, Publisher at BmoreArt Magazine. “Not only is Baltimore investing directly in the careers of some of its most successful portrait artists, but our city is giving visual artists a leading role in a historic form of communication, working directly with the mayors to represent our collective legacy, both politically and culturally.”

“The Mayor’s Portraits Competition marks a pivotal moment in Baltimore’s cultural history, heralding a new era of contemporary portraiture. By showcasing the talents of local artists and honoring the diverse voices and visions of our mayors, this competition not only enriches our cultural landscape but will serve as timeless reflections of leadership, inspiring future generations,” said Tonya Miller Hall, the Mayor’s Senior Advisor of Arts & Culture.

The Faces of Leadership – Mayor’s Portraits Competition celebrates the intersection of art and civic leadership, providing a platform to acknowledge those who have made significant strides in shaping Baltimore’s identity. The selected portraits will serve as a lasting testament to their impact on our community, hanging alongside 200 years of Baltimore mayoral portraits in City Hall’s historic boardroom.

This afternoon on May 17, 2024, the selected artists were announced with Tom Hall on  “Midday” on WYPR.

About Faces of Leadership – Mayoral Portrait Competition

The Faces of Leadership – Mayor’s Portraits Competition is an initiative launched by Mayor Brandon M. Scott aimed at celebrating the diverse leaders who have contributed to the growth and development of Baltimore. Through the medium of portraiture, the competition seeks to honor their achievements and inspire future generations of leaders.

More information about the selected artists:

Painting by Kennedy Ringgold, 2019

Kennedy Ringgold: Ringgold is a Baltimore-based artist and MICA alumna with experience in commissioned portraiture since 2019.

Statement: As a fine artist specializing in multiple disciplines, these mantras ground my practices and processes. I strive to elicit direct and tangential emotional connection through my creative expressions. Ultimately, I endeavor to illuminate the reality of personal and communal experiences and circumstances.

 

 

Ernest Shaw, Jr, studio portrait from the artist's website

Ernest Shaw Jr.: Being a native of West Baltimore has taught Artist Ernest Shaw the meaning of perseverance, community and integrity. As a product of Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore School for the Arts, Morgan State University and Howard University Shaw recognizes the importance of using his skills and talents for the betterment of others, not simply for his own self-aggrandizement. For Ernest, teaching is also an artistic medium.

Statement:

Being an image maker affords me the opportunity to produce work that highlights the humanity of the viewer by illustrating the humanity of the subject. My creative process focuses on the interaction between the work and its audience. My goal is for the receiver to experience the mystery of creation while interacting with the portrait. The work’s evolution to becoming art has everything to do with the dance between the painting and the receiver.

My primary subjects reflect the multiple aspects of the Black/Africanist experience in the context of a society that confines Blackness to being the antithesis to whiteness and a response to racialized subjugation. Authentic portrayals of the Black body are of particular interest to me simply because there is no other subject I find to be as complex, misrepresented, and misunderstood.

Karen Warshal is a classical artist living and working in Baltimore City. She has been the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award and a finalist in the Art Renewal Center Salon, and her work has appeared in American Artist: Drawing. She teaches “Portrait Drawing” and “Anatomy for Artists” at the Maryland Institute College of Art where she is sought after for her classical approach. She does portraits upon commission, and her paintings are represented in many private collections, mostly in the local area.

Gaia, photo by Justin Tsucalas for BmoreArt

Andrew Piscayne (Gaia): The artist grew up in New York City and is a 2011 graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art with a Bachelor in Fine Arts. His studio work, installations and gallery projects have been exhibited throughout the world most notably The Baltimore Museum of Art, Rice Gallery in Houston, the Palazzo Collicola Arti Visive in Spoleto and the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta.

His street work has been documented and featured in several books on urban art, including Beyond the Street: The 100 Leading Figures in Urban Art, (Berlin, 2010) and Outdoor Gallery (New York, 2014). Gaia was listed as a 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Art and Style recipient in Art and Style and was a Fullbright beneficiary to study and paint in New Delhi and Bogotá on behalf of the State Department. In addition to a prolific and precocious artistic practice, Gaia has curated projects funded by the National Endowment for the arts, and consults with brands, organizations and government agencies on creative place-making projects. Gaia lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland, but spends a majority of his time painting murals across the world and has produced works in all six habitable continents.

Megan Lewis lives and practices in the city of her birth. Lewis graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida (2011).

Lewis is an figurative painter and muralist. As a painter, she wields a palette knife with the precision of a surgeon. Her fantastical subjects are rendered in bold colors and geometric patterns and enlivened with beautiful textiles, some sourced locally and others embellished with Ankara fabric acquired during Lewis’ trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.

There is a physicality to Lewis’ subjects, who appear poised to leap from the canvas. Their outward gaze and gestures beckon the viewer to contemplate their thoughts and emotions. But there is a greater question, who are these individuals? That will always remain a mystery because Lewis draws inspiration from chance encounters, a passer-by, and her imagination.

Embedded within Lewis’ beautifully layered canvases are conversations on the social and historical portrayals of the Black body and particularly those inhabited by Black women. Her bright hues are laid down intentionally and purposely, as serious discourse lies within. One that examines “critical views on Black beauty, fashion, body image, and their linked histories.”

As a muralist, Lewis’ has made a profound imprint on the city of Baltimore. She is the first Black woman commissioned to design artwork for Baltimore’s Penn Metro Station. Her murals appear on the walls of Orioles Park “City Corner”, Target’s “Mini Pitch”, Reginald F. Lewis Museum “inside mural “Reflections of Baltimore: Arabbers” and beyond. Recent concept commissions include Doritos-Solid Black, Dicks Sporting Goods, HBO Max, and the US Open BLM exhibit that transformed the front-row seats of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2020 opening. Lewis’ multi-talents also extend to her furniture making.

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