Auburn professor Nell named South Arts State Fellow, Southern Prize Finalist winner

Published: June 11, 2020
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Auburn University Professor Carlton “Corky” Nell recently received $15,000 in awards after being named a South Arts State Fellow and Southern Prize Finalist winner by South Arts, a nonprofit regional arts organization dedicated to advancing Southern vitality through the arts.

Nell—who teaches drawing and illustration in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design—was one of nine artists named as State Fellows and was the first Alabama State Fellow to win the Southern Prize Finalist award. He received $5,000 for being named a State Fellow and $10,000 for the Southern Prize Finalist honor.

Nell, who lives and maintains a studio in Opelika, was honored by the prestigious distinctions.

“I am very excited by the recognition from South Arts because of the quality of the artists that applied and the ones selected as 2020 State Fellows,” said Nell, who received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Auburn and his Master of Fine Arts from Georgia State University. “It is always encouraging to be recognized within one’s profession.”

The South Arts State Fellowships are juried, state-specific competitive awards to visual artists representing the nine states served by South Arts. Nell was selected for the honors based on his work in the medium of silver on film.

“These silver drawings are part of ongoing work expressing thoughts that originate from direct observation of immediate visual surroundings,” Nell said on the South Arts website. “My interest is how abstract visual properties—shape, tone, pattern, scale, et cetera—form a framework for seeing the world. By using these properties as a prism with which to view and suspend the observed world, my hope is that it leads to a deeper experience of it.”

Nell’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the country from New York to California and appear in several public collections, including the U.S. Department of State, Birmingham Museum of Art and Auburn University’s Jule Collins Smith Museum of Art. His work has received grant support from the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, as well as from Auburn’s Intramural Grants Program.

Launched in 2017, the Southern Prize and State Fellowships celebrate and support the highest-quality artistic work being created in the South. Hundreds of visual artists submitted work for consideration, and a national panel of jurors reviewed the applications through the lens of artistic excellence representing the diversity of the region.

A second national panel of jurors reviewed the State Fellows to determine the Southern Prize winner and finalist. Each panel is conducted blind, with the applicants’ identities withheld from the jurors.

Visual artists living in South Arts’ nine-state region and producing crafts, drawing, experimental, painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media and multidisciplinary work were eligible to apply. The awards are presented to the artists as unrestricted funds.

Nell said his role as Auburn professor is equally as fulfilling as his work as an artist.

“It is difficult to cite one thing, but the interaction with great students and top-notch faculty is very fulfilling, along with the idea that maybe some of the effort has made a difference,” Nell said.

The State Fellowship jurors were Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba of the New Orleans Museum of Art, Edward Hayes Jr. of The McNay Art Museum, independent art historian and consultant David Houston and Marilyn Zapf of the Center for Craft. The Southern Prize jurors were Pradeep Dalal of Creative Capital, Grace Deveney of Prospect New Orleans and former executive director of Penland School of Crafts Jean W. McLaughlin.

About South Arts

South Arts advances Southern vitality through the arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to support the success of artists and arts providers in the South, address the needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs, and celebrate the excellence, innovation, value and power of the arts of the South. For more information, visit

The College of Architecture, Design and Construction embraces the land grant mission of Auburn University by actively seeking ways to address and anticipate the critical issues of the region, the nation, and the world. The College's highly regarded programs in architecture, industrial design, landscape architecture, construction management and real estate development as well as unique off-campus programs such as Rural Studio, Urban Studio, futures studio and the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Program expand the boundaries of the classroom and offer an unmatched educational experience.