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Alumnus’ batik paintings garner prestigious 1858 Prize

Kristen B. Morales

August 17, 2018

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Long considered a revolutionary in the art world for his envelope-pushing batik paintings, Leo Twiggs, a South Carolina artist and alumnus of the University of Georgia College of Education, now has one more accolade to his name: the prestigious Society 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art.

The Gibbes Museum of Art and its member auxiliary group Society 1858 will name Twiggs the winner on Monday when it announces the results of its annual juried competition. The prize includes $10,000 for the artist who “demonstrates the highest level of artistic achievement in any media, while contributing to a new understanding of art in the South.” Twiggs was one of nearly 250 artists who applied.

Twiggs, 84, is notable in UGA’s history as the first African-American to receive a doctorate in art education; he graduated from the UGA College of Education in 1970. As an art educator, he helped create the art department at South Carolina State University and later was instrumental in opening the I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium on the university’s campus.

But it’s his batik paintings, with stark images that reflect Confederate flags, faith, violence, and the African-American experience, that generate the most attention. Although he’s not one to enter art contests, he had recent success from a series of paintings, “Requiem,” which commemorated the nine people killed at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel Church in 2015. The Gibbes museum owns one of the pieces in this series, as well as two other works by Twiggs.

Last year, Twiggs received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, as well as the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts from the South Carolina Arts Commission. He is the first South Carolina artist to win the 1858 Prize, which began 10 years ago.