In her youth, Carolyn Case wanted to be a graphic designer. One college drawing class inspired her to change direction.
Now Case, who lives in Cockeysville, Maryland, teaches painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. She won the Best of Show honor in the annual Bethesda Painting Awards, which comes with a $10,000 prize. The artist, who works exclusively in oils, said she was thinking about homemade tattoos.
Case described the application process as arduous. In the first two phases, artists submit visual images; if they reach the finalist stage, they show the actual paintings to the judges.
Carol Trawick, a local business owner, established the Painting Awards in 2004, two years after she launched the Trawick Prize, contemporary art awards for work in all media. She has chaired the Maryland State Arts Council, Strathmore, the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District and the Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP). “I wanted to bring attention to Bethesda and to the very capable and talented artists in our area,” Trawick said.
Both arts awards are part of the Bethesda Art & Entertainment District, which BUP manages. Among the other projects the A&E District produces are the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival, Bethesda Film Fest and Play in a Day, said Sarah Peterson, BUP’s marketing and communications manager. “We get applicants from all over the area,” she said.
An artist from Montgomery County has not nabbed the top prize since 2008, when North Potomac resident B.G. Muhn won, but Peterson said there have been county finalists and prize winners.
When Trawick established the Trawick Prize 16 years ago, she was surprised that paintings were absent from the submissions. “I asked myself, ‘where are those artists still using paper and pen and paint on canvas?” she recalled. “The next year, we reached out to painters in the District, Virginia and Maryland.”
Ironically, a painter did win the Trawick Prize that year. Still, Trawick was glad the Painting Awards existed, to encourage those working in that genre and giving them the opportunity to compete against others in the same artistic boat. Both awards projects are very competitive, with some 260 artists applying to this year’s Painting Awards competition.
Case, who holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from California State University and a master’s from MICA, is represented by the Asya Geisberg Gallery in New York City, and has shown throughout the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast regions.
When an artist 30 and younger reaches the finalist stage, that person is also competing for the Young Artist Award. This year’s winner was Emma Childs of Baltimore, who received a $1,000 prize. Childs just completed her senior year at MICA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in general fine arts and a focus in painting. She was featured in several on-campus exhibitions and was awarded scholarships for each year.
“I have been painting for my whole life, but I really dove into it in high school (Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills),” Childs said. “I had a fantastic high school art teacher, who is also a MICA alum, who really helped me see my own potential.”
For the competitions she entered, Childs used both oil and acrylic paint. More recently, though, she has been “loyal” to fluid acrylics, she said, because she can push and pull the fields of color in her work more quickly, with less drying time.
Childs, whose goal is to support herself through art full-time, said she would describe her work as “taking on a minimalist aesthetic, but influenced by the desire to create objects that take on more than just their physical existence. I am interested in creating something that visualizes and simplifies things in life that are not physical. My work is inspired by the need to create images of emotional experiences, and the desire to build architectural constructions.”
The judges in the arts competitions, said Trawick — one each from D.C., Virginia and Maryland — change every year. “Art is very subjective,” Trawick said. “So, it’s good to change.”
This year, the jurors were Sally Bowring, professor of painting and director of administration for the painting and printmaking department at Virginia Commonwealth University; Laura Roulet, independent curator and writer; and Bill Schmidt, artist and winner of the 2015 Bethesda Painting Awards.
Artists may submit every year, but the work they put forward must have been done within the past three years, “always fresh,” Trawick added.
Both Case and Childs were thrilled to win. “It was such an honor to be a finalist, and unbelievable to win the Young Artist Award,” said Childs. “I have found a studio in downtown Baltimore that I am moving into next month, so some of the monetary prize will go toward the rent and supplies to continue with this body of work I am so excited about.”
Case expressed her gratitude to BUP. “It’s very special to have that funding and recognition,” she said. “I’d like to use it to travel overseas with my family. I’m not sure where but hope it will be overseas.” Another source of satisfaction was seeing Childs, one of her students at MICA, a winner as well.
The work of all the finalists in the Bethesda Painting Awards competition is on view through June 30 in Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Suite E, Bethesda. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Call 301-215-6660.