An internationally celebrated artist also known for her teaching and service has been named Florida State University’s 2023-2024 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor.
Lilian Garcia-Roig, a professor in the Department of Art since 2001, has been recognized by FSU faculty members with the highest honor they can bestow upon one of their own. She is the first visual artist to win the award.
“Lilian is a consummate professor who is truly deserving of this year’s Lawton award,” said President Richard McCullough. “She is world-renowned as an artist, she cares passionately for her students, and she is an excellent role model and leader for her colleagues.”
Garcia-Roig, who has simultaneously built a reputation as a rigorous artist and a dedicated teacher, was thrilled by the recognition.
“I sincerely thank my colleagues and FSU for this honor,” Garcia-Roig said. “I have always appreciated the university’s embrace of excellence in the arts and humanities as integral to FSU’s character and success. I hope that this Lawton Professorship will provide me with an even more visible platform from which I can continue to promote and enhance the arts as essential to FSU’s strategic vision.”
Over the course of three decades, the Cuban-born artist has built an expansive body of work that is collected by major museums across the world, including Florida’s most prestigious cultural institution, the Perez Art Museum in Miami.
Garcia-Roig has garnered national and international acclaim as an artist, winning highly competitive and prestigious awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2021 and the Joan Mitchell Award in Painting in 2006. She’s also devoted her time by serving the College of Fine Arts in departmental leadership roles and chairing the Department of Art since 2020.
“Lilian is such a dynamic, energetic presence, and she’s a Guggenheim winner, which is an extraordinary achievement,” said Jim Clark, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “She is an incredible teacher, a fiery presence in the College of Fine Arts, and a great advocate for her students and her peers.”
Garcia-Roig’s landscape-themed works explore the complex propositions of sense of place and belonging that influence the construction of personal identity. She is most known for her visceral, on-site painting series of dense landscapes from across the country and her large-scale painting installations that overwhelm the viewer’s perceptual senses.
“Showing a mastery of paint, color, texture and composition as well as a deeply considered approach to illustrating the nuances of migration, Professor Garcia-Roig’s work immediately commands the respect and admiration of all who see it,” wrote Meredith Lynn, interim director of the FSU Museum of Fine Arts, in Garcia-Roig’s nomination letter.
Garcia-Roig finds inspiration for her work in many places. Her distinctive “Cumulative Nature” series depicts the lush landscape of northern Florida and was her first significant work as a Florida-based artist. A triptych from the series was featured at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in the “Transitory Patterns: Florida Women Artists” exhibition in 2004. In 2017, she traveled to Cuba to develop an entirely new body of work, “Hecho Con Cuba,” that responded to her experience of finally being able to work in her homeland. She built on her Cuba-centric works during her Guggenheim project, “Hyphenating Natures by Re-collecting Roig,” which links her work as an on-site painter and the scientific work of her great uncle, the renowned Cuban botanist Juan Tomás Roig, who cataloged, collected and even had some endemic Cuban plants named after him.
“Her receipt of the Guggenheim Fellowship, itself a crowning career achievement, speaks to the depth and relevance of this work to the pressing themes of Caribbean diaspora, empire, environmental trade for material, and natural history,” wrote Associate Professor of Art History Paul Neill in his nomination letter.
During her 22-year tenure at FSU, Garcia-Roig presented her work in 34 solo shows and more than 250 group exhibitions, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Art Museum of the Americas, both in Washington D.C., the Americas Society Gallery in New York and El Chopo Museum in Mexico City. She has also been invited to give more than 110 presentations on her work, including formal visiting artist lectures, symposiums, podcasts and gallery talks.
“Professor Garcia-Roig, put quite simply, is a force of nature,” wrote Sally McRorie, who served as Florida State’s provost from 2015-2021, and for 10 years as dean of what is now the College of Fine Arts.
Associate Professor of Art Judy Rushin-Knopf added: “Art world success is distinct from academic success. Many art professors enjoy academic success, mainly exhibiting in university galleries, but remain relatively unknown in the art world. However, Professor Garcia‐Roig has excelled in both realms. Her exhibition record is impressive based on quantity alone.”
Mark Messersmith, professor emeritus in the Department of Art, praised Garcia-Roig for being a champion for the department’s students and faculty in his nomination letter.
“Professor Garcia-Roig has worked tirelessly to help improve department facilities, finding funding and support for students as well as promoting the art department’s visibility and awareness throughout the rest of the university,” he said.
Through her initiative “Art on Campus,” faculty and students’ artworks have been placed throughout the university, from the Westcott Building, Turnbull Conference Center and the FSU Honors, Scholars and Fellows House, Messersmith added.
She also received nomination letters from colleagues at New York University, Rutgers University, Florida International University, the University of Texas at Austin and George Mason University.
Garcia-Roig is the recipient of several significant national awards and fellowships, including a Blackwell Prize in Painting, Mid-America Arts Alliance/NEA Fellowship Award in Painting, State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship Award in painting and a Kimbrough Award from the Dallas Museum of Art. Her residencies include time as a visiting artist at the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, a Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, a Vermont Studio Center Artist Fellowship and both MacDowell and Art Omi Milton & Sally Avery Fellowships. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University and her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Lawton Distinguished Professor Award was first presented in 1957 as the Distinguished Professor Award. It was renamed in honor of the late Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert O. Lawton in 1981. Garcia-Roig will be honored at events throughout the year and will give an address at fall commencement.