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Widening Circles: Cullen Washington, Jr.

To celebrate the Joan Mitchell Foundation's 25th anniversary, we invited 25 artists to reflect on the impact of receiving support from the Foundation over the years, and to share how they activated the resources provided by the Foundation. We collected their stories, along with studio portraits of the artists by photographer Reginald Eldridge, Jr., into an exhibition and book entitled Widening Circles: Portraits from the Joan Mitchell Foundation Artist Community at 25 Years. Here is the 8th story in our series, from Cullen Washington, Jr.:

On a cold winter day in 2009, while standing near the Utrecht Art Supplies store on Massachusetts Avenue, I received a phone call from my Associate Dean of Academic Affairs stating that I had been nominated for the Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant. At the time, I was in the last year of the graduate program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Throughout my time in grad school, I had intensely desired this award. I had inquired to faculty about the application process and was informed that it was by nomination only. I thought, this may be hopeless. So I replaced my desire to win the award with the desire to make good work. I practically lived in my studio, making work, challenging myself, and on occasion, creating something beautiful. This did not go unnoticed. I recall that I sat on my chilly apartment floor as I listened to the representative on the other end of the phone line share that I had been picked among fourteen other artists to receive the Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Grant.

For me, this meant that the many hours and minutes of anxiety, anguish, and sacrifice were rewarded in a big way, and that I was being honored with an award in the name of someone I truly admired. As I walked across the stage during my graduation, while my work flashed on the big screen, the mention of the award rang loud. The award money allowed me to make art and not work for a year (I found ways to live meagerly). The exhibition of the MFA Grant recipients’ work at the CUE Art Foundation was my second exhibition in New York City. For a graduate student, this was very meaningful.

In addition to being a source of support for me, the Joan Mitchell Foundation has been a vehicle for me to support other artists. It has given me the opportunity to reciprocate by nominating artists for this prestigious award. I received invaluable legal support through the Foundation’s partnership with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. This led to a new way to give back via donations of my work. And in fall 2018, I will be one of the Artists-in-Residence at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. As a Louisiana native, this is a place of roots, ritual, and comfort for me.

It has been and continues to be an honor to be affiliated with the legacy of Joan Mitchell. I am truly appreciative of the staff and of the resources the Foundation has provided me all these years.

Cullen Washington, Jr. utilizes the grid to communicate humanity and interconnectedness. He describes his collage abstract paintings as “nonrepresentational fields of activity.” He lives in Long Island City, NY.

Read more about Widening Circles and download the full book here.

All photos © 2018 Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

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Artists' Voices