Thom Bierdz
12 min readNov 21, 2019

Painters, photographers, sculptors and digital artists from 63 countries competed in the most prestigious online art call, AMERICAN ART AWARDS, https://www.americanartawards.com/, where America’s 25 best galleries and museums score art in 50 categories. In this column, I’ll reveal the world’s best contemporary artists of 2019 one category at a time.

There are so many brilliant works entered that America’s top 25 galleries and museums have a hard time deciding, consequently many phenomenal pieces do not get enough votes to be winners — however the featured works in this article received the most votes and won 1st to 6th Place in the 2019 AMERICAN ART AWARDS. Congratulations to all these artists for scoring above the stiff competition.


Ken Young’s boyhood passion was to draw. Growing up in Hudson, NY he’d marshal his spare change to buy Marvel and DC Comics, then meticulously copy the fanciful characters that populated their pages. “I was fascinated by cartoon art,” recalls Young. “The energy and the boldness of the images really captured my attention” His next furtive step into the world of art was to acquire some “paint by numbers” kits, “which weren’t great art, but I was ten years old, and they taught me detail and precision.”

From comic books and paint-by-number kits to a real art course was a leap of faith for Young and his family. Relying on his tenacity and dedication, however, when the salesman for Art Instruction Schools called to follow up on Young’s “Draw Me” submission, which Young had dutifully sent in as response to one of their ubiquitous match book or magazine ads, the decision was made “It was expensive, for us, at least.” Young remembers the stress on his mother’s family budget that the tuition placed. “But I promised to stay with it…and I did.” Every few weeks, Young would receive another instruction book and an assignment. Every week, in the evenings after his homework was finished and on weekends when his friends and classmates were out “being kids,” Young was working at home, being an artist.

“I still have those books,” he recalls. “And every once in a while, I pull one out to give me some insight into how I can tackle a new technique or refine my perspective.”

Becoming an artist: $300.00. 24 books. Countless assignments finished, submitted, graded, and returned. By the time he was in high school, people in town recognized that this was more than a passing fad. Ken Young was an artist. In fact, when he missed the day of portrait photography for his senior yearbook, the staff asked him to do a sketch of himself. That’s what appeared over his name.

“I had a high school art teacher who knew how serious I was,” reflects Young. “He’d let me take home a canvas and some paints to work with at night.” Those were oil paints. “I used to walk to school because I didn’t want the wet paint to get damaged while riding on the bus.” When Young graduated from high school in 1975, there were several scholarship offers sitting on the kitchen table. Art school could be in the future. Perhaps the pressure was on. Perhaps it was time for a change.

The reality of life: Ken Young stopped being an artist. “It was almost 20 years,” he says wistfully, recalling how life’s road can offer so many twists and turns. “I became deeply involved in the study of Scripture. I fell in love. We got married. Our son was born and I had a family to support.”

Young worked with his hands, spending years at WB McGuire when they had a local plant. From factory work, Young moved to being a caretaker at a local estate owned by insurance executive James McMahon. “He loved airplanes,” recalls Young, “There was a time he wanted to open a museum, so when he found out that I had been a painter, he asked me to create some posters during the winter.”

Ken Young, the artist, was back; “When I delivered the posters, he asked me to do paintings of vintage airplanes. They were going to be in the museum.” Young had never tried to create images of historic aircraft, but the challenge was real and his pent up desire to create art won out.

“I must have done 20 paintings of aviation history-the planes and the adventurers. It was only when the notion of the museum didn’t work out that I was back to balancing income for my family with the passion for painting that just wouldn’t go away.”

The years flowed by and Young gravitated to working on house painting crews…until the day he realized “I knew I could do this, so I started my own business. Things were going along OK, and one day my wife and I took a trip to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. “I had never seen Monets and Sargents in person, before, and that day changed my life.”

Young was so smitten by the work of the masters hanging in the Clark’s galleries that he laughingly recalls being asked to step back from the paintings on several occasions: “The brush work, the technique, the use of color, the use of light! I was blown away!” Making the commitment takes dedication as well as motivation. When the Columbia County Council on the Arts announced a juried exhibition of portraits with the theme “face to face”, Young was, as he affirms, “back on fire”. The result, was a painting entitled: “Looking back” that told his story starting with that yearbook sketch from high school graduation, to 2009. “It’s in my blood,” he admits. “I can’t not paint.”

What started with that self-portrait became a torrent of activity. Hudson, the town where he had grown up, had changed. Now there were galleries and trendy restaurants and antique dealers. He started painting views of Warren Street — the store fronts, the people on the street, the ebb and flow of that vibrant destination.

As Young continued to let the fire burn brightly, galleries and art centers took notice. There were solo shows and invited participation in small group shows. Ken Young’s story should have a happy ending and hopefully it will. Today there is still the need to balance painting houses with painting street scenes, recognizing that when rainy days make it impossible to work on area homes, they are great days to peer through the windows distorted by rain and capture the soul of a village. “I look at my paintings as a way of delivering information,” suggests Young. “They tell a story, evoke a mood and allow the person to bring their own interpretation to what they see.” — By CB Wismar / Main Street Magazine



1ST PLACE KENNETH YOUNG USA www.kennethyoungfineart.com “The Artist” 36x24" Oil on canvas.

2ND PLACE-TIE JASMINE KANG USA jasminek467@gmail.com “Self-Portrait: Bubble Pop” 24x32" Acrylic on gesso board.

2ND PLACE-TIE TOMAS OSTRAUSKAS LITHUANIA https://realismdrawings.weebly.com/ “Autoportrait" 12x17” Graphite.

“Highlighter (Painter Self-Portrait)” 200x150cm Oil on canvas.

3RD PLACE-TIE NIZAR MACNOJIA USA www.nizarmacnojia.com “Devotion” 48x36” Acrylic on canvas.

3RD PLACE-TIE YANA ANDRE RUSSIA https://www.artavita.com/artists/18141-yana-andre “Glance” 13.7x10" Airbrush on paper.

4TH PLACE-TIE I-CHEN LU (JENNY) TAIWAN www.jennyluillustration.com “Mr. Artist” 8x12″ Oil, watercolor, colored pencils on illustration board.

4TH PLACE-TIE TERO ISOKÄÄNTÄ FINLAND www.facebook.com_Galleria.Isokaanta “Me, Myself And I” Each piece: 3x21x26cm Oil on canvas.

5TH PLACE ALEXANDER LEE AUSTRALIA https://alexanderlee.artspan.com/ “Alternate Sources” 42x59cm Pencil.

6TH PLACE KRISHNENDU BHATTACHARYA INDIA krishnendubhattacharya2012@gmail.com 20x40cm
“Our Democracy. In Front Of A Mirror” Pencil, paper, paint, wood.

This is the 11th anniversary for the international awards organization which decides the 25 Best Galleries and Museums in America, who decide the World’s Best Contemporary Artists. Gallery decisions are based upon years established, industry reputation, online buzz, location, size, socially relevant exhibits, motivational and educational programs, represented artists as well as artist, client and visitor references.

2019’s 25 Best Galleries & Museums asked to vote on art were:

BEST IN ARIZONA — EXPOSURES INTERNATIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ART: Rising like a gigantic mystical temple in Sedona, this 20,000 sf showplace displays the finest of every style from classical to contemporary. Serving private or commercial needs, offering small maquettes to monumental bronze and stone sculptures, original oil and acrylic otherworldly paintings, fine art jewelry, enchanting glass art… https://www.exposuresfineart.com/

BEST IN ARKANSAS — FORT SMITH REGIONAL ART MUSEUM: Originated in 1948 but fully re-branded in 2013. AWARDS: Preservation through Rehabilitation Award (2013), American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gulf State Region Merit Award (2014), and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Gold Award… http://fsram.org/

BEST IN CALIFORNIA — EXCLUSIVE COLLECTIONS: History of six galleries between California and Nevada honed expertise to assist significant collections of fine art and enduring legacy. Their red-carpet events showcase today’s most celebrated artists — from young emerging masters to established international masters… http://ecgallery.com/our-galleries/solana-beach/

BEST IN COLORADO — MIRADA FINE ART: Both the booming Denver gallery and owner/curator Steve Sonnen continue to be prominently featured in national and international art publications as well as appearing on numerous ‘Best Of’ lists. Lively spirited art, insightful exhibits, a Colorado vortex. http://www.miradafineart.com/

BEST IN HAWAII — SUNSHINE ARTS: 4,000 square foot structure on the Windward side of Oahu, offering over 2,000 original art images by 75 best-selling artists. For 23 years, this heralded Kaneohe landmark has been a favorite of local artists and nearby residents as well as international designers and collectors. http://www.sunshinearts.net/

BEST IN ILLINOIS — TRICKSTER ART GALLERY: The only Native American owned and operated arts institution in Illinois. 10,000 sf facility exhibits contemporary Native art (post 1960s) and first-voice multi-cultural arts with themes of veterans and social justice. https://www.trickstergallery.com/

BEST IN INDIANA — HAAN MANSION MUSEUM OF INDIANA ART: Holds the most extensive Indiana art collection in the US, including paintings from the Hoosier Group and Brown County Art Colony. Specializing in major oils, over 100 artists are represented. Haan is a true find; a rare hospitable time-capsule cradling a precious past. http://haanmuseum.org/

BEST IN IOWA — MOBERG GALLERY: Exceptional eye for contemporary masterpieces and represents 50 phenomenal Iowan artisans, procured work for museums, corporate collections, private collections and public art projects across the nation. Sets the standard for modern art in the Midwest. https://www.moberggallery.com/

BEST IN KANSAS — EVA REYNOLDS FINE ARTS: 30 years specializing in European and American contemporary original paintings and sculpture. A world-renowned fine arts service record among collectors and represented artists. Recognized by Ingram’s as a “Top Gallery in Kansas City.” https://evareynoldsfinearts.com/

BEST IN KENTUCKY — E&S GALLERY: For 30 years an iconic African-American gallery. 11,000 sf. Three stories of stunning space and empowering art. Unmatched selection of artists, mediums, subject matters and genres. Premiere selection of original graphics and sculpture by renowned old master artists. https://www.eandsgallery.com/

BEST IN LOUISIANA — NEWCOMB ART MUSEUM: Since 1886 acknowledging the contributions of women to the fields of art and design. Continually presenting innovative exhibitions and programs that engage communities, spark idea-exchange and instigate cross-disciplinary collaborations. https://newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu/

BEST IN MARYLAND — ANNAPOLIS MARINE ART GALLERY: For 40 years providing the best of marine art to the Mid-Atlantic collector community. Located at City Dock in Annapolis, they have an extensive collection of originals and limited edition prints of renowned artists John Stobart, John Barber, Willard Bond, Patrick O’Brien, Paul Landry, John Ruseau, and more. https://www.annapolismarineart.com/

BEST IN MINNESOTA — MODERN ARTIFACT: Buys and sells some of the world’s most collected and demanded fine art, antiques and memorabilia. Innovative. Headquartered in Minneapolis with clients all over the world. Daily relationships with many art dealers, collectors and top artists. https://modernartifact.com/

BEST IN MISSOURI — HILLIARD GALLERY: 45 years… one of the oldest and largest fine art galleries in Kansas City… voted by Kansas City Visitor Center as Best Gallery In Kansas City in 2012… voted by Kansas City Magazine as the Best Gallery In Kansas City 2014… https://www.hilliardgallery.com/

BEST IN NEW JERSEY — EVALYN DUNN GALLERY: For 60 years, a family legacy serving the community with expert, innovative and personable staff. Features the finest 20th Century American and European art. http://www.evalyndunngallery.com/

BEST IN NEW MEXICO — PIPPIN CONTEMPORARY: On historic Canyon Road, an uplifting world of vibrant color as expressed in contemporary art. The richly sensuous visual experience is complemented by a warm, engaging and insightful staff. Passionate artists; energetic and tactile, elements of surprise and beauty. A special oasis to access pure emotions. https://pippincontemporary.com/

BEST IN NEVADA — THE METROPOLITAN GALLERY OF LAS VEGAS ART MUSEUM: 20,000 sf facility dedicated to raising awareness, understanding and accessibility for a wide range of fine art by local, regional and international artists. Also offers insightful educational programs and cultural events. https://www.mglv.org/

BEST IN OHIO — LEE HAYDEN GALLERY: Mastered the Mid-western art business. Very prominent Cleveland gallery; a collector’s favorite for decades, offering paintings, sculptures and rare prints from both emerging and world-renown artists. https://www.leehayden.com/

BEST IN OREGON — BRONZE COAST GALLERY: In its 24th year. Oregon Coast’s premiere fine art gallery specializing in limited edition bronze sculpture and original paintings by more than thirty award-winning regional, national and international artists. Also provides education in sculpture and the in depth process of bronze casting. http://www.bronzecoastgallery.com/

BEST IN SOUTH CAROLINA — MARY MARTIN GALLERY: Located in the heart of downtown Charleston, Mary Martin Gallery is a gem of the city. Representing artists internationally in her two locations, Mary exhibits an eclectic mix of paintings and sculptures that appeal to collectors from all parts of the world. No matter if you own a large collection of art or only one painting Mary believes everyone should experience the joy of having their very own art collection. http://www.marymartinart.com/

BEST IN SOUTH DAKOTA — SOUTH DAKOTA ART MUSEUM: Since 1970, for almost fifty years, this museum beautifully houses the artistic legacy of South Dakota in all its diversity. 7,000 objects in its collection include Harvey Dunn paintings, Native American art, Marghab Linens, and much more. https://www.sdstate.edu/south-dakota-art-museum

BEST IN TEXAS — AO5 GALLERY: Austin’s largest contemporary art gallery, featuring hundreds of emerging and established artists from around the world. With over 7,000 sf to explore, there’s something new to see on every visit. https://ao5gallery.com/

BEST IN UTAH — SOUTHAM GALLERY: Premier Utah gallery for almost 40 years. Sells the work of some of the most highly regarded artists in the western United States. Stunning realism and impressionism. Experience and insight to guide serious art portfolios. Endless satisfied collectors. http://www.southamgallery.com/

BEST IN WASHINGTON DC — LIK FINE ART WASHINGTON DC: With 17 locations across the country, LIK Fine Art showcases some of Peter Lik’s most notable and award-winning photographic masterpieces. Peter has spent over 30 years pushing the boundaries of fine art. A self-taught pioneer in the field of landscape photography, Lik’s works make up four of the top 20 most expensive photographs ever sold, the highest selling for an astounding $6.5 million in 2014. https://lik.com/pages/lik-fine-art-washington-dc

BEST IN WEST VIRGINIA — WEST VIRGINIA STATE MUSEUM: Established 125 years ago with the intent to collect, preserve, present, promote and document West Virginia’s every aspect of history, culture, art, paleontology, archaeology, and geology representing all its people and industries. http://www.wvculture.org/museum/State-Museum-Index.html



* * * * (Info there on entering, too.)



Thom Bierdz

One of Medium’s TOP ART CONTRIBUTORS, award-winning author, actor, film-maker, painter. 12 books: 6 on art. President of WAA & AAA & ACCA.