We’re excited to present the 15 emerging artists whose artwork took awards in the Second Annual Artists to Watch Competition. From talented high schoolers to artists flourishing in retirement, and many ages in between, this diverse group of winners—working in a variety of art media—represent the potential for creative breakthrough at many different stages of life. These artists combined skill and imagination to create compelling works of art that we’re delighted to celebrate. Congratulations to our 2023 winners!
FIRST PLACE: Maha Mahmood, Leesburg, Virginia
Born and raised in the city of Mosul, in Iraq, my childhood memories are centered around the Tigris River. I’ve often wondered what secrets the ancient Tigris holds—the spectrum of joy, love, sadness, tranquility, turbulence. I always looked to the river whenever I was searching for answers. Feeling its eternal flow was a gift of inner peace from God. I may never know the secrets of flowing water, but I do know that water reflects our deepest selves—a mirror into our souls. I hope that Inner Sea encourages viewers to look within through these reflections.
ABOUT ME: I’m a self-taught Iraqi-American artist and utilize an array of art forms—Arabic calligraphy, pottery and ceramics, as well as painting—to express my identity and deepest sense of self. I moved, in 1986, from Iraq to Virginia, where I’ve been engaged in the Loudoun County art community.
SECOND PLACE: Aja Holloway, Los Angeles, California
I’m Reaching But Not Too Far delves into the interplay of human emotions and the communicative power of the body. By using the human form to capture the raw essence of emotion and introspection, I hope to provide viewers with an opportunity to connect with their own feelings. By using a combination of color, texture, space and form, this piece offers a glimpse into my innermost thoughts.
ABOUT ME: A mostly self-taught artist, I’ve also trained as a dancer, adding to my understanding of the body’s physical expressive potential. In this early stage of my evolving creative journey, I’ve sought to leverage this knowledge to transform the human form into a powerful tool for communication in my art that is both intimate and universal.
THIRD PLACE: Patrice Federspiel, Honolulu, Hawaii
In 2021, I decided to paint through the “paradigm shift” using complementary colors. This piece is the first in a series of 10 “Paradigm” paintings. I began with jute spread out on wet paper. Using a juicy brush, I began to throw yellows and oranges down on the right side of the sheet. Naturally, some color landed on the far side of the paper. I re-wet the left side and threw down manganese, YinMin and ultramarine blues. My intention was to make the colors bright and happy. As the painting developed, I worked to enhance the magically emerging elements.
ABOUT ME: I learned to paint with watercolor when I moved to Honolulu in June of 2000. I took two 8-week-long watercolor classes from artist Helen Iaea, joined the Hawaii Watercolor Society (HWS), and now I’m a trustee on the HWS board.
FIRST PLACE: Maura B. Casorio, Sarasota, Florida
Apricot Sunset was inspired by the vibrant and chromatic sunsets that occur over a 100+ acre wetland park near my home in Sarasota, Fla. The dynamic marsh grasses and waterways surprise me with the reflected color from the transitional skies above. At the time I took the reference photo, there had been a period of unseasonally dry weather. This is the first piece I’ve completed in what has become an ongoing series of dramatic sky paintings.
ABOUT ME: I have no formal training but have attended many workshops and classes and, most importantly, have spent hours at the easel to satisfy my need to learn more. I’ve had many supportive mentors whose knowledge has been invaluable to my growth. My art journey has been long in time but short in distance—I never want this adventure to end.
SECOND PLACE: John Sherry, Bend, Oregon
There’s a railroad crossing just steps away from my studio, and I hear the horns and crossing bells every day. I’ve always loved trains and often walk the tracks to take photos for reference. For BNSF, I climbed a small cliff to get the overhead perspective I wanted. The train was parked on a siding but, for the painting, I wanted to impart movement. So, I created that effect with broken strokes, lost and found edges, and abstraction. I like how the bright colors of BNSF trains contrast with whatever environment they’re in, as in this case where the grays, blues and neutrals come to life in the industrial setting.
ABOUT ME: I have no formal art training. My mother was an accomplished artist, and I attribute my creativity to her. I’ve been painting in pastel for less than two years, so I’m really at the beginning of my art journey.
THIRD PLACE Luis Perez, Baltimore, Maryland
I photographed this subject after a snowstorm many years ago. I was intrigued by the contrast of colors and textures, which offered a challenge. The most enjoyable part of the process was the use of unusual colors throughout the painting. The concept of “coloristic surprise” in my work is owed to my former instructor, Julian Allen. I also work to express the concept of ying-yang in my art, balancing hard and soft edges, cool and warm hues, darkness and light.
ABOUT ME: I graduated with a BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts New York City, but I’m mostly self-taught in watercolor. I’ve participated in art shows along the East Coast and in the Midwest, and enjoy membership in the Baltimore Watercolor Society.
FIRST PLACE: Rhea Jain, Los Altos, California
Amma was inspired by countless scenes of my mother; her quiet diligence imparts profound lessons on the importance of family, social structure and nourishment as a cultural cornerstone. This piece is my tribute to her and other unsung heroines of Indian households. I wanted to communicate the profundity of maternal duties and their societal significance. I love making art that offers insight into my culture and my own life, and connects me with other Indian women in my household.
ABOUT ME: I’m a senior in high school and a mostly self-taught artist, but my AP Art teacher has really helped me with technical skills. I also have benefited from the help of a cousin. I hope to continue my artistic studies and look forward to growing as an artist in the future.
SECOND PLACE: Blanesth, New York, New York
Lately, I’ve been working with themes of Greek mythology. I wanted to explore a more universal topic than previous projects and discuss human stereotypes through these ancient stories. Minotaur represents the 21st-century individual in the loneliness of his labyrinth. I’ve captured the moment in the story in which Ariadne sleeps on a beach in Naxos after Theseus, who had just killed the Minotaur, abandons her. A group of people—and the Minotaur—spiral around and observe her. The figures are treated with realistic but broken brushstrokes to create a loose, somewhat expressionistic gesture.
ABOUT ME: I’ve received my diploma in Fine Arts from the European Academy of Fine Art, in Trier, Germany, as well as a Certificate Intensive Program from the New York School of the Arts, New York.
THIRD PLACE: Alex Tabet, Los Angeles, California
A young, untroubled woman takes a moment to smell a flower. Her flowing white dress signifies youthful innocence. Towering behind her, an aged grandfather clock presides over each ticking moment of bliss, characterizing the wisdom attained through lived experience. As I get older and the years feel increasingly shorter, I sometimes reflect on how carefree I was in my late teens. Although I lacked the experience I have now, I miss the joy of having “all the time in the world.” The serenity of youth lies in this abundance of time—our most precious commodity.
ABOUT ME: I’m mostly self-taught, though I did take painting classes at a local atelier when I first started painting, as well as online tutorials from East Oaks Studios. I found those lessons to be truly transformative, but the majority of my art education has been comprised of a lot of time spent behind the easel.
FIRST PLACE: Harsha Rodage, Portland, Oregon
My work focuses on realistic portrayals of Indian women, their relationships and culture. When I landed in the United States with an infant, I wondered how I would pass on our culture and values to her. Through many Indian women I’ve met throughout my life here, I have learned. Many first-generation immigrants know the pain of leaving one’s life behind. When we travel home, we accumulate things that are close to our hearts during each trip. Treasures of a Goddess depicts traditional Navratri festival attire, as well as keepsakes, traditional decorations and everyday tools—items that represent happy memories that I carry home with me when I return to my new home.
ABOUT ME: As a child, I was always interested in drawing and painting. I used to free-hand henna tattoos, landscapes and rangolis during festivals and vacations. At this later stage in life, I have returned to drawing and painting for recreation.
SECOND PLACE: Amy Joyce Adams, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I enjoy painting classic cars, because they conjure nostalgic feelings with their distinctive shapes. I love the challenge of capturing the light and context of the setting based on distorted reflections. To create the piece, I used the grisaille technique, starting with a gray gesso background. I then established the values using hi-flow acrylic paint to identify the lightest lights, the darkest darks and all the shades between. Finally, I used transparent glazes of oil paint to establish the depth of colors and details to achieve a realistic appearance.
ABOUT ME: I work part-time as an architectural designer. The other half of my time is dedicated to my art. I’m mostly self-taught through books and dedicated experimentation, although I took many art courses in college. In my career, I’ve been able to utilize my artistic skills to produce many architectural hand-renderings for presentations.
THIRD PLACE: Ilene Silberstein, New York, New York
Most people associate the carnation with simplicity, but the flower’s intricacy resembles the layers of roses. In this painting, I wanted to capture the lovely modesty and complexity of the flower. I also enjoy painting blue-and-white pottery, which I collect to use in still lifes. When seen from afar, they—like flowers—can appear similar, but the patterns and handwork on each piece vary dramatically. In this painting, I invite the viewer to experience the light falling on this arrangement in a singular moment in time.
ABOUT ME: I trained and worked as a florist for 10 years and am an avid gardener at my home on the North Fork of Long Island. I’ve always been drawn to flowers and see beauty in all the stages of bloom. I love to work in both pastel and oil, and use color to create vibration and vitality in my paintings.
FIRST PLACE: Augustina Droze, Depew, New York
Twist is one of the works in my “Delirium” series, which consists of work I did right after the start of Covid. At the time, I was dealing with the confusion of the pandemic as well as a new baby—chaos that permeated my artwork. Swirling birds, animals and insects referred to the pressure and confusion of the path ahead. Although the scene is one of chaos, the act of painting was slow and deliberate, and a meditative escape from the spin of daily life.
ABOUT ME: I have a degree in business administration and an MFA, and am currently working on a doctorate in creative arts. It’s an exciting time in my career with a lot of new exhibition opportunities. I look forward to seeing what the future holds!
SECOND PLACE: Bruce Makinney, Castle Rock, Colorado
Mount Evans is, at 14,271 feet, one of the highest peaks on the Colorado front range, and features black bears, mountain lions, big horn sheep and, of course, mountain goats. I came upon this mother and kid when they were taking in the sunshine near the summit. The painting came together with very little need for change from my reference photos and sketch. The green fields and the boulders, along with the bright sunlight, made the animals pop. I mostly used soft pastel, but when it came to the eyes and faces, I grabbed a pastel pencil.
ABOUT ME: I’m self-taught and enjoy experimenting with different techniques and media. Having just retired, I have more time to work on new pieces and subjects like wildlife and landscapes.
THIRD PLACE: Denise Brown, Port Charlotte, Florida
On the Bit was inspired by Canada-based photographer, The Artsy Equestrian, who gives other artists permission to use her photos. I loved the lighting in the image and knew it would make a great scratchboard. To create lines on the coated board, I used a micro tattoo needle and, occasionally, a surgical knife, or slice tool, for finer details.
ABOUT ME: I began drawing horses as a kid, influenced by the work of C.W. Anderson. Although I have no formal art education, I’ve been drawing and studying horses for quite some time. Since retiring at 68, I’ve been able to get back to my artwork, taking classes at local venues and learning photography.