The Rhode Island Foundation announced today that artists from Middletown and Portsmouth have won what are considered to be among the largest no-strings-attached grants available to visual artists in the United States.

David Barnes of Middletown and Kelsey Miller of Portsmouth will receive $25,000 awards from the Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowship Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. They were selected from 117 applicants.

The fellowships are intended to enable artists to concentrate time on the creative process, focus on personal or professional development, expand their body of work and explore new directions.

“We are providing the financial support necessary to enable these artists to put more time into their work. We hope this exceptional gift of time and money will enable them to invest in advancing their craft,” said Ricky Bogert, who oversees the program at the Foundation in a news release.

Barnes describes his painting as a blend of confrontation and contemplation that reflect the precarious time in which we live, while simultaneously addressing more universal themes of human life such as transience and beauty.

“The thematic concerns in my work are intentionally mirrored by my technique. Typically my images are relatively thinly painted with speed and an economy of brushstrokes. The cumulative effect is an image that hovers between solidity and disintegration. This places the viewer in an uncertain or transitional space,” he explains in the release.

The Middletown resident is a part-time faculty member at Bristol Community College, teaching classes that focus on drawing, painting and color theory. His work has been exhibited at Roger Williams University Art Gallery, Atelier Newport, the Van Vessem Gallery in Tiverton, the Newport Art Museum and the Drury/Grosvenor Center for the Arts at St. George’s School in Middletown.

“Receiving a Fellowship would allow me to lighten my teaching load and spend more uninterrupted time in my studio. It would provide an opportunity to pursue creative avenues with my painting that I have been putting off. Specifically, it would open up blocks of time to create larger, more ambitious work,” he said in the release.

Miller works primarily in printmaking. She describes her work as a visual representation of how she sees and makes sense of the world.

“Sometimes it is clear and declarative, and other times clouded and confused, like a dream that appears and disappears without beginning or end,” she explained in the release. “The content began with loss and always circles back to it. Death has always been in my work. The political has always been in my work. Neither subject is fixed solely in anger or sadness. They encompass hope for the future and memory of the past.”

The Portsmouth resident is a Visiting Lecturer at Wellesley College with a focus on alternative print methods, drawing, lithography and screenprinting. In the past year, her work has been exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Mass., at the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, Ill., at the Jamestown Arts Center and in Cortona, Italy. Her latest work, We Can See it Coming, is on view through June 6 at the Davis Museum in Wellesley, Mass., as part of the exhibition, Q’20, Wellesley Faculty Artists.

Miller earned her B.A. from Wellesley College and her M.F.A. from the University of Connecticut. The fellowship will enable her to allocate more time to her studio practice and she is looking forward to exhibiting her new work

“The resources made available through this Fellowship are a call to expand my practice by working with processes and materials that are new and challenging. Large-scale prints and installations have been important to my work for a number of years, but I am often restricted by the time and finances that are available to me. Now I can push beyond the familiar and comfortable and take bigger risks with scale and materials,” said Miller in the release.

Barnes, Miller and a third recipient – Erick Telfort of Providence — were chosen by a panel of four out-of-state jurors who are professional artists. They were selected based on the quality of the work samples, artistic development and the creative contribution their genre, as well as the potential of the fellowship to advance their careers as emerging-to-mid-career artists.

Applicants had to be legal residents of Rhode Island. High school students, college and graduate students who are enrolled in a degree-granting program and artists who have advanced levels of career achievement were not eligible.

Established in 2003, the MacColl Johnson fellowships rotate among composers, writers and visual artists on a three-year cycle. Over the years, the Foundation has awarded more than $1 million in fellowships.

Rhode Islanders Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson were both dedicated to the arts all their lives. Mrs. Johnson, who died in 1990, earned a degree in creative writing from Roger Williams College when she was 70. Mr. Johnson invented a new process for mixing metals in jewelry-making and then retired to become a fulltime painter. Before he died in 1999, Johnson began discussions with the Foundation that led to the creation of the fellowships.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

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