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To the 2017 MFA graduate class of UNC,

Over the last couple of weeks I have reviewed your work for the Top MFA Prize. Last fall I had the privilege of meeting many of you in your studios, which has added a layer to my appreciation of your work. I have seen the art develop.

Choosing a winner is never easy, and this is particularly true of this class. Each and everyone of you, through your work and studio practice demonstrates the qualities I see most frequently amongst successful artists: passion, dedication and critical rigor.

I chose to evaluate your work in much the same way as I do professional applications for the non-profits and boards I serve. Everyone received evaluation of 1-10 for each of the following categories: Inventiveness, Overall Execution, Documentation/Auxiliary Materials.

Everyone stood out in unique ways. Joy Meyer and Wayne Marcelli for the dedication and sheer enthusiasm they bring to their work. It will take you both far. Luke Firle his inventiveness and playful response to sculpture. Louis Watts for his thorough, no stone unturned, no angle unobserved approach. Lamar Whidbee and Emily Smith for their courageous look at identity and social norms.

This year’s winner excelled in nearly all the submission categories. Her additive abstract paintings seem to reference a geographical topology that inversely suggest cavities or holes. By evoking landmasses, she also imbues her paintings with a sense of time—but one that moves at a near glacial speeds. Such work requires a kind of painterly audacity present amongst only the best artists. Congratulations, Vanessa Murray. For all these reasons, I am awarding you with the UNC MFA Top Prize.

Paddy Johnson

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