magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
fall 2006 | volume 13 | number 1
rt was never in the picture for Nick de Vries. He wanted to change the world and chose a path that would make many parents proud when he decided to study medicine and become a medical missionary. However, during one of his last semesters at Hardin-Simmons University in the late ’60s, de Vries took an art class that changed his life’s direction. Fortunately, for the students at UHCL, de Vries took a different path. With a biology degree in hand, he pursued a new dream and eventually earned a bachelor of fine arts from University of Houston. And this was just the beginning.
“The atmosphere at Hardin-Simmons was vibrant,” explains de Vries, who has made the atmosphere at UHCL just as alive through his role as professor of fine arts. “I had a girlfriend then who is now my wife; she was an art major, so I was around the art department a lot. When I chose the art class for an elective, I was even more involved with the others in the department.”
Eventually, after serving an ROTC commission in Germany and then earning his Master of Fine Arts, de Vries became part of a new university – UHCL – where he shares his passion for the arts with students. Add to the mix his own creative exploits, and busy is the only way to describe him.
Joining de Vries on the journey to educate tomorrow’s artists are Professor of Fine Arts Sandria Hu, Associate Professor of Fine Arts Matthew Linton and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Stuart Larson, along with several faculty members, including Associate Professor of Art History Vivian Atwater. The art program has been an integral part of the university’s history, and de Vries and Hu have been around since the beginning. Larson and Linton, the newcomers in the group, share the common vision of assisting future artists.
“I was first inspired by the mainstream art forms such as popular and underground music,” says Linton. “Subcultures produce their own means of expression and their own art. I have always had a fascination with these forms of expression.”
Unlike de Vries, Linton’s discovery of art and photography, in particular, came at an early age when he first picked up the family camera. Like de Vries, Linton spent his first three years of college working toward a degree unrelated to art. In Linton’s case, he had chosen a business track “thinking I would become an entrepreneur of sorts.” However, nearing the completion of his degree, he decided to switch to fine arts.
“I have always begun by thinking photographically,” asserts Linton when asked how he chose his art medium. “For me, it is the equivalent to sketching. However, I have never allowed the limitations of the medium to limit my concept development.
“I tend to begin with photo and video, and then explore other media that might better complete or convey my particular ideas.”
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Stuart Larson offers a similar starting point for his first foray into art and into his medium of choice.
“I remember developing my very first photograph with my father in the chemistry lab at the University of Nebraska,” explains Larson. “Although he probably wanted to interest me in science, from that moment I knew I was going to be an artist.”
Larson says that while he originally studied journalism, with the idea of pursuing writing and photography, he became more interested in fine arts and graphic design and eventually studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. Although he experimented with painting, sculpture and performance, he always returned to his first love of photography, video and computer graphics.
“I first became truly inspired by art when I realized that through visual means a person can communicate in ways that words cannot,” says Larson. “In high school, I would spend my weekends going to the art gallery and experiencing the abstract paintings and sculptures on display. It was a wonderful, quiet, magical space where I would be lost for hours.”
Larson adds that he enjoys viewing new works and meeting emerging artists, and that Houstonians are particularly lucky to have such museums as The Menil Collection and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.
“Not only are they free, but these museums constantly display a high caliber of thought-provoking art that is unseen in other cities,” says Larson.
Fortunately for Professor of Fine Arts Sandria Hu, the many artists and their exhibitions in the Houston area offer her inspiration.
“All artists inspire me, even the ones that seem off the wall,” says Hu. “I’m impressed that many of the newer artists are able to make these transitions by mixing painting with video or other media.
“I admire those kids who can do it; I’m just an old-fashioned painter.”
Although Hu suggests that she is “just an old-fashioned painter,” her work seems anything but that as she uses unusual surfaces to serve as her canvas. Also, she finds that these days she often relies on her laptop and graphic skills from her own college days.
“I always knew I would be involved with some sort of art,” says Hu. “I was originally going to study graphics and advertising, but in college I shifted more into painting, drawing and printmaking. Everything started making sense to me.”
The graphic skills have definitely come in handy during her current role as she designs the cards promoting the many artists who exhibit at UHCL. She admits to thinking that part of her life was over, but remains glad that she has the skills to create the cards.
“I never thought I’d be doing graphics again,” says Hu. “I would die if I didn’t have my laptop.”
In addition to her painting, Hu has also included etching in her repertoire of art activities, a method of printmaking in which the image is incised into the surface of a metal plate using an acid. Her work though, like the other professors, has to be scheduled between classes.
“I have a little time set aside every day for my work. Even if I’m not painting, I’m thinking about it,” says Hu, echoing the thoughts of the others.
And, although it isn’t missionary work, the inspiration it gives to others can still make a parent proud.
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