James Biederman, the Martha Beach Distinguished Artist at UNC Pembroke, has won a 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
The fellowship, established in 1925, funds research and artistic creation and gives its recipients wide latitude for how to spend the money. It is a highly competitive award, with more than 3,500 applications for about 220 slots.
An abstract painter who was educated at Yale and schooled in Brooklyn, Biederman joined the faculty as a visiting professor and artist in residence in 2007. Biederman’s award marks the first time a UNCP artist has won a Guggenheim.
“It’s a real thrill. I feel lucky,” he said. “It’s up there with the highest professional accomplishments of my career.” In addition to the prestige that accompanies a Guggenheim, Biederman added that there is also a personal satisfaction to winning the fellowship. “It’s a confirmation of your studio work,” he explained.
The Guggenheim fellowship is Biederman’s second notable award while at UNCP. In 2008, he won a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant. The Guggenheim application required the submission of 18 works, letters of recommendation, an essay and a plan to create new work.
“I wrote the essay myself, and (UNCP photographer) Raul Rubiera helped put my art on the web. I think my essay was unusual; I’m no writer, and that may have helped. (Having) a studio in the Carolinas may have helped, too because regional diversity matters.”
Since the Guggenheim Fellowship provides its fellows with time to work and creative freedom, Biederman plans to use his fellowship to travel this summer. Traveling is critical to his work and his creative process, he explained.
He spent last summer in Wyoming with the Jentel Artist Residency Program. This summer, he will travel for a second time to Columbia and Ecuador. Travel is a tonic for creativity, he said.
“It seems to work,” he said. “I need something new periodically, and the air is good in the mountains.” Colombia’s isolation, Biederman adds, helps him disconnect. “You wipe away routines, and see yourself a new context, culturally.”
In an interview with UNCP’s Newswire, the artist considered “place” as it relates to his art. “I’m not quite sure I am a North Carolina artist,” he said. “It has an influence; I’m certainly in transition. Let’s say, I’m still looking.”
Transition and reinvention are familiar themes for Biederman, who began his career as a sculptor. He owned a gallery and held several posts in higher education. After arriving at UNCP, he shared his New York roots with “Shape Shifters: New York Painters,” an exhibition of 24 abstract painters displayed at the Art Department Gallery and again later in New York.
Last year Biederman had a one-man show, also in New York, that exhibited work from the first Columbian expedition. The show, aptly titled “Traveling Hat,” was reviewed favorably by the New York edition of the Wall Street Journal and several other publications.
With his residency at UNCP coming to an end in 2012, he may pop up anywhere. Wherever he is, there will surely be new art inspired by his travels.