Honorees speak to the art of maintaining a career in Atlanta

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia launched its Working Artists Project in 2007 to address what seemed at the time an almost emergency situation. Too many rising visual artists were leaving Atlanta in search of better opportunities and support in larger cities, and MOCA GA, with funding from the Atlanta-based Charles Loridans Foundation, wanted to stop the talent drain.

Five years later — as MOCA GA announced Atlanta artists Shara Hughes, Jiha Moon and Katherine Taylor as recipients of the 2011-12 awards on Thursday — the picture is improving.

The Atlanta painters each will receive a $12,000 stipend, a studio assistant, an exhibition at MOCA GA (with accompanying catalog) and a place in the Buckhead museum's permanent collection. They also join an elite group of a dozen previous Working Artists Project winners, most of whom attended a luncheon to welcome the newest honorees into the fold.

Counting Hughes, Moon and Taylor, all 15 have continued to call Atlanta home while conducting careers that take their work across the country and, in some cases, the world.

"People say you can't have it all, but this is the 21st century and I think you can have it all," said Moon, a native of South Korea who moved to Atlanta seven years ago. "America is such a huge country. There shouldn't be such a big focus on New York. Artists can make great art anywhere."

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In the short term, Moon, 39, wants to rent a small studio space near the two-bedroom Buckhead condo she shares with husband Andy Moon Wilson and son Oliver, 4. Moon has been using the smaller bedroom as her studio, but when she works on paintings on mulberry paper as large as 80 by 60 inches, she sometimes finds herself having to step on her vibrant works in progress.

The paintings, which reflect a cultural fusion of influences from her homeland and her adopted country, seem to be gaining greater recognition: Moon also won a $25,000 grant from the New York-based Joan Mitchell Foundation late last year.

Taylor, 46, has a more settled studio setup near her Grant Park residence, but admitted she had been looking for teaching jobs around the country now that her part-time professorship at Kennesaw State University's Visual Arts Department is concluding.

The Biloxi, Miss., native, who earned her master's at Georgia State University and then returned to Atlanta in 1996, said the Working Artists Project award has allowed her to call off her national search and take comfort in living in a city that has met all her needs creatively.

"This is another step that helps me recognize that I can sustain a career here," said Taylor, whose paintings often address the way humanity tries to control what she calls "the geometry of the landscape."

The third honoree, Hughes, is a 31-year-old Atlanta native who paints abstracted interiors with a David Hockney-esque flair. All three were selected by juror Julie Rodrigues Widholm, associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

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