Prestigious Fellowship Advances Artist's NYC Dream

Jason Osborne

Jason Osborne, a second year graduate student, received a $20,000 fellowship for the Master of Fine Arts Program. The fellowship will help him transition from graduate school to working full-time as an artist
Photo by Morgan McCloy/DTH

Jason Osborne is moving to New York to work as an artist, a dream encouraged by the $20,000 stipend he was recently awarded by the Dedalus Foundation, an organization seeking to foster the understanding of modern art.

Osborne is one of only three people nationwide to win the fellowship. The grant is designed to help with the transition from being a Master of Fine Arts student to being a working artist, and is awarded to painters whose work is relevant in the landscape of painting. “This money is going to help me start my life as a working artist in New York after graduation,” Osborne says.

Growing up in Durham, Osborne wasn't interested in creating his own art until high school, but he always appreciated aesthetics in things around him. “When I was younger I skateboarded and loved the graphics on the boards,” he says. “The skate shop was like a gallery for me.”

Seeing art in everyday life has greatly influenced the work that Osborne produces today. After leaving the Atlanta College of Arts a year and a half into his undergraduate degree, Osborne traveled around Europe and eventually finished his degree at Montserrat College of Art in Boston.

Following graduation, Osborne went to work in construction, which he says has greatly influenced his work, and can be seen in many of his pieces.

“I have a huge interest in the procedure of painting,” he says, “like the behind the scenes aspects of the production.” Osborne works with drop cloths, scrap canvas and storage racks, as well as often cutting through the canvas of a painting to expose the framework behind it. “I like to show the periphery of the work, the things that artists don't pay attention to at all sometimes.”

Osborne identifies as a painter, but also constructs his frameworks and stretches his own canvases. His work is contemporary and abstract, sometimes using text to make it ironic or witty. “Some of my pieces take as little as half a day to create,” Osborne says, “while others have been painted over repeatedly for years, in search of a resolve.”

The camaraderie in the Master of Fine Arts program is one of his favorite aspects of the experience, he says. Osborne values the connections made with instructors, graduate students or undergraduates throughout the two-year process, and also getting to work with and be inspired by these great artists.

Overall, however, “they really mess with your head,” Osborne says. “But it's a good thing—they put you in a tailspin so you have to find your way out.” He goes on to explain that you're expected to be a student and an artist and a teacher all at the same time, which is a unique experience that can push students to create great work.

This semester, Osborne taught an undergraduate drawing class as a teaching assistant. He says one of the most challenging things about teaching is putting into words the creativity that drives art. “It's tough, but it keeps you fresh,” he says. Osborne says he can see himself teaching art someday, but for now he's focused on being a working artist in New York.

Some of Osborne's work is posted on his website (, but one must see it in person to get the full effect. Osborne layers paint and materials in many of his pieces, creating, as he describes it, “a history to the piece that isn't really there.” Selected paintings will be on display at the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill for about a month, starting April 12.

“In the end it's really about your work,” he says. “You want your work to be great.”

♦ Cindy J. Austin