December 2021 Awards

State of the Art Gallery’s December 2021 Juried Exhibition spotlights a luxurious trove of statement, question and exclamation. It’s a thoughtful collection—varied and provocative, inspiring and challenging. Congratulations to the review jurors whose work made my task appropriately difficult.

It is generally my habit to first explore a group in its entirety without individual analysis and to ruminate about it as a whole. Later I return to the objects one by one and consider their ideas, their techniques, their craft, and their presentation. I’m pretty nerdy here. I assign numerical ratings on a very wide scale, generally from 1 to 100 points (maybe I’m a frustrated schoolteacher). It often surprises my colleagues; I find the process encourages rigor and equity. After another overall survey, I ask the computer to order the rankings and I discover my results.

It’s usually a surprise, and it certainly was for this exhibition. As I told the show’s organizers when I realized that the final result leans so deeply toward realistic representation and figuration, “You’ll notice a theme. It wasn’t my intent. Though the institution I lead privileges the figure, I personally don’t. Our choices always are refracted by the times in which we’re living; I’ll need to figure how the recent past pushed me so defiantly in this direction.”

Bravo to all who participated. I look forward to exploring the exhibition, both in the gallery and online.

—Rick Pirozzolo, Prize Judge

[You will find the judge’s comments on individual pieces below.]

Judge's Award $200

“Aggression in color and line … whimsy in composition and expression. Strength and tenderness telegraph a redefined pietá of the contemporary street.”

Squatters Club, Cuba

Heidi Brueckner

Oil on recycled bubble paper


My work is inspired by a curiosity of people, and I love analyzing human behavior and interaction. I use both archetypes and portraiture as a way to study human nature. 
The archetypes play roles in humorous allegories about morality, environmentalism, and cultural norms. I especially enjoy nodding to the margins of society and contemplating the precarious and dark aspects of humankind. My work often inspects the under-revered, and appreciates the subject’s presence and dignity, giving pause to honor the person. I revel in playing with symbolism, mixed media, heavy texture; bright, invented color; elaborate patterning; exaggerated space; and distortion in order to enhance visual activity and conceptual impact.

Judge's Award $200

“Texture, value and rhythm … the rush of that stream and the crunch of those brambles. We’re cold, but the sitter isn’t. Innocence has power.”

Waiting for Spring to Wake Up

Candace Cima

Watercolor on Arches paper


My artistic approach is to create an image that can produce a story in the viewers mind. When looking at my art, no matter what the subject, I would like the viewer to see a narrative in his or her imagination. What the subject meant to me is not the important thing; it is that I have painted an image that speaks to the viewers. The ethereal mix of color and texture is fascinating to me. Every time water and color meets paper, magic happens; every time magic happens a story is told.

Judge's Award $200

“Exquisitely resolute architectural rendering, with tempting softness of fabric. Geometry and poetry.”

A Moment in Time

Lynette Cook

Acrylic on canvas


One afternoon I took a walk in my Daly City neighborhood, gazed at an ordinary house that I had passed hundreds of times before, and saw it in a completely new way. A large shape with graceful lines crisscrossed the home’s facade. Upon investigating, I realized the Sun was aligned with a utility pole at just the right angle to cast its silhouette. Surely I had seen this all along. I just hadn’t noticed. 

Since that day I have found beauty in the shadows made by objects within the urban landscape usually considered ordinary or even ugly: utility poles, laundry drying outdoors, and exterior balconies and stairs that create repeating patterns of light and shade. Though these shapes seem fixed, they capture a specific moment in time. The Sun, with its daily march across the sky, ensures constant movement and change. I am comforted that the city environment, which can seem harsh and impersonal at times, presents these beautiful expressions of the human element in concert with the natural world.

Judge's Award $200

“Forthright and explicit in countenance, she breathes mystery. Masterful in its use of tonality. Could be from prehistory or in yesterday’s sketchbook.”

Loss (2021)

Dawn McLaughlin

India ink, gesso, watersoluble pencil on paper


I am a multi-media artist working in collage, assemblage, sculpture, drawing, and painting. Although often mixed-media obsessed, I have an abiding love of drawing, and it is through drawing that my personal expression best reveals itself. Charcoal, pastel, and graphite are my preferred mediums. Since I am particularly captivated by the power of the portrait to evoke and communicate the human condition, faces and figures are the primary focus of my work. Through practice, study, experimentation, evolution and reinvention, I strive to develop an authentic artistic voice. My work is in many private collections and exhibited in art venues and public spaces.

Judge's Award $200

“When fading sunlight can still hurt one’s eyes, we are intrigued by the darkness. Sumptuous color and softly thrilling movement.”

Walking Into the Sunset

Erica Norelius

Oil on Canvas


Erica Norelius is an award-winning artist located in the San Francisco Bay Area. “I’m interested in light and shadow within the scene; to me they are reflections of the natural spiritual energies and the constant tug of war which takes place.” Erica’s work can be found at Lovett’s Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Allison McCrady Fine Arts Gallery in Orinda, California. Public Collections include Cornell University, Disney Tokyo and the Hyatt in Times Square. She’s a member of Portrait Society of America, Oil Painters of America and California Art Club.

Rick Pirozzolo, Prize Judge

Rick Pirozzolo is Executive Director and Chief Curator at the Arnot Art Museum, the landmark institution of fine arts in downtown Elmira,New York. Known for the Matthias Hollenbeck Arnot collection of seventeenth century European paintings and sculpture, the Arnot also holds other impressive works of art, including paintings of the Hudson River School and a growing collection of Contemporary Realist works.

Since taking over as Executive Director of the museum, Pirozzolo has curated many exhibitions and is currently planning the ninth in the internationally renowned serial exhibitions, Re‑Presenting Representation. He has served as both juror and awards judge for exhibitions and competitions throughout the country.

Pirozzolo is also an accomplished theatrical director and designer as well as an active speaker and presenter.