Brian Tom ’20 Wins AICUO Grand Award For Visual Arts

April 29, 2020
Kyra McConnell ’22
Asian man smiling and wearing a black shirt and jean shirt.
Brian Tom '20 is this year’s winner of the AICUO Excellence in Visual Arts Grand Award. Photo credit: Vu Nguyen ’21

Studio art and psychology double major Brian Tom ’20 won the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO) Grand Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts for his 10-piece sculpture submission, The Rest In Pieces, which examines human responses to death through irony and humor.

The AICUO Excellence in Visual Arts award is an annual competition which accepts studio art portfolio submissions from these private colleges and universities across Ohio. After being judged in a blind jury pool made up of various professors, curators, and artists, the six finalists are narrowed down and a grand award winner is chosen. In the 12-year history of the AICUO awards program, an Oberlin College studio art major has won the grand prize seven times, and been represented among the finalists every year.

Sculpture of a head.
Tadp(old), sculpture by Brian Tom

This year, Tom’s set of 10 sculptures featuring iconic imagery such as human faces and animals—which he describes as humorous “one-liners”—was selected as the Grand Award winner. Drawing from personal experiences and observations of loss, Tom explores through his art what happens after someone passes away.

“The one overarching theme that I saw was the irony of permanence. Death is a permanent loss, but as a way to respond to that, we try to create permanence,” says Tom, who cites sculpture as his preferred medium for these ideas because of its stand-alone abilities.

Sculpture of a sad person.
Why So Blue, sculpture by Brian Tom.

According to Tom, “when you’re making [sculpture], you can create a character that is out of context of the real world,” which allows for more imaginative exploration.

For Tom, winning the grand award is special for many reasons: “I’ve never won anything before, so it was exciting to see that all of the work that I’ve done for the past four years as well as the support that I’ve gotten from all of my professors, friends, and family have culminated into something that not only I’m proud of, but that other people can see as well.”

The award also comes with a cash grant, which Tom plans to use for artistic materials and as motivation for post-graduation projects. Tom most recently created clothing in a fashion project inspired by a research trip to Los Angeles, where he studied Asian-American culture.

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