Work of Art: The Next Great Artist – Catching Up With Season 1’s Local Artists

Alexandra Kadlec

Amanda Williams, Ryan Shultz and Jaime Lynn Henderson

When it premiered in June 2010, Bravo TV’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist signaled a leap into new and unusual reality television territory. From an aesthetic standpoint, it posed the question of whether one could create in a genuinely fruitful or personally gratifying manner under competitive pressures and extreme time constraints.

For each of the show’s 10 episodes, 14 contestants were given an assignment involving such diverse mediums as painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and industrial design. Conceived as an opportunity for emerging and established artists alike to be challenged in their practice and methodology, Work of Art also offered participants the chance to gain critical feedback from major art world luminaries.

At the end of each episode, a judging panel comprised of Bill Powers, Jerry Saltz, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn evaluated the contestants’ work. The winner was to be rewarded $100,000 and a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Season 1’s recipient of both was recent UPenn graduate Abdi Farah.

Chicago Art Magazine recently caught up with three of the inaugural season’s local-area artists to discuss their experiences of and reflections on Work of Art, to see what they’re doing now, and what’s next.

The Artists

Jaime Lynn Henderson seeks to “decipher delusions of grandeur” through photography, drawing, painting, and installation. Her practice is guided by the belief that in order to create, one must detach from the everyday and dive fully into the surreal. Jaime’s approach to Work of Art reflected a similar spirit of artistic adventure. She hoped to be stretched creatively and leave with “plateaus broken and new perspectives or working methods discovered.”

Amanda Williams employs painting, photography, architecture, and installation to “intertwine the viewer’s reality with [her] own.” Her collage works, with their vibrant swaths of color, text, and found objects, illustrate this layering of experience and space. Amanda’s interest in Work of Art was to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, adding that no matter what happened—she knew she would have fun.

Ryan Shultz, an artist who draws upon youth culture as subject matter for his oil paintings, also viewed the show as an unusual kind of “art immersion” experience—one he hoped would lead to increased exposure for himself, his practice, and his work teaching painting.

A “Surreal, Bizarre” Experience

Henderson's "Derby Dont's" (2010), Gouache, ink, acrylic, and collage on paper. 55" x 86"

While the allure of exposure and a memorable experience were primary attractions for each artist, the vehicle of reality television both arrived in made for an often strange adventure.

To avoid giving anyone an unfair advantage, contestants received few details prior to the start of filming. Constant monitoring via microphones and video cameras during filming resulted in an unsettling lack of privacy and anxiety—which only increased the show’s competitive pressures.

These factors, for Ryan, prompted the feeling of being “in a jail, where they are watching everything you do, all day.” Amanda echoed this sentiment in describing the transition from the show’s intense surveillance back to daily life: “It’s sort of like those few minutes after you get off of a treadmill but still feel like you’re running? You keep looking around for the hidden cameras and assuming your mic is on.”

What little time there was to create—and also to simply sit and think—were the most challenging aspects for Jaime. At the time, she didn’t realize how the inherent limitations and the unique parameters of each challenge would prohibit her from making quality work. Looking back now, Jaime wishes she had found a better balance of freeing herself to try new things while retaining integrity to the spirit of her studio work.

New and Unexpected Outcomes, Opportunities

Work of Art has resulted in many new—and often unanticipated—opportunities for all three artists.

For Ryan, this has meant more students enrolling in his painting classes in Chicago, increased sales of his work, and new commissions. On the heels of filming, Ryan’s work was exhibited at Manhattan’s Benrimon Gallery (“Younger than Moses: Idle Worship,” August 2010), Brooklyn’s Like the Spice Gallery (“Drifting Away: Summer Group Exhibition,” August 2010), and Chicago’s Milktooth Gallery (“Eat It or Wear It,” October 2010).

Among the more exciting opportunities he’s encountered? Being asked to paint Clint Eastwood’s portrait—a prospect that was discussed during a recent visit to the movie star’s house in Carmel, CA.

Shultz's "Britton" 24 x 36", Oil on Linen, 2011

Although admittedly not proud of what he created on Work of Art, Ryan is nonetheless grateful that the experience has garnered a growing interest in past and current projects.  Because of the show, he says, “My work has been disseminated across the globe.”

Work of Art‘s assignments have encouraged Amanda to explore alternate materials and processes. She is currently working on a new series of paintings with the aim of processing recent extreme high and low points in her life.

The past year also brought Amanda increased avenues of exposure in the local arts scene. From November 20, 2010 to February 20, 2011, her work was exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center (“Not Just Another Pretty Face”). Following that, she had a solo show at Blanc Chicago Gallery (“She Git It From Her Mama,” February 25-April 4, 2011).

Since Work of Art ended, Jaime has been invited to create work on-site at A+D Gallery for their “X-Treme Studio” project (June 24–July 21, 2010) and has been part of several other exhibitions, including “Strange Stories” at Space 301 in Mobile, AL (November 12, 2010-January 9, 2011) and “The Swimsuit Edition: A Visceral Body” at Swimming Pool Project Space (February 25, 2011).

Williams' "Splash"

Unexpected opportunities include the acting and spokes modeling gigs she’s done for films, commercials, and TV pilots. In the past year, Jaime has worked with Mazda Miata, MTV, Starz, Warner Brothers, and NBC. Next up she’ll be a character in a video game to be produced by Day 1 Studios.

Next Up In Chicago

Jaime is currently in a Chicago Artists’ Coalition residency at the Merchandise Mart, where her studio is located. She recently mounted an exhibition at Revolving Collections Gallery at Hotel Palomar that will be up through March 2012. Additionally, she will be serving as a guest speaker/panelist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Adlai E. Stevenson School in the coming weeks.

Amanda is prepping for Open Studios on October 21-23 at her studios in the Bridgeport Art Center as part of Chicago Artist Month.

Ryan exhibited as part of the North Park Art Walk, which took place on October 7.


Season 2’s premiere episode of Work of Art: October 12 at 8pm CST