Next Great Artist


ECU alumna Kymia Nawabi was the winner of Bravo TV's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist." (Contributed photo)

ECU grad wins Bravo TV’s ‘Work of Art’

By Jeannine Manning Hutson
ECU News Services

An East Carolina University graduate won the second season of Bravo TV’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” in an episode that aired Dec. 21. The creative competition show pitted 14 up-and-coming artists against each other each week in a series of challenges, such as creating inventive street art.

A first generation Iranian-American, Kymia Nawabi was born in San Diego, Calif., and grew up in Durham. She graduated from ECU in 2003 with a bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in painting and drawing.

The 30-year-old has been living in New York City since earning her master of fine arts degree from the University of Florida in 2006. On her website, Nawabi describes herself as a multi-disciplinary artist working in drawing, painting, sculpture and short stop-motion animation film.

When Scott Eagle, assistant director of the ECU School of Art & Design and director of graduate studies, first saw Nawabi’s work, he knew she had great talent.

“I first met Kymia and saw her work at the end of her freshman year. I knew she would be someone who did great things. At that time, I hoped that I would have the good fortune to work with her,” said Eagle, who also is a faculty member in painting.

“She was my student in many of my painting classes; she made A’s in all of them. She was a fantastic student,” he said.

In the finale, Nawabi beat out Young Sun Han of Skokie, Ill., and Sara Jimenez of New York. Each artist was given a budget of $7,500 and three months to create a solo exhibition. Nawabi’s works focused on spirituality and death.

Eagle, who has been watching the series from the beginning, thought Nawabi had a good chance of winning because she can work amazingly fast without compromising quality. And then he saw her final show and was impressed, as were the judges.

“I could tell from the close-ups that she had put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the work,” Eagle said. “I believe that her work in the exhibition is of a caliber that will do very well both nationally and internationally.”

He was also impressed by the amount of work she was able to produce for the show within a three-month period.

“She’s working at a very high level,” he said. “She is going to do very well. She works very fast. The degree of detail and emotion she puts into her work is amazing.”

As host and judge China Chow announced her name, Nawabi thanked the judges and then received congratulatory hugs from the other artists.

“I couldn’t be more shocked and shaky and happy. This is amazing,” she said to the camera. “I don’t have any money right now. I have $50 to my name right now. Literally.”

She has a little more than $50 now since the title of “Next Great Artist” comes with a $100,000 prize and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.

Eagle has several Kymia Nawabi originals both in his ECU office and on the wall of his home studio.

Nawabi continued to have strong ties with ECU after her graduation, Eagle said, including collaborating on artwork with former School of Art painting and drawing area coordinator Paul Hartley until his death in 2009.

“She was very influenced by Paul and his work,” Eagle said.

“I think Kymia will follow this (win) and make something of it. It positions her for a jump to the upper tiers, and if the sales follow and if the critical reviews follow – which I think they will, then she should do very well.”

To view some of Nawabi’s artwork, visit


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