Becoming the Student, #20: Graham Higgs

imageProfessor Graham Higgs Gloriously Lit. Digital painting, dimensions variable, 2014. Click to view LARGE.

In this post, I want Professor Higgs to speak for himself. If you have a few minutes, please read the story below. If you give the narrative time to work, I’m certain that you will sense both the great truths and the gentle spirit that animate Graham’s life.

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The Cry of the Spirit Leaving

By Graham Higgs. Posted here by permission of the author.

It was one of those blazing hot, dry days at noon in a small village in Southern Africa, where I lived as a child. Not a soul was stirring. The sky shimmered with heat, and the only sound was the empty shush of a dry breeze against the screen on the porch, where I lay on my back, shirtless against the cool concrete floor.

I watched a fly circling in slow motion and finally settling on the floor a few feet from my head. My cheek felt cool against the floor as I watched the fly brushing its wing with one of its six legs.

Suddenly, from a distance in the back yard, I heard a man’s cry, “Nyoka! Nyoka!”

This was truly startling. “Nyoka! Nyoka!” the cry rang out.

In the Swahili language, the word “Nyoka” means snake, but not just any snake. It means dangerous snake. The odd thing about this was that snakes were very rarely seen in the heat of mid-day. I heard the cry again, and I heard the back screen door slam as my father left the house. I jumped up and left the porch at the front of the house and ran around back to see what was going on. When I reached the back yard I could see my dad crossing the field behind the house toward the garden. In the middle of the field, a tall, barefooted man wearing only khaki shorts and carrying a long stick was standing and pointing in the direction of the garden.

My father reached him and stopped. They slowly advanced, and then I saw the big old king cobra that they were watching. It was slowly moving toward the garden. They followed it, and it became aware of them, suddenly rising up high off the ground and displaying its broad, golden neck with two hypnotic dark eye-shaped spots.

My father and the garden man froze. The snake dropped back to the ground and began to move more quickly toward a large pile of brush near the end of the field. Several other men arrived and all began to pursue the snake, which continued toward the brush pile and then disappeared inside. The men surrounded the huge pile of brush. With long sticks they poked into the pile, jumping back, afraid the reptile would attack. King cobras are known to be aggressive when provoked.

While all this commotion was going on, many of the villagers began to come to see what was going on and stood in the shade of the tall eucalyptus trees that lined the field. Women and girls stood and watched while curious boys ran with sticks and threw stones at the pile. Mothers called out at them and tried to get them to be careful. The men stood and watched and pondered what to do next. The day was very hot and dry, and some of the men receded to the shade of the trees. A sentry of 4 or 5 men stood guard around the brush pile watching for any sign of the snake. The crowd of onlookers swelled to include just about everyone in the village. Some of the boys kicked a soccer ball around in the dust, and a dry breeze lifted the fine dust into swirls around their ankles. Sweat ran down the cheeks of the men watching the huge pile of brush.

One of the men walked over to my father, who was standing with me in the shade. I heard him say, “Baba, we could set the brush on fire. That would surely drive the Nyoka out so we can kill it.” No sooner had he suggested this than a man came running from the village fire with a burning stick, and the brush pile was soon a blaze of heat and crackling light. Visible waves of heat radiated away from and above the fire in visible auroras. The intensity drove almost everyone away and back toward the trees and the shade. Even in the shade you could feel the heat of the fire across the field. The fire cracked and popped, but no snake appeared. An hour went by, and no snake had come from the now smoldering fire. People began to mumble, and some began to return to their huts in the village. Women took their children and said they had food to prepare.

About this time, a quiet whistling sound began to be heard coming from the pile of ash. The whistling became louder, and everyone in the near vicinity could hear it. It became louder still and began to sound like a woman crying in a high-pitched tone. Now the sound could be heard throughout the village, and it became an ear-splitting scream. People looked at each other, terrified. The Nyoka was crying! What could this mean?

One wise, elderly woman said that she believed that the men had tried to kill an ancestor spirit. “What Nyoka ever comes out into the heat of the day?” she asked. “It is a sign” she said, “a sign that we did not heed. In our rush to kill this Nyoka, we may have tried to kill an ancestor who was trying to talk with us. See, she does not come from the fire. She waits, and she will certainly take her anger out on us. Just you wait and see.”

This prediction filled the hearts of the villagers with foreboding and fear, and those who had returned to the fire to see what the commotion was fled from the scene, taking their children and mumbling in low, fearful tones. After a few minutes the crying became quieter and slowly died away. A few men stayed with my father and watched the last of the smoldering coals. Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, the Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, they found the king cobra coiled in a circle. Its mouth was open and the fangs exposed. It had been cooked by the fire, roasted under the corrugated roofing. I recall my father thinking for a few minutes after this discovery and then saying to the two men, “It is now clear to me what has happened here. As the snake cooked, it began to boil, and the moisture in the snake steamed out of its mouth and past the fangs, which created a whistling and crying sound, much like a penny whistle does.” The men looked puzzled.

One of the men was horrified. “Oh, no, Baba, this is not the case. This sound was the cry of the ancestor spirit leaving the snake. We have certainly offended one of our ancestors, and this is a very grave thing to have happened.”

He quickly left the field and returned to his family. That night as the village gathered to eat together and drink beer and tell stories around the communal fire, the talk was about whether to consult the Nganga (witch doctor) to see how they could make reparations to the ancestor. They believed that they had ignored a natural sign. They believed they had violated an ancestor, and they would be punished. My father tried to explain that this might not be the case, but the villagers would have nothing of it. They had their animistic beliefs that kept them in balance with nature. It was an evening of low talking and fearful discussion. Many retired to their huts earlier than usual. Only a few of the older men, including my father, sat and talked late into the night.

Early the next morning a 3-week-old infant died mysteriously while she slept. It was then the people knew that they had indeed angered an ancestor. The Nganga and a spirit medium and herbalist would need to be called to perform a ceremony to placate the ancestor. Women were asked to prepare extra beer, and the herbalist retreated to his hut on the outskirts of the village and pulled out his stock of hallucinogenic herbs and tinctures. Men sat around the village fire and talked while the women served beer and food and in their own groups ate and sang and danced. A couple of drummers and mbira (thumb-piano) players worked themselves into a chanting rhythm and flow that began to persuade those who participated to sway and bob with the beat. The Nganga mixed a tincture and filled a pipe that he lit and passed around the group of men, and the tincture was swallowed by the spirit medium, a man who normally was a very odd fellow, said to possess special powers of vision and the ability to talk with the ancestors.

The spirit medium fell into a trance and passed out on the ground under the watchful eye of the Nganga, who bathed his face with cool water. The chanting and singing became more communal, and some men began to get up and dance. The women, including my mother, joined in the chanting and clapping of hands, and pretty soon, everyone was singing mournful and yet energetic songs of placation. Late into the night, the spirit medium began to speak, and the Nganga called for silence.

The spirit medium spoke in a language that no one but the Nganga understood. After listening to the strange sounds coming from the spirit medium, the Nganga conferred with the village chief, who called for a moment of reflection. Then he spoke about what the ancestor had advised. He said that tomorrow we must kill a goat and 7 chickens and prepare a feast in honor of the ancestor. In addition, we must begin to respect each other and to watch out for the children of others as well as we watch out for our own children.

We must work more regularly in the peanut fields, as the crops are almost ready, and we must always treat strangers with caution but respect. After a list of these sorts of things, some directed specifically at a few members of the community, the ancestor related that life would return to normal. Within a few days, the community had come together with a new commitment to work productively and live in peace as the ancestors intended.

~

I broke some of my rules while working on Graham’s portrait. I really wanted it to live up to the power of his story and the quality of his deep, quiet mind… so I spent a lot more than 2 or 4 or 6 hours on it. While drawing him in his office at Columbia College, I had the advantage of seeing him silhouetted against a bright spring scene, the intense near-white greens illuminating his head as if with a halo. I worked this portrait back and fourth in Sketchbook Pro and Art Rage v3, with some editing and shifting in Afterlight, for several months. I used both the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and the fiftythree Pencil to do the work. I’m thankful for the conversations I’ve had with Graham and I hope to have more in the future.

VINCENT

Andrew Vincent was one of my favorite students. He has a quiet presence, a quirky sense of humor, and the uniqueness that comes from arriving in middle America from somewhere else. In his case, it was South Africa. His father, a scientist and professor at Mizzou, brought his family to the US in time for Andrew to start 3rd grade. In many ways he retains a beneficial sort of otherness in spite of having lived much of his life here in Missouri.

Andrew made some amazing work for me in my Color Drawing classes, work that I have shown to several semesters of students. Here are a few of his pieces:

DSC07844Andrew Vincent, Spilled Milk, Oil Pastel on Paper, 15 by 30 inches. Drawn from an image created in Autodesk 3Ds Max. 2011.

DSC07025Andrew Vincent, Study After Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Oil pastel on paper. 30 by 22 inches. 2011.

VincentA-Grid1-S11Andrew Vincent, Grid Study #1, Chalk Pastel on paper. 24 by 18 inches. 2011.

Also a gifted digital artist, Andrew has worked with Autodesk’s 3Ds Max for a while. Here is a render he created for a recent project:

10677326_10152670991425049_971583360_oAndrew Vincent, Naivety. Autodesk 3Ds Max. 1920 x 1080 PPI. Output dimensions variable. 2013.

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Andrew has taken the opportunity to move to Auburn, AL to work at the Jule Collins Smith Museum as a preparator. He’s aiming to enroll at Auburn sometime in the near future. The guy is on his way to an awesome future. I’m thankful I got to know him in my classes and in the time after he graduated… and I’m certainly looking forward to witnessing what he gets up to in his ongoing education and career. Here’s a portrait I created of him when he visited my office/studio before he left town:

VincentVINCENT, digital drawing created in ArtRage and Sketchbook Pro on an iPad. 2048 x 1536 PPI. Output dimensions variable, 2014.

I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Andrew, and they have always been far-ranging. We have discussed, faith, meaning, culture, humor, analog and digital drawing/painting tools and concepts, and so much more. I have the feeling we’ll have the chance for more conversation and mutual encouragement going forward.

One of the best parts of my job as an educator is getting to see my students go on to become colleagues and truly function as fellow artists. Keep going forward, Vincent!

Becoming The Student, #18: The PhD (Dr. Aja Holmes at Wakonse)

I was blessed to be able to attend the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching earlier this year (thanks, Deborah!) and while there I got to meet so many amazing people. One of them was Aja Holmes. As part of the cohort I was in, she set a tone of inclusion, concern, and thoughtfulness. She was welcoming, passionate, always engaging, and always ready with an encouraging word. It makes perfect sense that she’s found her niche as a Residence Life director working with Undergraduates. While at Wakonse, we got to share in the joy of her being appointed to a position at California State University-Sacramento. I’ve held onto this portrait of her since May, but since today is her birthday, it’s time to post it! Read below to find out more about this awesome individual!

photoThe PhD (Aja Holmes at Wakonse), gouache on paper, 10 by 16 inches. 2014.

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You just earned your PhD. What drew you do your field and what was your educational trajectory?

“As a kid I always loved school. I would play school with my little brother – my first student. He would complain and ask our mom, ‘Why does Aja always want to play school? Didn’t she just come home from school?’ But he would go along with it if I promised to let him try wrestling moves on me (learning to compromise – HAHA!).

I also knew that I wanted to be a doctor, but when I saw blood for the first time it did not agree with me. I knew that I would have to take another route to becoming a doctor. While being involved as an undergraduate student leader someone told me about the work of Student Affairs and that I could live out the rest of my life on a college campus; I said SIGN ME UP! I loved everything about being on a college campus. So after undergrad I stayed on at Illinois State University for my Master’s Degree in College Student Personnel.

Back then I did not know for sure if I was going to get my PhD, but I knew that after my Master’s Degree I should get some significant work experience before going back for a doctorate. I did just that: worked at two universities in the area of ResLife. In 2009, I applied to doctoral programs in Higher Education Leadership and was accepted into Iowa State University. I had heard of Iowa State and I knew that if I wanted to finish I needed to be close to my family. Luckily Dad was a six-hour drive to Chicago and Mom was a three-hour drive to St. Paul, Minnesota. To be in the middle of my family really strengthened my support system.

People often ask ‘what is your ultimate goal in life?’ They ask even more since I earned my PhD. Ultimately, I would like to become a university president. I also want to teach in a higher education program that prepares student affairs professionals.”

You have such a warm and engaging personality. How you do maintain your passionate, hopeful, and excited outlook? 

“I am often asked why am I so happy all the time. I have had to really think about it and truly understand what makes me happy. I decided a while back to take control of my happiness. To rely on others to make you happy relinquishes control on your outlook in life. So I make sure that I have a say in what makes me happy, and things that do not – I rid my life of them. My passion stems from experiences that have occurred in my life that had some effect on my life. Being a multiracial woman oftentimes lends me to have different experiences than most. Whether it’s issues such as the Voting Rights Act being challenged, unarmed African Americans being killed by the police, the DREAM Act, or other situations that involve people of underrepresented groups, I have a passion to act. I take to heart quotes and sayings such as, ‘to whom much is given, much is required’ and, ‘service is what we pay for living’.”

When we spoke at Wakonse, you told me about the important impact your Dad made on your life. Can you name a couple key lessons he provided?

“I was raised in a single parent household. Unlike the norm, it was my father who raised me. He has been one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Since I was in the 3rd grade, my father cared for for my brother and I. He has taught me so much in life, from how to mingle and get to know people you just met, to how to be a woman of Color in a white-male-dominated society, to how to use humor to break the ice. He told me to keep pushing and don’t let what other people think get in the way of my hopes and dreams. I saw his struggles of being a parent while trying to own a business, and of being a parent to a teenage daughter coming of age. He sought out advice from his sisters and other lady friends in his life. But my father had to step up when needed. I will forever be in awe of what he did.”

 10287004_10152438914589534_3993202260772184824_oMe working on Aja’s portrait while we chatted together.

You’re now at California State University-Sacramento working as the Senior Director for Housing and Residential Life. What inspired you to focus your career toward working with students in ResLife situations?

“I love everything about living in the residence halls! I lived in the halls all four of my undergraduate years. Working in ResLife has allowed me to get to know that part of the university from the inside and out. I get to interact with the students in a way that no other Student Affairs person does: while they are in their PJs at home. I get to see them grow into young citizens. Since my research is on supervision, and a large part of Residence Life is supervision, I am able to see how my research can evolve and help prepare student affairs professionals to be the best they can be in this area.”

What do you think is one of the most important issues university students are tackling in 2014?

“One of the most important issues facing students today is the appreciation of differences. I use the word difference in the total meaning of the word: everything that is different. Students are too desensitized to even recognize when something is racist, homophobic, or sexist, etc. Students on our campuses have a unique makeup. They have been using computers their whole life and technology is their way of life; that is all that they know. Interacting with people who are different from them is hindered because of the technology. Technology made the world smaller but actually talking to another human being is a hurdle for them… hence their lack of the appreciation of differences.”

I think you’re into tabletop gaming – at least you were running the show at Wakonse! What’s your favorite board game?

“My favorite board game is really any one that my nieces and nephew are playing. Every holiday season we play board games and I am able to see them learn the process of waiting their turn, reading directions, compromising among each other, and displaying good sportpersonship. It is much more interactive than video games. They are such a joy to be around and I love everything there is to being an Aunt. I will play board games with them for hours and hours!”

~

Thanks for sitting for me, Aja! Your portrait will be on the way soon!

Becoming The Student #17: Mike Seat

photoMike, Pastel on Paper. 14 by 13 inches, 2014.

Mike Seat is a pillar of the community here in Columbia, MO. He’s deeply embedded in the art world here, and has a gentle and calming presence. I’m lucky enough to get to hang out with Mike on the Board of the Columbia Art League where we both serve. He is really a wonderful man who is generous with his time. I always feel recharged after a few minutes with him. When beginning my Becoming the Student series, I knew I’d get Mike in there. Our conversation while he sat for me was so pleasant – and he always feeds me well when I visit! If you’re in central Missouri, get to know this guy.

On What Made Him Come To Art

“As a kid growing up, my dad was a painter and a photographer. I think I picked up a lot of respect for art through him. Then in high school I made art and thought about going to Art School but that didn’t work out. After that I went out into the world, started making a living… and art seemed like just a luxury for me. I didn’t have time to do it. But it was always something that was working within me. I loved aviation and went into air traffic controlling; that was the main thing for me for a long time. In the back of my mind was always a deep respect for painters and sculptors – artists in general – and that stuck with me. After retiring and moving here to Columbia – and one reason we moved here was the art culture here –  I just threw myself into the art community here. One thing I never thought I’d learn to do was wheel throwing pots, but I got to do that right away at Access Arts. That reignited it all for me. I got to sense again that great experience of making art. So after a couple years, especially while volunteering at the Columbia Art League, I started making my own work more seriously. At the At League I got to see really fine artists’ work along side amateurs aspiring to that higher level. That inspired me.”

On The Power of Art

“Making work is always a great experience. That alone is worth it. But having the piece left over as a record is important, too. The icing on the cake is getting to talk to people about it. What moved them. Getting their feedback. And it really is about expression, capturing a moment, sharing the moment, and trying to display the significance of the moment so that when a person walks away from a piece of art they have really experienced something.”

On The Feeling He Looks For In Art

“I really rely on the past. Art is a tradition. I often think about the artists who have made art over the thousands of years of recent history and know that a lot of them are unknown to us… (In terms of specific artists) I do tie in to the Impressionists. I identify with them a lot. They were painting quickly, capturing suggestions, capturing feeling, and opening new territory. I aspire to carry on there. That’s one thing about connecting with other artists; we’re all sort of doing the same thing. We’re all somewhat aware of this other plane of experience. So it’s hard for me to pin it down in words… but for me, sometimes, a single brushstroke can feel make me like I’m so much in the zone – like hitting a tennis ball in the sweet spot – and that immediate emotional feedback you can get from yourself can be so addicting. And what a great joy it is to savor what you see, to savor shapes and colors as they come together to manifest some beauty you’re experiencing. It is, in some ways, like having a very good meal; I could eat up that paint it’s so good sometimes.”

On What Makes A Good Portrait

“When a genuine, honest moment of humanity has been shared.”

You can see Mike’s photographic work beginning at the end of September at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center. Mike will be showing with the ceramist Yukari Kashihara and the show will be on display September 30 – November 7, 2014.  reception for the show will take place on Friday, October 10 from 6-9 PM.

The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun)

I’ve been working on a portrait of CaiQun for over 6 months now. The resulting image is, perhaps, actually more of a self-portrait-via-still-life. The significance of the chrysanthemum powder is huge: it was CaiQun’s last daily material connection to China for many months after she came home with us. The first two years of her life she drank the warm beverage before mid-morning naps. We quickly learned her routine and, informed by the orphanage, purchased many bags of the powder to bring back to the US with us. I saved the last bag we used. It has, like so many other seemingly inconsequential objects, become a part of my studio environment. As I observed it over the weeks and months after China, it transformed into a kind of icon.

Since I tend to be an observational, perceptual painter, I like to keep items I might paint near me as stimulation and inspiration. I placed the bag into one of my paint boxes. There it sat, situated among paint and brushes and sketches for quite a long time, until one day it grabbed my attention with force. The addition of a few other elements – bottles, a sketchbook I’d used in China, a sketch of festival lanterns – and the stage was set.

Chrysanthemum2014The Chrysanthemum Powder (A Portrait of CaiQun), Oil on panel, 16 by 16 inches. 2014. Click to super-enlarge it.

Anyway, I really love this painting.

It goes up in an exhibition next week. If you’re in the mid Missouri area I hope you’ll stop by to see it, another piece I made, and the work of a number of other artists from Mizzou and China. Here’s some info about the show:

East-West Dialogues: Paintings by Chinese Visiting Scholars & Their Hosting Art Professors

Participating Artists:

Zhonghua Gao, Min Li, Rujing Sun*, Ruiqin Wang, Matt Ballou, William Hawk, Mark Langeneckert, Lampo Leong

Show: August 4-15, 2014
Reception: Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 4-6pm

Craft Studio Gallery, University of Missouri-Columbia
518 Hitt Street, N12 Memorial Union, Columbia, MO 65211, USA
http://craftstudio.missouri.edu/gallery/
573-882-2889
Gallery Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 12-5pm

Exhibition organized by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs, The MU Confucius Institute, and the MU Department of Art.

*Rujing spent a great deal of time with me in my Color Drawing classes during the Spring of 2014. She’s a wonderful artist and was a pleasure to have in my classrooms.

Becoming The Student, #15: Mar Cus

One of the most significant relationships of my adult life has been with a former student and current colleague, Marcus Miers. Right now he’s finishing up his MFA at The University of Wisconsin at Madison, but he undertook his BFA at The University of Missouri. Marcus was among the most interesting, confusing, and outstanding students I’ve had at Mizzou. He is, so far, the only student I’ve had as an undergraduate who came back to work in the classroom with me as an assistant in the very classes in which he distinguished himself.

The semester where he worked with me as an assistant to my Color Drawing courses remains a highlight of my teaching experience. As fun as that was, however, his participation in Color Drawing as a student was more transformative to me. He consistently challenged the premise of each project. He pushed me to go beyond my standard explanations. He devoted significant time and intellectual effort to grasp as much as possible in the classroom.

At one point during his second tour of duty in Color Drawing (this time in Intermediate Color Drawing), Marcus turned away from the assignment I gave. We had been working from the model for weeks, and his work was large, energetic, and chromatically intense. Yet one day, out of the blue, he simply set up his easel outside the parachute I’d hung as a barrier to block general views of the model. I had learned to trust him, though I found it somewhat cheeky of him to ignore just about every aspect of the project I’d just assigned. I sat back and watched as the beginnings of what would – eventually – become the foundation of his MFA work began to gestate right before me.

Forgoing the figure, Marcus turned instead to direct perceptual effects. He would not turn back. Light and color, intensely dense and saturated, were the basis of his rigorous investigations. The work (here’s an example) became smaller and, oddly, more spectral. It hovered over the counter-intuitive field of non-focus that forms the basis of all representation. He was seeing through depiction toward an intensity of hue and luminosity that is basically felt rather than taught. It makes perfect sense that he would soon become passionate about Josef Albers (and in particular Albers’ notion of halation). I learned more through witnessing that single aesthetic and educational maneuver than I had in my previous years of teaching combined.

~

MarCusPortraitMar Cus (High Waters and Duct Tape)

Charcoal and Pastel on Paper, 30 by 20 inches. 2014.

~

Below I’m posting three contemplations on Marcus that I made prior to the portrait above. They were created after a photo I took of Marcus at the Milwaukee Art Museum last year.

2014-04-04 19.30.15

The Sublimity of the Duct Tape Painter (Portrait of Marcus Miers with Tears)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

 

2014-04-04 22.22.42The Apotheosis of Mar Cus (Portrait of Marcus Miers with a Rocket)

Dimensions variable, 2014. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

1977309_10104000276785119_1550973951_nThe Artist is Absent (Marcus Missing From the Milwaukee Art Museum)

Digital painting, Dimensions variable. Created in Sketchbook Pro and Artrage with alterations in Afterlight. April, 2014.

I am so thankful that Marcus has participated in my life over the years. We have shown work together (more than once). We have traveled together. Next year I will curate an exhibition of his work at Imago Gallery and Cultural Center in Columbia, MO. Knowing Marcus (and his brother Sam) has been so rewarding, so educational, so important. I’m just grateful to get to celebrate him and share the images above with everyone.

On top of it all, it’s his birthday today. So happy birthday, sir. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement.

~

To close, here’s a little throwback:

DSC06563Marcus working on one of the last figure drawings he made in Color Drawing. October, 2010.

~

Becoming The Student, #14: JJ

I’ve been teaching at The University of Missouri for seven years. In that time I’ve served on many graduate thesis committees and developed a number of great, long-lasting relationships with grads. But it wasn’t until Jane Jun arrived three years ago that I was a “Main Advisor” or “Head of Committee”. The opportunity to work closely with Jane for those years was a huge benefit to me. As Jane progressed through the program she made huge changes in her work and found ways to grow that were both necessary and surprising. She rose to meet difficult challenges when she really needed to. Her thesis work – which dealt with female Asian identity, diaspora/immigration, stereotypes, societal (and personal) expectations, as well as the ways portraiture and self-portraiture have been transformed in recent years – was illuminating and meaningful. Her thesis writing was excellent and was important for me, as the father of an adopted daughter from China, to spend time thinking and dialoguing about on so many levels. It was a privilege to be up close and see all of her work come together.

enchanter-whatgradclassisJJ and me at Shakespeare’s way back in her first year of grad school.

Now JJ is heading back to South Korea to begin her post-grad school life. I have to admit that the annual exodus of grads is hard for me. So much mental and emotional energy goes into working with my students, so much hope and desire for them to do well. Add to that my sentimental nature and you can probably imagine my mindset each May.

2014-05-18 23.02.38JJ and me at our last Shakespeare’s hangout last month. We point off into the heights of a glorious future.

In creating my Becoming the Student portrait of JJ, I wanted to maintain my method – a short session from observation, with only minor changes after the fact – while at the same time celebrating her achievement. I’m glad she agreed to pose in her cap and was willing to maintain a calm – if a tad pensive and sad – expression. If you know anything about her work (click here if not), you know that the seriousness of her pose and quietude of her face here are nothing like what you’d normally see in an image of her.

JJportraitJJ, MFA. Oil on panel, 8 inches in diameter, 2014.

I’ll sure miss her shouting “SIRRRRRR!” when she sees me.

I already do.

Inspiration: Students

I started this blog five years and two days ago, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is sharing the work of my students. I never try to over-sell it. Most of my students are not Art majors. Many of them have had very little art-making experience before they take my classes. Yet they always make transformational movements, always end up showing themselves things they never imagined doing. I want to share a few of my Spring 2014 students’ works and words below. They were inspirational to me this semester. All images and words shared with permission.

photo 1Tayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Graphite.

“Everything changed when I walked in this classroom at the beginning of this semester. This class has changed the way I thought of drawing, and even my perspective on life. I found myself more focused and calm when I drew instead of anxious and judged. It helped to bring back this hope and urge to draw that I used to have when I was a little kid and I’m not sure if I can even fully explain what that means to me. What I’ve taken from this class is honestly a little more uncertainty, but I know that’s not a bad thing… I just had thought to myself that I could never be an artist or a musician or a writer. Yet I still draw, still play music, and I still write on that novel I’m almost sure I’ll never finish. I want to go out and appreciate this wonderful gift of life that has been bestowed upon us.” – Tayler Newcomer.
imageTayler Newcomer, Undeclared Major. Self Portrait Study, 18 by 24 inches, Graphite.
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2014-05-03 16.00.51Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Master Copy after LeRoy Neiman, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
“I want to see things through others’ eyes and be open to change! In the rest of my life I want to keep trying to be slow to anger and quick to love, and care as Jesus would. I pray my life will be a light for people in one way or another!” – Emily Crane.
2014-05-03 15.55.14Emily Crane, Graphic Design Major, Softball. Self Portrait Off Third Base, from a M, 24 by 18 inches, Pastel.
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image[1]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Self Portrait Study, 14 by 11 inches, Colored Pencil.
“If it were not for a sense of the whole I would not be me when I draw my self portraits. I would not be such a pronounced image within the scene that I draw; it is the universe itself that helps pronounce my image. The drawing then has a sense of the whole as well.” – Blessing Ikoro.
image[2]Blessing Ikoro, Psychology Major. Study of Busts of Caesar and Apollo, 24 by 18 inches, Charcoal.
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2014-05-03 16.00.58Amanda Bradley, Art Major. Master Copy after Dutch Master, 24 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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2014-05-03 16.00.38Shayna Painter, Business Administration Major. Master Copy after Kupka, 18 by 18 inches, Colored Pencil.
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“The way you see something and the way you experience it are so different. The visual aspect of anything isn’t more important than what you learned from it or now it made you feel.” – Hunter Whitt, Elementary Education Major.
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These young women were just a few of the outstanding students I had this semester. Here’s hoping they continue on with the art impulse.

Becoming the Student #8: Joel T Dugan

Joel T Dugan is an amazing painter and educator who works as a professor at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. A few weeks ago my family had the honor of hosting him for a few days and the time we spent together in the studio were some of the best drawing hours I can remember. Our conversation ranged wide. We spoke of everything from “ignorant faithfulness” to the “chase” aspect of painting. Especially beneficial to me was sharing our experiences in teaching. It was an epic evening.

IMG_0023Portrait of Joel T Dugan, Digital drawing, Dimensions variable. 2014. Created with an Adonit Jot Touch 4 in Sketchbook Pro on an iPad Air.

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On Reality and the Ignorantly Faithful

“In terms of reality… I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the notion of individuality and that how we perceive worth can be so saturated with our own assertions we might experience certain things as so much more impactful than anyone else could.

What do we know? What do we expect? What do we allow to resonate? In my life, so many things have happened – circumstances have aligned themselves, so many nuances have taken place – that you almost wonder if there’s a Suspect at work, something that we might call fate.

But the very notion of fate is so saturated with the hoax-y, with… the ignorantly faithful, those who… allow themselves to… view things in terms of a Divine Plan or Divine Timing while not… taking responsibility for their own choices and motivations. That’s also about not being willing to accept any of the obvious cues that something might not be what we think it is. It’s often a cover up for really not wanting to engage with deep concerns. “

On Perception and Ignorance

“I wonder about perception. I wonder a lot about what truly is valuable. But then you just completely get lost in the kids and it’s always a great release to see that pure innocence and awe. I fear for my kids, that they’ll lose that wonder.”

We’re all subjected to selective ignorance. We utilize that state by default without even knowing it. We’re creatures of comfort in the sense that we love to feel like we’re right. It makes us feel like our efforts are fulfilling, that our existence is poignant.”

On Painting as Existential Chase

“I question myself about the impact of the things that I do, questioning what is the true exchange that takes place when creating art. Being able to share, or even just include, the viewer in the mystique of the work, of that chase… that very much is a kind of lustful relationship. And I just keep thinking to myself that if I could get closer to that same feeling of epiphany, of surprise and recollection that takes place when you struggle with doubts and failures – even after absolute trust and immense security – and you think to yourself ‘I’m a fool. Today is not the day’ so you turn away, put on your coat to leave…. But then you glance back. And you think, ‘That’s not too bad. You know what, with ten more minutes that could really be something.’ And after all the rest of that time it’s almost like you stole it. Almost like you took something that was just a failure and you ripped it from the hands of mediocrity and re-purposed it. If that moment could be shared with everyone you would never have doubt that it was worth it. But how the hell do you do that without just saturating it with your own judgment?”

 On Teaching

“One of the hardest things about teaching is asking people to be both more accepting of judgment and more confrontational with opinion. I just love seeing the light bulb turn on in their heads. You lay the cheese in front of them and they think they found it themselves; that’s when learning how to learn takes place.”

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If you ever get a chance to spend time with Joel, do it. He’s a man of faith, family, and joy. My daughters really fell in love with him and he gave them such positive attention and care. Our youngest, CaiQun, asked, “Can Mr Joel could be a part of our family forever??”

IMG_0521Mr Joel and CaiQun working with the Sensu Brush in ArtRage on Joel’s iPad.

  IMG_0560Joel breaking down one of Eric Norby’s paintings.

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On the Drawing I Made of Him:

“I’m glad you love my head.”

I was blessed to get to hang out with Joel for a few days – everyone is better for a few hours with the guy. Thank you, sir!

Digital Sketching

Following the lead of a number of the people around me (such as Matt Choberka, William Dolan, Chris Fletcher, and Alex Herzog), I’ve begun to do more sketching on tablets. I’ve been working on a Kindle Fire using SketchBook Mobile X.

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Above: A sketch made from drawings and photos of a street scene in Guangzhou, China. This is an iconic tree to me, one that I walked past a dozen times, drew, took photos of, and have thought about many times since our trip in February of 2013. You can even see its foliage on Google images of the street corner where it’s located.

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Above: A sketch from the sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysus at the Cast Collection of the University of Missouri. I love the Cast Collection and have taught my students there for all but one of my semesters of teaching here at Mizzou.

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Above: A pile of the foam packaging inserts that accompany desktop Macs while in shipment. I use them as props in my Beginning Drawing and Painting setups.

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Above: A post-it note sculpture that hangs in my studio at the university. One of our friends made it and I love it. I’m sure it will appear in many more drawings and paintings over the years.

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Sorry I’ve not been writing much/at all recently. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.