After all the studio flirtations, scatological subject matter and soggy breakdowns, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist crowned its second season winner Wednesday night.
[WARNING: The following interview reveals the winner and details from the finale.]
In her final exhibition challenge, Iranian-American painter Kymia Nawabi created an installation that examined the concept of what comes after death through detailed drawings, amplified with textured paints and accompanying burial sculptures. She beat out performance artist Young Sun Han and figurative painter Sara Jimenez to win a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in addition to the $100,000 cash prize. Not bad for a waitress with only $50 to her name.
With the influx of cash, she'll be keeping her funds closely tied to the growth of her art. "I'm going to be realistic and keep working my waitressing job just a couple days a week," Nawabi tells TVGuide.com., "knowing I can comfortably pay my studio rent, that I can be in there when I'm not working so I can fully concentrate on making new work for hopefully potential buyers or gallery curators."
Check out the rest of our interview with Nawabi as she discusses her artistic insecurities on the show, if there's lasting friction with fellow artist Lola Thompson, if Morgan "The Sucklord" Phillips is as cool as he seems and how she kept her eye makeup from running despite all the crying. And there was a lot of crying!
Congratulations! Is this process of having your win be official and public surreal for you?
Kymia Nawabi: This happened more than two months ago, and I finally got to watch it last night and it was experiencing it all over again. I was with my boyfriend Devin Yalkin at his parents' place with his family. And I had my sister over from L.A. She flew in with my brother-in-law and his mother. We were all together. Unfortunately, my mother was in North Carolina, as usual, but I'm going to see her this week to celebrate with her. But we were all together and watching it and just freaking-out all together.
What were your first thoughts on diving into the finale challenge? Did you find the freedom intimidating? How long did it take to conceptualize your exhibition?
Nawabi: Actually I knew conceptually what kind of work I wanted to make when I was in the Final 5 stage. You still spend some time in the back of your mind thinking, "If I do make it to the Final 3, what the hell am I going to do?" I was already starting to have stuff marinate upstairs where I was like, "OK, I know this is sort of the theme I want to work within and these are the sort of images and characters. Where can this go?" After I was told I was in the Final 3, things just started snowballing for me.
What has the response been to your finale piece from viewers at home? In Jerry Saltz's recap, he said there were textures and other details we couldn't see on our screens.
Nawabi: Seriously, I have yet to read anything negative about the show, which is incredible to hear and see that. I can't wait to hear even more responses of the people who actually go to the museum and see the exhibit for themselves in person. I'm glad that Jerry really took the time to share that with people. There was so much texture, there were so many little mystical-magical things happening within each drawing and each sculpture that you have to see in person to fully 100 percent appreciate them, especially the works on paper. There's a lot of texture within the painting process that I used and there's a lot of stuff embedded within the paint, the delicacy of the lines that I chose to use for making the drawing. I feel that the response from those who have only seen the work on TV has been overwhelming, so I hope that once they see the work in person that it'll be that much more, if not even better.
An artist can be their own worst enemy and critic. What were your insecurities and doubts during the course of the show?
Nawabi: You just think that you've never made work under these circumstances before. I'm not even talking about the camera being on you 24 hours a day, but just the fact that you're given an assignment in a sense and you're given X amount of time with X amount of materials or budget to work with. For me, it was just, "Are you actually capable of doing something like this?" because, as most viewers know obviously at this point and my close friends and family know, I am a very nervous, neurotic, anxious person. And to go into something that infuses that even more, that makes it a zillion times worse, you wonder, "How masochistic am I, really? Is this really what you want to be doing? How much does this mean to you?"
Yet, an artist also has to have a strong sense of ego and self to put themselves out there and be their biggest champion.
Nawabi: I think in the end that's where I was my own champion. I told myself I still want to be here and still want to be doing this regardless of the fact that I am going to be more nervous than usual. I'm putting myself in a very vulnerable position. I think the thing for me was, "Oh my God, can I handle all that?" The fact that I tried, let alone won, putting that aside, the fact that I even tried was a big deal for me. That was one of my insecurities at the beginning but I came out more confident in myself and that I'm capable of way more than I ever thought. I feel like a warrior.
What specifically do you think you offer as an artist?
Nawabi: I'm turning myself inside out. That is as original as it gets. I wish everyone else had something like that that they were willing to share with one another. I think when we're willing to share as individuals as I'm doing in my work, sharing such personal ideas and visions that I have, I think that it's almost like you are another philosopher. You're giving the public more information to believe in.
Naturally, the series had its share of dramas. Is there any bad blood with Lola still?
Nawabi: I would like to just take this opportunity of clearing the air with the public about all that. I had a lovely experience with Lola aside from a little bit of drama during the street art challenge. Part of the experience of just being there was being with Lola. So for everyone out there who are so harsh towards Lola, she's just had a lot of people tearing her apart. I just feel bad for her. I don't want people to think we had a bad relationship and that we aren't friends because that's not true at all. She's a very strong personality, and yes, she has a very cheeky way of saying things at times, but that's just part of why we all love being around her. She is who she is and that's not how a lot of us are. We are all different. I hope that thing dies out and people forget about it.
How do you feel about your portrayal on the show?
Nawabi: I feel that for the most part I was accurately portrayed. I react very honestly and quickly and sincerely. I think that there's a few things that came up in the individual interviews that seems as though I said them, but they were things I did not say. There were times there were comments that it seems like I made that were actually not true. I feel they were comments taken out of context. What's really frustrating is when you can see someone else making you like Frankenstein, putting together something, making you say something that you didn't say, especially something that's hurtful towards someone else, when you've been so careful and caring of others around you as I was during the whole competition. I'm like, "Oh, I never said that, but they're making me seem like I'm a little bit catty or a little bit rude or overcritical." I was extremely professional in carrying myself and towards others. I hope that that came through and that it wasn't ruined. I really want people to understand that there was so much love we all had for one another.
Do you still think you'll hear your mentor Simon de Pury's voice and accent in your dreams after this experience?
Nawabi: Oh, I really hope so. I reached out to him and sent him a thank-you card I had made and actually a couple mix CDs because he's a DJ as well. I absolutely, 100 percent adore Simon like family. He's become part of my art family in my mind. I definitely could not have gotten into the point in my work without him.
Despite getting the boot halfway through the show, The Sucklord was such a curious character and big presence. What's your take on him?
Nawabi: I love The Sucklord so much. I felt incredibly close to him from the moment I met him at the museum. Before I came into the competition I made miniature sculptures that are sort of figurines out of characters from my drawings. And seeing the figurines that he made before I got to introduce myself to him, and finally seeing him, there was this weird cosmic connection. It was like, "This guy is f---ing cool. He makes incredible, smart work. He's really interesting and he's got spunk. ..." Obviously as we were going along the competition together, I felt very close to him. They didn't show it, but during a couple freak-outs that I had, I would go to him and give him a hug. He'd hug me back. He's just a great guy-friend to have and a great artist.
What are your thoughts on The Sucklord's action figure he made, the glow-in-the-dark Jerry Saltz, based on one of the judges who was the harshest on him?
Nawabi: I am floored by him again. I thought that was just genius. He took the time to make these figurines out of the experience he had of his judges. Especially to still have the heart to make one of Jerry Saltz as hard as Jerry was on him during the competition. That just shows you what a wonderful artist and person he is. Sucklord's incredible! I plan on keeping in touch with him for the rest of my life and I want to see more of his work, hang out, do studio visits. He deserves his own show in my opinion.
This is kind of a silly question, but I noticed your makeup didn't run on the show, despite all the crying. Knowing the stressful situation you were getting into, did you make a deliberate decision to invest in a good waterproof mascara?
Nawabi: [Laughs] I just adore wearing very heavy, dark eye makeup. I grew up with beautiful Iranian women surrounding me with the most gorgeous eyes. They always wore such heavy eye makeup. I think it's just one of those things I started wearing when I was very young. I knew before I got on the show that yes, there would be some breakdowns, so I had to make sure I didn't look like hell when they taped me.
Do you think Kymia deserved the win? Would you check out her art in person?