Bravo’s new fine art reality show competition Work of Art: The Next Great Artist is fully underway with two episodes already under its belt and the third installment set to air later tonight. As I mentioned in a previous post in which I profiled printmaker/installation artist Miles Mendenhall, a few of the contestants have already seemed to distance themselves from the pack right out of the gate.
In my opinion the top two contenders are Miles and 23-year-old Abdi Farah, who have both finished in the top three in each of the first two episodes.
Abdi Farah is a painter, printmaker and sculptor who received his art degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Abdi’s other achievements include being awarded the Scholastics Art and Writing Gold Portfolio (one of only four in the country) and being named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, granting him an audience with the President of the United States. As if one Ivy League school on his resume weren’t enough, Abdi earned a spot in the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art in 2008.
In the first episode of Work of Art the contestants were paired up and challenged to create a portrait of their counterpart. Abdi took a very straight-forward approach and created a fiery orange and red-hued impressionist painting of Ryan smoking a cigarette (Above). The piece was extraordinarily well executed and although it had some perceptible symptoms of the very limiting time constraints (such as the simplified background), it was otherwise a nearly flawless portrait that was way more than just an accurate rendering!
I think what really shines through in the piece is Abdi’s comfort level with the medium of painting. Although the painting borders on illustration, there is an energy and emotion that comes through in the relaxed looseness of how Abdi applied the paint, allowing it to be more than just an illustration. It has personality and it has emotion.
For the second episode the contestants had to breathe new life into old appliances rescued from an electronics graveyard. Abdi struggled the most early on as his grand plan to have multiple human figures with television set heads playing video games on one another had to be toned down when he ran into issues with his spray foam.
While watching Abdi squirt toothpaste-like foam onto what looked like a clothes-hanger wire armature I began to think he was way out of his element and this 3-dimensional challenge was going to sink him. The editing of the episode gave the impression that there was no way he was going to finish, but when time ran out he had this beautifully constructed man-boy figure with a perfectly tilted television noggin! I still have no idea how he was able to pull it off, or how that skeleton was able to hold up that television! (I suppose he could have gutted the TV, but still!)
An example of Abdi Farah’s undergraduate sculpture from Abdiart.com
Overcoming the problems with construction and the time constraints was really impressive, but what solidified Abdi in my mind as one of the top two challengers on the show was how he executed the human form. There’s a reason that art students spend years drawing and sculpting the human figure and it’s because it is the hardest thing to master. There are so many subtleties that we are all familiar with that even slight errors in proportion or detail are instantly perceived. There is also the personality and soul of the individual in the physical form that is once again perceptible to most anyone through subtle things like posture and facial expressions, subtle things that can be amplified or intentionally distorted by a talented artist.
Abdi is without a doubt a talented artist!
Just look at how perfectly his TV figure just stands there! The angle of the TV, the position of the hands… it all just feels right. And the figures playing basketball – those legs and feet are amazing!
Being able to paint the human figure is a rarity, but to also be adept at sculpting it makes Abdi a lethal opponent, because if you can paint and sculpt the human form, you can paint and sculpt anything.
That being said, what may be Abdi’s Achilles’ heel is the conceptual side of things. Looking through some of his older work created prior to appearing on the show, he appears to have a tendency for the cartoonish – literally and figuratively. “Humorous and clever” will be a hard sell to a judges’ panel like this one (See: Trong’s “What Would Tom Friedman Do?”) so I worry about the first time something like Abdi’s “Intruder Alert” (with Barack Obama drawn as a cartoon super-hero) makes its appearance. Don’t get me wrong, humorous and clever can be great, as evidenced by the genius of someone like Banksy, but it’s also something that can fall flat if it’s not humorous and clever enough.
Abdi Farah’s painting “Intruder Alert” featuring Barack Obama Abdiart.com
Miles is clearly the conceptual behemoth of the group, although Nao is supposed to be of that vein. (She seemed to be suffering from over-confidence so maybe the forceful humbling handed down by the judges will snap her out of that and allow her to find her stride.) As I mentioned in my profile of Miles, relying so heavily on the conceptual can put you at serious risk when it flops, so I almost feel safer putting my money on Abdi, who looks like he will rely on craftsmanship and execution. It isn’t quite as sexy, but it’s also a lot less risky! And I think inherent in Abdi’s “craftsmanship” is a warm emotional quality that shouldn’t allow for something as cold and impersonal as Trong’s albino TV bumper stickers.
The other obstacle for Abdi? the fact that he tries really hard to look like Arsenio Hall. I haven’t noticed it so much during the season, but those promo photos are brutal! Cheese in the house, hoo-hoo-hoo!!
Here’s Abdi’s introductory video from Bravo:
I will wrap things up with a few links I was able to dig up while rooting around on the internet:
Abdi Farah’s web site – abdiart.com
Supplemental Biography from Artfagcity
Abid Farah Facebook fan page
The ESU Review Artist Showcase: Abdi Farah
Samples of Abdi’s undergraduate work: ONE TWO
Abdi’s Q&A when trying out for Work of Art from Art Info