On exhibit

Bravo's latest reality show features three artists with Baltimore ties

May 28, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

Jaclyn Santos is hoping to erase some stereotypes about art during her stint on Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist." Or at least a few stereotypes about artists.

"I think it's a common misperception that artists aren't intelligent and couldn't do anything else," says the 26-year-old Pittsburgh native and Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, one of three people with Baltimore ties who will be fighting to become the next big art thing when "Work of Art" premieres June 9. "I could have done anything I wanted. I was very smart. I could have studied law if I wanted to."

John Parot, 40, a Chicago native and MICA grad, believes the show is breaking new ground by spotlighting artists in the same way other Bravo shows have turned fashion designers, aspiring models and even "ordinary" housewives into household names. "What excited me," he says, "was the realization that there had never been a show like this before on TV."

Baltimore native Abdi Farah, 23, also has high hopes for the reality show, in which 14 artists compete to impress a panel of judges and win the grand prize of an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and $100,000. For him, the best thing about "Work of Art" is the light it will shine on his chosen field.

"I see it as an amazing opportunity for the art world to kind of become more of a part of the public mainstream cultural discourse," says Farah, who was born at Mercy Medical Center and graduated from the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. "The art world has not been a part of that to a major extent. I feel like this is the art world's coming-out party."

It's certainly a coming-out party for the 14 relatively unknown artists, who range in age from 23 to 62, work in a variety of media (painting, photography, silk-screening) and could certainly use both the fame and fortune that a victory on "Work of Art" promises.

"It's very challenging to make it as an artist," says Santos, who moved to Miami when she was 8 and now lives in New York. "Anyone who moves to New York and tries to do it knows exactly what I'm talking about. Just surviving is tough — I have to pay for a studio, I have to pay for my art supplies. I was working, I had a pretty good job, but it was killing me. I'd work and then go home after working 40 to 70 hours a week. I'd go home and have to work on my own art. It was just too much."

Although all three of the artists with Baltimore connections are painters, they each have a style that sets them apart. Farah, the youngest of the group, has a colorful, exuberant style clearly influenced by film and graphic novels. "I just try to think of something," he says, "and think, 'That's really beautiful.' And then I try to make it as awesome as possible."

Santos paints more realistically, bringing what she describes as a "post-feminist" perspective to her work, which often depicts women in unguarded sexual moments that defy conventional stereotypes. And Parot employs a more abstract style, focusing on patterns of color and representations that, he hopes, help to illuminate "the culture of being gay in America."

All three retain fond memories of their time in Baltimore — especially Farah, who moved from Owings Mills in 2005 to attend the University of Pennsylvania and now lives in Dover, Pa., near York.

"I am a huge fan of Baltimore. I think it's one of the most underrated artist cities, artist communities, in the country," he says. "I loved Baltimore, loved MICA and thought about going there. But I really kind of wanted to get away from home."

Parot says he was especially enamored of Baltimore's peculiar mix of highbrow and lowbrow culture. "I lived in Bolton Hill, where it's great to be an artist," he says. "I'm kind of a history buff, and realizing the famous writers and artists and poets that lived in the area was very exciting to me. At the same time, you have all these tremendous John Waters films, the low culture of Baltimore, that was really important to my development as an artist."

Santos remembers fondly "doing the little horse races, the Preakness." While a little more measured in her embrace of Charm City than her two fellow artists, Santos remembers Baltimore as "a cute city. But I couldn't imagine, really, not living in New York, so I'm a little biased here."

Although filming for "Work of Art" has been completed for months, all three, in separate phone interviews, took pains not to even hint at how things turn out. They agreed, however, that the competition could be harrowing at times. The show had them all producing art on a tight schedule, then having it judged by a panel that included, among others, host China Chow, New York gallery owner Bill Powers and international art expert Simon de Pury.

"Normally, you only present work that you are completely content with," says Santos. "I would never show my work that I had to do in a day. So knowing that it was not representative of the best of your work, I think that was the thing that was the most intimidating."

Farah agrees. "I felt like the pressure of the competition was almost like a means of proving myself. One of the things that could push me to improve as an artist was the potential for public embarrassment."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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