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Behind the Exhibit: Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series

The annual competition will launch one lucky winner to art stardom

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After narrowing down a record number of submissions to 16 finalists, the annual Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series will crown a winner on Friday night during Art Basel Miami Beach. Co-organized by digital arts platform Artsy, the competition offers emerging and established artists a rare fast pass to industry bona fides, with previous finalists going on to catch the eyes of everyone from Lil Wayne to George Lucas.

Following a nationwide search, a selection committee whittled the self-submitted pool of artworks down to a few hundred semifinalists, who then exhibited in groups across 14 regional markets. One finalist from each show, plus two additional finalists chosen via online submission, advanced to the final round – a booth placement at SCOPE Miami Beach during Miami Art Week.

The process represents a unique opportunity in the art world, to which admission can prove elusive for those without deep pockets or extensive rolodexes. “So often artists reach glass ceilings regionally and need new platforms to reach more collectors,” says Andre Guichard, International Curator for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series. “All submissions are considered and we have seen artists advance that are self-taught and classically trained.”

This year’s finalists, who span markets from Miami to Vancouver, include Atlanta-based painter Barry Duperon, a qualifying semifinalist each year since the competition’s inception and whose painting My Day One is his first to make the finals. Ranging from the abstract to the jarringly real (see: the lifelike busts in Chicago-based Charity White’s Dinner Table), the selection’s range of media is almost as diverse as its submission pool.

The winner, says Guichard, will have to unite both technical skill and messaging. “Perhaps most importantly,” he says, “we like to confirm that the message received through the piece matches the artists’ statement.” The series has already proven to be an incubator for necessary, previously underrepresented perspectives; 2014’s winner Ti-Rock Moore has continued to receive recognition for her incisive work on the Flint, Michigan water crisis and police brutality.

Though it may serve as a democratic haven in the status-driven bacchanal that is Miami Art Week, the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Finale on Friday evening will offer artisans and patrons a pure dose of escapism. Hosted by Insecure’s Issa Rae at Gianni Versace’s ornate villa – the symbolic cradle of Miami culture – this closing ceremony is sure to be an auspicious launch pad for art stardom.

Click through the gallery to see this year’s finalists.