Kymia Nawabi: Artist at Work
The winner of Bravo’s “Work of Art” recalls her stint in reality TV and the UF faculty who inspired her to “just keep drawing.”
Fresh off winning $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum as the winner of Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” 31-year-old Kymia Nawabi (MFA ’06) talks about her UF inspirations and life as a not-so-starving artist.
Q. What was the most challenging part of being on the show?
A. You’re looking around the room and there’s a lot of talented people there with you, and they’re all making really strong work. It’s easy to think that someone else totally has it in the bag and that you eventually are going to get nixed, and then it’s going to be over.
Q. How did you manage to be creative under pressure?
A. I don’t think being creative was actually that hard under those circumstances, necessarily. It was more about being able to have your idea come to full fruition. The bigger challenge was just getting it to materialize fully as to what you actually pictured in your head.
Q. What skills from UF did you apply to your experience on the show?
A. The University of Florida was really where I found my voice with drawing. It became clear to me how important drawing really, really is, for the second time in my life, while I was on “Work of Art.”
Q. Which UF faculty had the greatest impact on you?
A. I took a course called Art and Professionalism with Richard Heipp, and I learned so much just in one semester with him — how to apply for residencies and grants, and how to correctly make a CV, and just all of the know-how of being a professional in the art world — on top of training for my pieces and getting my eye to be even more sophisticated with my work. Jerry Cutler really pushed me to realize that my drawing skills were something that was worth investigating further. Arnold Mesches and Jerry Cutler definitely were the ones that were like, “Just keep drawing, keep drawing.”
Q. What’s it like seeing yourself on television?
A. The first episode, I was screaming, hiding under a ton of pillows in the living room around my friends and family. It’s weird to watch yourself and see things like mannerisms and the sound of your voice and not realize that that’s the way that you are.
Q. How did you handle the challenges of reality-show life?
A. Here and there, on a scrap piece of paper I’d write something down to myself and then throw it away. I was just kind of saying, “You can do this,” and really cheesy, cheesy stuff; I’m not going to lie. It actually did help. It seems like the show doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleeping.
Q. How difficult was that aspect?
A. I think it’s in some way kind of insane, but also kind of genius in a way. It makes people really raw, and also in this weird, vulnerable, sensitive way, I think it kind of proves how much you want something or not. It’s like who breaks down and who doesn’t. We were exhausted.
Q. What’s your favorite medium?
A. Ink and paper is one of my most favorite things to use. I love using paints, but not in the traditional way with a paintbrush and using brushstrokes. I almost use it like pens and pencils, in a sense.
Q. What does winning mean?
A. I definitely consider myself, and have for a very long time considered myself, a working artist. But, like every other artist I know, we all have to hold down multiple jobs just to make ends meet. [I plan to] use the monetary prize to help support my career in any way I can, whether that means being able to finally afford a new website, or being able to not work multiple jobs for a while and just be in the studio.
Q. What’s next?
A. I’m ready for the production. I’m ready for the same pressure that I had while I was in the competition to be real life.
— Sarah Stewart (BSJ ’05)