Texas painter receives Factor Prize

“Under Every Dress” by John Westmark

John Westmark, a painter whose large-scale works are peopled by figures cut and shaped from paper sewing patterns to “create mythical narratives,” has been named recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth and Mallory Factor Prize for Southern Art.

Westmark, a recent transplant to Austin, Texas, accepted the $10,000 cash prize accompanying the award Monday night at the Gibbes Museum of Art’s annual Meeting Celebration.

Also honored were the 2012 Mary Whyte Art Educator Award winner, Robin Boston, an innovative art teacher at Stratford High School in Berkeley County, and the 2012 James S. Gibbes Philanthropy Award recipient Harriet Smartt, second vice president on the Gibbes’ board of directors, whose Museum Fellows program has accounted for more than $2.2 million in revenue.

The Factor Prize recognizes an artist whose work “demonstrates the highest level of artistic achievement in any media while contributing to a new understanding of art in the South.”

“The support and acknowledgement from the Gibbes Museum and Elizabeth and Mallory Factor is a huge boost to my art-making practice,” said Westmark, who was born in Alabama and raised in Florida. “I am extremely thankful and honored to be the 2012 winner of the Factor Prize.”

The Gibbes likened his work to “folklore cut from the fabric of human experience.”

Westmark said his paintings are emblematic of Southern art because he and the region are inseparable.

“I was born in Brewton, Ala., and have lived in the South all my life, until moving from Gainesville, Fla., to Texas in December — my first experience of living out of the region. I revel in the fact that I am Southern and come from a place so unique in its history and tradition.

“The South is totally its own. It’s been an (artistic) well to draw from.”

The artist added that sometimes he has struggled with the question of how much “coding or ambiguity” he should put in his work “before it loses that recipe” that is his, that reflects his traditions.

“Sometimes as an artist, you can try to become so worldly that you can step away from your core notions.”

Artists were nominated for the Factor Prize online at factorprize.org through February. The five finalists selected in March were Westmark, Aldwyth, Brian Dettmer, Young Kim and Bob Trotman. The website also has an archive on Southern artists that is used by curators, collectors, academics and the public.

“Selecting a winner is always difficult, and with such high-caliber artists on the short list, this year was no exception,” said Angela Mack, executive director of the Gibbes. “John Westmark’s work stood out among the rest for his technical skill and innovative use of materials, but also for his narrative approach that speaks to the Southern storytelling tradition.”