NEW YORK—Eleven artists drew the same model in the same studio together for 40 hours over five days, with $10,000 on the line for the first prize of the Figure Drawing Competition of Grand Central Atelier (GCA). Their intense concentration culminated with a lively awards reception on the evening of their last day of drawing on July 6.
Before announcing the prizewinners, Collins thanked the other judges—Jordan Sokol, the academic director of The Florence Academy of Art-U.S. branch (also a leading art school in the realist tradition), and Katie Whipple, a GCA alumna—as well as the monitors of the competition, the artist model, the students, and artists present.
“In all these competitions—in which I have years ago been a participant, a contestant, as well as a judge, and an observer—the point of course isn’t to win. Maybe it is, a little,” Collins said, pausing for the laughter in the room to subside. “It’s never going to feel fair unless you get first place, and I hope that whoever feels that they got chafed can accept that we did our best … but if you think yours was the best one, then good for you because that’s how you have to be,” he paused again, as more people laughed. “Either way, go back to drawing and painting, keep up the good work,” Collins said to enthusiastic applause.
Savannah Tate Cuff, a second year GCA student going into her third year, received the top prize of $10,000.
“I didn’t expect it, but it’s a good surprise. I’m happy,” Cuff said after receiving the award. Reflecting on her experience over the five days of intensive drawing, she said, “I think everyone should take a figure drawing class at an atelier like this one because you learn to appreciate the human form. It’s just an incredible experience.”
Patrick Byrnes, a GCA artist in residence, received $3,000 for second place.
This is the second time he has participated in this competition.
“I did this competition three years ago, and it was such an unpleasant experience for me because I was so stressed out. This time, it was very different because I was relaxed. I just focused on the experience of making a beautiful drawing,” Byrnes said. “I actually like my drawing style and I’m happy with what I achieved. It was an intense week. I’m obviously thrilled that I won a prize.”
Kevin Muller Cisneros, going into his fourth year of study at GCA, received $2000 for third place.
“Everybody’s drawing was really strong. When you are competing, you do think about who might be a possible winner. I would say at least five people were really close for third place,” Muller Cisneros said.
Muller Cisneros thinks about the importance of creating realistic art all the time, he said.
“It all comes down to teaching people how to see the world again. Sitting in front of a model or an object, observing them for hours on end, trying to capture that visual impact on a two-dimensional surface, with all the tools and skills you learn in the academic tradition, you are able to describe the world and tell people, ‘Look, this is another way to see the world,'” he said.
The quality of all the participant’s drawings—each quite unique in representing the same subject—where top notch. The judges used various criteria, based on the visual vocabulary of fine art, to choose the prizewinners, including anatomical clarity, proportion, gesture, light effect, rendering, and contouring.
“All the drawings were really beautiful so it was quite difficult to decide. We had a lot of discussions about why we thought the particular ones that won should win, but generally we were in agreement with everything,” one of the judges, Jordan Sokol said.
In terms of identifying technical skill and artistry, Collins sees them as being inseparable.
“The drawing is all of its qualities. The spirit is expressed through the method, so I don’t think they are exactly separable,” he said.
Lively conversation with a pianist playing lounge music in the background continued late into the evening. Collins reminisced about the days before he founded Grand Central Atelier, showing much appreciation for how many more artists are dedicated to creating realistic art than when he started over 20 years ago.
“I’m so happy I’m part of this project of all these artists learning how to draw. I do remember when I was a little kid and I looked around and as far as I could see, I didn’t think anyone in the world—it wasn’t true, but as far as I could see—I didn’t see that anyone knew how to draw. It was like that tradition was completely lost,” Collins said. “It’s nice for me to see and to be in the middle of a scene where there are people really figuring out how to do it.”
The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund supported the artistic competition.