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Prestigious arts foundation awards Syracuse University student $15,000 for recent paintings, artwork

Brigid Kennedy | Asst. Video Editor

Tong Zhang, who moved to the United States from China, received a $15,000 grant for his work.

A Syracuse University graduate student in the College of Visual and Performing Arts was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, an arts organization, for his paintings.

Tong Zhang, a studio arts graduate student, said his work is filled with passion and a sense of wonderment.

He said he gains the inspiration for his artwork through his son, Damon, and through his personal childhood memories.

His 4-year-old son’s sense of curiosity, when observing his surroundings, has an impact on the artwork, Zhang said.

“At some level that ability is always important for my artwork, so I can recall that memory during my childhood,” Zhang said.

As an immigrant from China, Zhang said his feelings as an outsider are also important to his art.

When he moved to the United States, his art changed, he said. He started to emphasize the darkness in his paintings.

Zhang also said he began to question and talk about his art.

“I am very interested in the darkness, and I think that is because here I am an outsider. This darkness is universal, (when you are painting) you don’t know exactly what you are looking at, but on some level you sense the light coming through the darkness,” Zhang said.

The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation gives grants to a select number of aspiring artists each year. Claudette Bellemare, the foundation’s president, said she is proud of the level of prestige that is associated with the foundation.

“We are not only looking for talent, but we are also looking for the desire to become a full-time artist,” Bellemare said.

The foundation has only awarded about 1,700 grants since 1955, she said.

Zhang learned about the foundation after he took a graduate seminar taught by studio art professors Samuel Van Aken and Kevin Larmon.

Van Aken said he was happy that Tong was able to take what he learned from the class and use it in the real world.

“A lot of (the class) is about the things that they don’t normally teach you about being an artist. The idea behind it is to prepare artists for the art word; strategic planning, residency, and preparing for galleries,” Van Aken said. “(Part of the class involves) doing a mock grant application that is very precise, and each student selects their own grant to apply for.”

Deciding to apply for the foundation’s grant was not easy, Zhang said.

If an applicant doesn’t receive a grant, he or she is not allowed to apply again for two years. It also is difficult to receive the first grant because many applications require past experience, he added.

“I think you have to be crazy about your work, because that craziness will turn into an energy that will help show them your passion,” Zhang said.

Zhang said he plans to continue to highlight his curiosities about human behavior through his artwork and he hopes to someday become a full-time artist.

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