Winning a MacArthur


With the announcement of this year’s MacArthur Award winners, painter and sculptor Nicole Eisenman 87 PT is the 10th amazing RISD alum to have won a coveted “genius grant” in the past 18 years (since Kara Walker MFA 94 PT/PR first started the trend in 1997).

Nicole Eisenman 87 PT's Northern California Potter Woman painting
Eisenman’s recent painting Northern California Potter Woman (2015, oil on canvas)

Eisenman is among 24 gifted individuals—including a poet, a playwright, an economist, an inorganic chemist, a neuroscientist, a computational biologist —to be named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow. The “no strings attached” award is meant to further creative work in a wide range of fields and is given “in support of people, not projects.” It comes with a stipend of $625,000 paid out over five years.

In talking about her work, Eisenman says that she often gravitates to painting “the figure because I know the world through my body and I understand my [own] anxieties and desires—and the anxieties and desires of our culture—through my body. The body can hold so much… [including] metaphorical and allegorical meanings. It’s just wide open.”

Though she also makes sculpture, Eisenman says that she’s drawn to the materials, colors and “visceral quality of painting—the connection between my eye, my hand, the paint, the canvas.” When that connection happens, it’s “magic,” she says.

Now represented by Anton Kern Gallery in NYC, the Brooklyn-based artist says that when she got the call from the MacArthur folks, she was in a supermarket. “It was just another day,” she explains in the video below.

“And then everything shifts, everything changes. You get struck by lightning. I think the fellowship gives me an extra boost of confidence to go forth and do what I’ve been trying to do my whole life—but with the vote of confidence from my peers, which just feels—it feels amazing.”


Related Stories

As RISD’s 2016 Kirloskar Visiting Scholar, multidisciplinary artist Shahzia Sikander MFA 95 PT/PR is sharing insights about Islam, collaboration and multiculturalism through a series of public programs.

Internationally known painter and MacArthur Award winner Julie Mehretu MFA 97 PT/PR is currently showing her work in two solo exhibitions on opposite sides of the Atlantic.