Baltimorean Amy Sherald wins first prize in Smithsonian portrait contest

Baltimore artist Amy Sherald wins top prize in portrait competition.

Baltimorean Amy Sherald has captured the top prize -- and $25,000 -- in a prestigious national competition sponsored by the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

Sherald, 42, will receive $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living person for the museum's permanent collection, the Smithsonian announced Friday.

In addition, her winning portrait of a fellow Baltimore icon, Krystal Mack, will be on display in the Portrait Gallery, along with the works of the other 42 finalists, from Saturday through Jan. 8, 2017. After leaving the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibit will visit three museums across America before closing in January, 2018.

Sherald, a graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, says that winning a prize of this magnitude not only is a financial boost (she will use the money to pay her living expenses) but also establishes her as an up-and-coming artist on the national art scene.

"This came at just the right time," she said over the phone. "This award will increase the market valuation of my work, which is what every artist wants."

The 43 finalists for this year's Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition were winnowed from more than 2,500 entries that included such disparate mediums as animation, videos, textiles and sculptures. Sherald was the only finalist from Baltimore selected by the six-member jury.

The exhibit showcases works that "reflect discussions around gender, race, poverty, health care, at-risk youth, migration and the power of family," Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a news release

"The pieces are powerful...because each displays an intimate connection between the artists and their sitters."

Mack, whom Sherald describes as "a whiz in the kitchen," is the founder of KarmaPops Ice Pops/PieCycle Hand Pies. Mack sells pies, pastries and sustainable vegan ice pops from what she describes as "Baltimore's first food tricycle."

Sherald said she met Mack a few years ago. After she stumbled across a polka-dot dress in a vintage shop, Sherald began to envision painting Mack's portrait while wearing the garment.

"My work is about taking blackness past the stereotypes and opening it up to the imagination," she said. "These paintings exist in the liminal space between fantasy and reality. They start with color and costume. Usually, the image comes first and the meaning and words come second."

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