Mikaila Dart working on a painting in an art studio

Behl Award will help student in her art

An award through The University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts will catalyze the career and creativity of UNM alumna Mikaila Dart.
February 23, 2024

Open to all Bachelor of Fine Arts Undergraduates, the Reggie Behl Drawing Award competition supports a UNM student who excels in drawing with an award of $1,000. The funds are allotted to deserving students in the hopes that they build their work on top of the extra cushion of finances awarded to them.

When Dart submitted five digital images of her drawings into the competition in November 2023, she did so in the hopes that it would validate her efforts in her craft, one that consumes her time, energy, and finances. She’d just graduated and was between jobs for a moment, with the intent to churn out as much work as possible over the next two years, then later apply to graduate schools.

In the interim, the award would be very beneficial for high-cost art supplies like oil sticks, paint, and paper needed for her studio space. On average, Dart uses the majority of about six assorted colors of oil sticks per piece. Upon applying for the award, she was met with great news that she was a recipient.

“I was very excited hearing a ‘yes’ and hearing it from the faculty at UNM that I look up to and that I’ve been learning from. It was like a boost of confidence that told me this is a valid thing that I’m doing, that I can continue building on,” Dart said.

Her career as a visual artist stemmed from her early years, in elementary school.

“Growing up, my friend and I did a lot of comics in elementary school. That’s how we would spend our day. We could catch up on the math later. First, we got to draw portraits of each other and make up little fairy stories.”

artwork by Mikaila Dart

‘I Love My Grandma’ by Mikaila Dart

From there, as she got older, Dart found herself more drawn to portrait work than comics. These days, her drawing medium centers around large-scale paper with oil stick. She started out with acrylic and a lot of oil painting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It evolved into more spatial work, “playing with space and color more, rather than a naturalistic feeling” when she started out exploring.

Dart was inspired by other artists along the way. She began to look at how Pakistan-born artist Salman Toor expressed space early on, and she drew using a lot of color, as well as the “push and pull of space” from French visual artist Henri Matisse.

Her work explores themes surrounding childhood and nostalgia, “and maybe my desire to kind of relive those childhood feelings,” she admitted.

“It’s definitely a release,” Dart explained. “I’m talking about my memories. In the drawing process, it’s me reliving that time. That’s why I am an artist. I want to also help people remember those sentiments, and I want to help people feel full and warm and loved.”

Her art certainly reflects her intent. Full of boundless colors, shapes, and perspectives, warmth is splashed across the pages of her art. Onlookers will also notice a common feline motif about Dart’s work: “I use cats as my vessel to revisit vague memories of my childhood homes and my grandmother’s home.”

One of her favorites of her piece, titled I Love My Grandma features a cat stretching up to peek over a small tabletop of assorted trinkets. Among the symbolic imagery is a red chair, which she’d borrowed from her grandmother to display along with the other BFA graduates at her capstone show.

“Just before that show, I’d gone back to my grandmother’s, you know, just documenting things that I remember and that I think are dear to me. I asked her ‘Can I bring that chair so it can be in the show too?’”

Sure enough, the red chair was in Dart’s piece.

“I was just so excited about that. I think that piece is one that speaks to a lot of my memories, the main ones that I remember,” she mused fondly.

Now, with the sought-after confidence and the funding for her artistry in hand, there is a good chance that Dart will further excel in her career, post-college.

Explore more of her artwork on her website and Instagram.

The Covington-Rhode Award Winners

The Covington-Rhode Award Winners

We're thrilled to announce the winners of the Covington-Rhode Award, made possible through the generous support of UNM Alumna Dr. Patricia Covington and Shari Rhode.

Congratulations to Lauren Reddington, Andrew Roibal, and Liz Courts!