The Vanguard Award Encourages Phoenix College Students to Keep Making Art

Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Phoenix College student Monica X. Castillo in front of her 3D artwork "The Deadly" at Phoenix Art Museum with Phoenix College President Dr. Kimberly Britt and VPs Heather Kruse and CJ Wurster
Phoenix College students recognized with The Vanguard Award at the 2023 Eric Fischl Series with guest artist Scott Avett
Eric Fischl Series guest artist Scott Avett offering words of encouragement to Phoenix College art students during a critique
Phoenix College art students with artists Eric Fischl and Scott Avett

En español. The Phoenix Art Museum's Great Hall bustled with curiosity and community on April 12, 2023, in celebration of the award-winning artwork of Phoenix College students. The artists mingled with guests to talk about their 2-and 3-dimensional works, photography, and media art pieces on display during the reception to honor them. Their work was chosen as Best in Show by acclaimed artist Eric Fischl and guest artist Scott Avett from more than a hundred art pieces submitted by students for the Vanguard Showcase, a juried exhibition on display at The Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College. To date, 67 students have received the Vanguard Award, which includes a $2,500 honorarium.

The 2023 Vanguard Awards winners

  • Monica Castillo, "The Deadly," 3D: Porcelain, underglaze, and mixed media
  • Christian Lopez, "Worthless Smiles," 2D: Oil on canvas
  • Danny Martinez Lopez, "IDK man, I heard rent on the monster is cheap," Media Arts: Digital print
  • Monica Spencer, "A Splash of Sunlight in her Day," Photography: Silver gelatin

Eric Fischl Series and the Vanguard Art Awards

Fischl, who attended Phoenix College in the late 1960s, was eager to support the place where he could be an artist for the first time. He established the Eric Fischl Series and the Vanguard Art Competition & Awards in 2005. In a conversation with Avett after the artist reception, Fischl noted that "artists often come from complicated backgrounds, so we feel like we don't belong. Our process is finding a place to belong and a group that shares our experiences and passions. What I found at Phoenix College was clarification that being an artist is the life I wanted, with an obligation to get better at it." He also noted the competitive experience provides artists an opportunity to "blow each other's minds" with their work. "I hope the students find that spirit, that drive, that purpose," he said. 

Guest Artist Scott Avett 

Avett, who earned a BFA in studio art from East Carolina University in 2000 but is best known for his artistry in the Grammy-award-winning band The Avett Brothers, described art, much like songwriting or music making, "as a way of worship, scratching at the mystery of life." Earlier in the day, Fischl and Avett visited Phoenix College, where Avett offered a critique for select students in Sessions Hall. In his response to ceramicist (and former Vanguard Award winner) Donna Forst, he noted the curiosity of her sculptures, "a stepping into the darkness, into the unknown, which we are called to do as artists and people." Forst was a rock climber for over 20 years and explored "every inch of the desert Southwest," she said. "I became intimate with the landscape and geological time. When I stopped climbing, I took up ceramics." Avett responded, "This is not just about what you do, but who you are. We are gathering around a mystery and a zeitgeist, the spirit of the place."  

The Encouragement to Keep Making Art

Christian Lopez, the 2023 Vanguard Award 2D winner for "Worthless Smiles," shared how he found himself painting for other people and an audience early in his art practice. A teacher pushed him to paint for himself. Losing a long-term partner changed who he was and what he wanted and inspired "Worthless Smiles," which "exposes the façade we put on," he said, "but there are these lurking ideas or people in the background, an imaginary place we all get stuck. When we allow those voices to take over, they hinder who we are." Avett encouraged Lopez to continue to work on the personal narrative, with a clear affirmation to stay on the path and continue painting to deal with his loss. "If you love your subject matter, painting for yourself is painting for other people." 

The Eric Fischl Series is often life-changing for the artists involved because of the mentorship and encouragement of other artists and teachers, who provide the grist for the solitary artist to keep creating. Even Avett, who spent the morning doing just that for emerging artists, shared in the evening's conversation with Fischl how important Fischl's feedback was to him during a studio visit in 2015. "When I showed Eric my artwork, he said, 'This is worth doing. Keep going.' He reaffirmed I was the real thing." 

The Vanguard Showcase, a juried exhibition of The Vanguard Award winners and other student artists, is on view through April 27 in the Eric Fischl Gallery. Special thanks to Matt Young of Matt Young Photography for photos of the artists at the Eric Fischl Series event held at Phoenix Art Museum.