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Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series Awards Fine Art Alum

Back in 2013, Nina Fabunmi entered her first Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series competition, created by the spirits brand to gives emerging artists the opportunity to exhibit internationally. For five years, Fabunmi, a graduate of the Academy’s School of Fine Art, qualified as a regional finalist but had yet to be named a winner. For the 2018 contest, she expected more of the same—but her sixth attempt was the charm.

The Artisan Series San Francisco regional competition was held in October. Fabunmi jokes she should have been getting a Bombay veterans’ award instead of a trophy. “I was somewhere in the back,” recalls the 2014 MFA graduate. “And then they called my name. I was in utter shock.

“The thing about art is it can be so subjective,” she adds. “Winning is based on the judges’ taste…different people have different tastes, so it’s going to depend on that. But last year just happened to be my year. I was really happy.”

School of Fine Art graduate Nina Fabunmi with her winning painting, “Find a Way to Your Heart”

As a Bombay series’ regional winner, Fabunmi and her winning piece, “Find a Way to Your Heart,” along with 14 other regional finalists, were flown to the global art exhibition SCOPE Miami Beach for the competition’s grand finale at the Versace mansion. Fabunmi didn’t take home the grand prize ($10,000 and an Artsy collaboration to create a New York City public art installation), but excitedly recounts the experience as “living the celebrity life.”

She’s itching to return next year. If winning a free trip to Miami for her art signifies anything about Fabunmi, it’s that her dedication is paying off. Since gaining her fine arts degree from the Academy, her gallery exposure continues to grow—recently including Studio Gallery and Gallery 1317 in San Francisco, Gallery Guichard in Chicago, Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland, plus others—as does her published work for magazines like American Art Collector and Southwest Art.

More recently, Fabunmi contributed to a group exhibition called Serenity in the Women’s Health Center at the University of California, San Francisco. She also painted one of the iconic San Francisco hearts, and she completed her first mural commission for the Salesforce Transit Terminal.

Nina Fabunmi with her Salesforce Transit Terminal mural

The latter was initially intimidating, she explains, because the wall was seven feet by 40 feet. “I did it in three days. It was big, but I did it, so I’m pretty happy with that. I’m not afraid of murals anymore.”

More recently, Fabunmi contributed to a group exhibition called Serenity in the Women’s Health Center at the University of California, San Francisco. She also painted one of the iconic San Francisco hearts, and she completed her first mural commission for the Salesforce Transit Terminal.

Fabunmi’s passion is what’s driven her past any fear that comes with being an artist. Originally from Nigeria, Fabunmi was self-taught as an artist, working in real estate, banking and telecommunications. Then her largest commission—21 paintings for a Lagos establishment—was enough to send her to the Academy, where classes were, at first, “extremely hard,” and used terms she had never heard before.

“There were a lot of ‘a-ha!’ moments at the Academy,” Fabunmi says. “I began to realize doing the smallest things can make the biggest difference.”

Fabunmi strikes a pose at the Artisan Series finale in Miami.
Fabunmi strikes a pose at the Artisan Series finale in Miami.

What really fostered her education, she says, was simply being around other artists. From the classroom to the studio to high-profile exhibitions in Miami, the ability to share with fellow creatives has made her more well rounded in her career.

Currently, Fabunmi is one of 250 artists working out of the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists studios on the Bay—one of the largest artist communities in the country.

Just being among other artists has been an amazing experience for her. “I had been isolating myself even when I visited other artists. It wasn’t the same as painting among other artists and being able to stand up and walk around and look at other techniques, other classmates’ approaches, how your teachers demonstrate.

“The difference was amazing. I will always say the Academy of Art completely changed my life.”

Images courtesy of Nina Fabunmi

Article by Nina Tabios, reporter for Academy Art U News

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