Arts Education Visual Arts

UNCA Student Chosen as Finalist in Prestigious National Art Contest

By Emma Castleberry

UNC Asheville student Lydia Ham has been selected as a finalist for the AXA Art Prize, one of the leading student art competitions in the US. Ham is one of 40 students who will have their work shown in New York City for a live jurying event.

The Sleeper. Lydia Ham, artist

Ham uses oil paints to explore themes of femininity, intimacy, loneliness and vulnerability in her realistic style. She was encouraged by her professors to submit her piece titled The Sleeper, an intimate portrait of someone close to the artist. “This person usually presents as very strong and masculine, so I was very interested in revealing an innocent moment where he was completely himself and vulnerable to me,” says Ham, who is in her third year of studying painting at UNC Asheville. “I loved how his skin almost blended in with the pale pink sheets of the bed and how soft and feminine he looked when he was just naturally existing while asleep. To me, he was his most vulnerable self in that moment.”

Rob Anderson, a lecturer in the university’s department of art and art history who was teaching Lydia when she painted The Sleeper, calls her an outstanding student. “Lydia shows great control of subtle tonal shifts found within the figure,” he says. “Her work ethic in painting and her patience with complicated subjects are two of her greatest strengths.”

The first-place winner is awarded a $10,000 cash prize. In November, the final works will go on view at the New York Academy of Art and the winners will be chosen by a panel of renowned artists. “The AXA Art Prize is an excellent program with prestigious jurors,” says Suzie Dittenber, associate professor of art at UNC Asheville. “I enjoy the intimacy and sensitivity Lydia has captured in The Sleeper. Lydia is meticulous, takes pleasure in a refined surface and strives to make her work very personal.”

Visit to learn more and see the finalists.

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