San Diego artist Hugo Crosthwaite wins National Portrait Gallery’s top prize

"A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez," (2018) by Hugo Crosthwaite
(Courtesy image)

Crosthwaite — the first Latinx artist to receive the prestigious award since the competition was launched in 2006 — will receive $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living person for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection

Five months after being named a finalist in the highly competitive portrait contest presented by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, San Diego artist Hugo Crosthwaite has taken home the top prize.

Crosthwaite — the first Latinx artist to receive the prestigious award since the competition was launched in 2006 — will receive $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living person for the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.

A renowned artist who works on both sides of the border, Crosthwaite was one of 46 artists from across the United States chosen to vie for the top prize in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

The announcement was made Friday at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where on Thursday, Crosthwaite took a selfie and posted it on Facebook with the note: “In Washington as a finalist for the Outwin Boochever 2019 American Portrait Competition. Theresa and I are keeping our fingers crossed.”

The portrait competition, held every three years, encourages artists living and working in the United States to submit a recent portrait, more specifically “artworks that challenge the definition of portraiture.” This year, the contest’s blind jury looked at more than 2,600 entries before settling on the final 46 — submissions from 14 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Crosthwaite, 48, received the top prize for his stop-drawing animation “A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez” (2018), which “recounts a woman’s journey from Tijuana, Mexico, to the United States in pursuit of the American dream,” according to a statement from the Smithsonian.

It, along with the work of all the finalists, will be on view in “The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today,” an exhibition opening today at the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display through Aug. 30 before going on a national tour.

Artist Hugo Crosthwaite, first prize winner of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, at the "The Outwin 2019" opening at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 in Washington.
(Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

In winning the nation’s top portraiture prize, Crosthwaite joins an illustrious list of past winners, including Amy Sherald, the previous winner of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition who earned the commission to paint the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The exhibition “features intimate depictions of individuals whose remarkable stories are rooted in the most pressing challenges of our time,” said Kim Sajet, director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. “Nearly all of the leading national conversations from the past three years — immigration, the rights of workers, climate change and the impact of racial violence — are presented here on a personal level.

“It is a moment to stop, look around, and admire the tenacity and beauty of the American spirit through portraiture.”

Crosthwaite’s journey to the National Portrait Gallery has not been an easy one. In February, it was revealed that Crosthwaite, who was born in Tijuana and attended San Diego State University, was fighting stage 3 testicular cancer. A GoFundMe campaign was set up to help with his medical costs, and many in the artistic community rallied to help.

On July 28, the artist posted on Facebook: “After six months of uncertainty, doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, tests and treatments, I can happily report that my testicular cancer is in full remission! Theresa and I would like to thank everyone who sent well wishes, healing vibes, prayers and contributed to my recovery. I am deeply overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. Because of all of you, I have a second chance. Now I have a lot of drawing to catch up on so ... Hasta Pronto Amigos!!!”

Earlier this year, the National Portrait Gallery’s Sajet said: “The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition was founded to support the next wave of contemporary portraiture in the United States. The diversity of this edition’s entries, from geographic origin to subject matter, reflects the multifaceted story of contemporary America. Topics range from stories of migration to the celebration of urban youth culture. The exhibition promises to pay close attention to the LGBTQ community, American workers and those facing injustice because of their race or immigration status. The selected artworks attest to the relevance of portraiture today as a powerful affirmation of the human experience.”

Artist Hugo Crosthwaite paints live in front of guests at the Instillations at the Station art event at the Arts District of Liberty Station in San Diego on August 5, 2018.
Artist Hugo Crosthwaite paints live in front of guests at the Instillations at the Station art event at the Arts District of Liberty Station in San Diego on August 5, 2018.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Previous top-prize winners are David Lenz (2006), Dave Woody (2009), Bo Gehring (2013) and Sherald (2016).

This year, the second prize was awarded to Sam Comen of Los Angeles, who submitted the photograph “Jesus Sera, Dishwasher” (2018). Third prize was a tie — awarded to Richard Greene of Los Angeles for his photograph “Monroe, LA” (2016) and Wayde McIntosh of Brooklyn, N.Y., for his painting “Legacy” (2017).

The Rosarito-bred Crosthwaite, whose work has been exhibited all over San Diego for years, most recently completed a project titled “In Memoriam: Column A and Column B.” The work was part of a larger project at Liberty Station’s Arts District called “Installations at the Station.”

Crosthwaite — whose artistic pursuits have taken him all across the globe, from Los Angeles to New York to Mexico — is known for his black-and-white graphite and charcoal drawings.

In 2012, his work was part of the San Diego Museum of Art’s “Behold, America!” exhibition, a collaborative effort that showcased art from three San Diego museums: the San Diego Museum of Art, Timken Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

In 2014, he received the grand prize at the FEMSA Biennial in Monterrey, aimed at “recognizing, reinforcing, encouraging, and publicizing art works in Mexico.”

His work is held in museum collections around the country, including those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Latin American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the San Diego Museum of Art.

Next month, he opens a new exhibit in Los Angeles, at the Luis De Jesus Los Angeles gallery. The exhibition — “Hugo Crosthwaite: Tijuas! Death March, Tijuana Bibles and Other Legends” — officially opens Nov. 9 and will be on display through Dec. 21.

Crosthwaite’s winning portrait is composed of nearly 1,400 photos he took throughout the project, which he based on the life journey of a woman he met in Tijuana.

“By animating Berenice Sarmiento Chávez through his black-and-white drawings and stop-motion filming, Hugo Crosthwaite offers us more than one finite or definitive image on her life,” Taína Caragol, co-curator of the exhibition, said. “Instead he portrays her journey of immigration, her struggles and her dreams. The result is a very humanizing portrait with moments that are as deeply tender as profoundly dark.”

“When she told me this story, it had a lot of fantastical elements, elements that you doubted if they were true,” Crosthwaite told Smithsonian.com. “But it didn’t matter because it was her story. ... We are defined by our stories. We present the story that we tell ourselves, or that we tell others, as our portrait.”

You can see more of Hugo Crosthwaite’s work at hugocrosthwaite.com and at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

"A Portrait of Berenice Sarmiento Chávez," (2018) by Hugo Crosthwaite
(Courtesy image)

Updates:

9:15 AM, Oct. 28, 2019: This story was updated with a quote from the co-curator of the exhibit, Taína Caragol.