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Route 44 – A Journey – Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Since I thought it would be possible for me to get a MFA degree in one year from OU and was pretty sure I would be accepted into the program, I didn’t bother to apply anywhere else. Both assumptions were very naïve. As it turned out I did get admitted, barely, into the program. I found out later that the faculty tried a new method of selecting their new graduate students. In previous years each faculty member chose the students for their area, i.e. the painting faculty chose the painting students, sculpture faculty chose sculpture students, etc. This year the entire faculty unanimously voted to accept or deny each student. This proved to be almost disastrous for the program, there were only two graduates accepted for the fall 1972 enrollment. Normally, 12 to 15 students would be accepted. So, I began that summer, enrolling in 12 graduate hours. Armed with my new “wrinkle technique” I started working with a goal of 15 – 20 new pieces during the summer. At that time the graduate curriculum was very loose at OU. They had several graduate level studio classes that you could take multiple times with a maximum of 12 total hours in each class. I enrolled in 4 of the classes for 3 hours each with a different professor for each class. You met with each of your professors once a week for critique and just worked. There were no set assignments or projects unless one of your professors asked you to work on something specific. The idea was that you were a working professional and you would work to produce and improve your craft. A simple process that many students had great difficulty adapting to but I loved it. I started doing smaller color studies on paper. These works were full watercolor paper size (22”x30”) and I primarily worked on color and different paper folds. They were quick and I could easily do one or more a day. I was using an airbrush to apply the paint so I was using a variety of airbrush media. I experimented with colored inks and dyes as well as watercolor and acrylic. Tube paints needed to be thinned to a very thin consistency so even the opaque paints became somewhat transparent. This transparency aided in the color palette by multiplying the color with each application. These paper studies were important in the development of the larger works on canvas. It was a great way to perfect and work out problems with spraying and the application of paint. They also quickly led me to push beyond the natural phenomenon of the wrinkle. I started trying all kinds of fold and wrinkle patterns. Everything from ridged grid patterns to deep complex wrinkles and everything in between. Then I experimented with masked areas and over-painting hard edged elements, this led to pouring thick paint over the flat wrinkle illusion to drastically juxtapose the two textures. That summer was very productive, I finished with about 30 watercolors and about 6 large-scale canvases. It was the first time that I had the time and freedom to just work. It was exciting! That summer the school allowed me to set up a temporary studio in the brand new Fred Jones Memorial Art Center. Even though it was temporary it was great because it was a new state of the art facility with plenty of space and all the necessary technology (compressed air) to explore this new technique of painting. All in all it was a very successful summer and I assumed my professors felt the same way because I received all A’s. The first hurdle of my one-year marathon had been successfully completed. [caption id="attachment_808" align="aligncenter" width="802"]"Wrinkle, Pour and Magenta Grid" Acrylic 57"x84" "Wrinkle, Pour and Magenta Grid" / Acrylic / 57"x84"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_809" align="aligncenter" width="604"]"Yellow Window" Acrylic 66"x90" "Yellow Window" / Acrylic / 66"x90"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_810" align="aligncenter" width="415"]Here It Comes sm "Here It Comes" / Acrylic / 66"x84"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_811" align="aligncenter" width="493"]Thin Gold Line sm "Thin Gold Line" / Acrylic / 60"x72"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_812" align="aligncenter" width="602"]Looking Out sm "Looking In" / Acrylic / 66"x96"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_816" align="aligncenter" width="450"] "Looking Out" / Acrylic / 72"x72"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_814" align="aligncenter" width="462"]arc wrinkle sm "Arc Wrinkle" / Acrylic / 72"x72"[/caption] In the fall I had to move my studio. The University had several old buildings on what was called North Base. North Base was an old Naval facility that dated back to the WWII time period. I know what you are wondering, a Naval Base in the middle of land locked Oklahoma? Well, it’s true; the story I was told was that the Navy used it as artillery training for the big guns on ships during the war. The buildings were mostly old frame barracks but there was one concrete building that was the bathhouse for the base swimming pool. There was space available in this building so that is where I moved. The sculptors seemed to be in the old barracks and the painters were in the bathhouse. I had met several of the graduate students a year earlier when I was a senior. I had become friends with a graduate printmaker named Dwight Pogue. He was working with commercial printing techniques and trying to use them in a fine art approach. I became very interested in these techniques and I helped him build a process camera out of found parts that we scrounged from the Government surplus that we had access to in Oklahoma City. We installed this camera in one of the barracks and eventually used it to shoot large-scale negatives and positives for screen-printing. We eventually wrote a book and printed it at Dwight’s dad’s printing company in Missouri but that is another story. Through these efforts I met many of Dwight’s fellow graduate students and friends. One of Dwight’s friends was a painter by the name of Otis Jones. Otis and Dwight had been friends as undergrad students at a small University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Otis also had a studio in the bathhouse and we became friends. Otis was very progressive in his painting. His paintings at the time were large arrangements of a wide variety of materials including thinly painted cheesecloth, natural muslin and raw and painted wood. These materials were assembled in a variety of arrangements on a long wall with some of the wooden elements giving dimensional support to the draped and flowing cloth elements. This visual style was almost radical for me at the time but was very interesting. The better I got to know Otis and the more I watched him work the more I realized how dedicated he was to this new art form. There were a lot of advantages to this method of working. One was cost of materials; one set of materials could be used over and over and over with almost unlimited variation possibilities. Another advantage was storage. Another close graduate friend, Dalton Maroney, recently told me of a time during this period when he helped Otis transport and install an entire show in Otis’s Volkswagen Beetle. The biggest disadvantage was this type of work had no real permanence. Almost none of this type work exists today; it lives by its photographic record. Otis, Dalton, Dwight and all of my graduate friends would become very important in my personal art development. I continued to work with the “wrinkle technique” but watching my fellow grad students work with arranged work in painting and sculpture accelerated my growth and my desire to go beyond the natural beauty of the wrinkle illusion. I worked with the wrinkle technique through my Mid-Way Show. For most of the graduates this show occurred after the first year when the student had finished approximately half of the required 56 hours. Since I was working on the accelerated plan, I scheduled mine after my first fall semester. I had successfully completed 28 hours at this point. The show was at the new Fred Jones Memorial Museum and consisted of eight large stretched canvases. [caption id="attachment_818" align="aligncenter" width="739"]Grad School Midway Show 1971 Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption] [caption id="attachment_819" align="aligncenter" width="739"] Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption] [caption id="attachment_820" align="aligncenter" width="727"] Grad School Midway Show / 1971 / Fred Jones Jr. Memorial Art Center[/caption]    
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Chapter 3 – Route 44

Eugene Bavinger was the primary painting professor at OU and had been so since 1947. He was a very soft-spoken man with a world of experience behind him. I met him as my professor for an advanced painting course. I quickly realized that there was a lot to learn from him. As I mentioned before Bavinger had been around a long time, thirty plus years. You would probably expect that he would be very set in his ways and a bit “old school.” You would be wrong, he was like a kid and extremely in tune with the latest art movements. He had been a pioneer in the use of acrylic paint and was constantly researching the chemistry of acrylic paint additives. I mentioned earlier that OU pushed you into larger and grander work; Bavinger was a key to making this affordable. He set up an Art Department store for painting supplies. Through this store, the Department would buy bulk 100-foot rolls of raw canvas in 72-inch widths. The students could purchase the canvas by the yard at a fraction of the retail cost. In addition to the canvas, the school would purchase fifty-five gallon drums of polymer medium directly from the manufacturer and sell to the students in gallon quantities. In class we learned the craft of making our own stretcher frames and how to convert inexpensive house paint into museum quality gesso. We also learned how to use the polymer medium and use it as a binder to add inexpensive tinting colors to make our own paint. All of this was done to encourage students to produce large, institutional size paintings because that was the current trend in most of the contemporary art movements of the time. OU and Gene Bavinger were very trend conscious. What ever was happening or even being experimented with in New York City was also being explored at OU. Gene was driven in the classroom and in his own personal work by trends and technology. The better I got to know him the more I understood this. At this particular time, the late sixties and early seventies, one of the hottest trends was in large atmospheric abstract paintings sometimes called “Color Field” or “Lyrical Abstractions.” These paintings were a huge visual change from the dynamic and energetic paintings produced by the “Abstract Impressionist.” They were more about light and space. They had a lyrical almost romantic feel to them. This movement certainly had roots in Abstract Expressionism with artists like Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski. All three approached their paintings in very different paint application methods but managed to achieve a similar visual appeal. Rothko used traditional oil paint, Frankenthaler used thinly applied transparent stains and Olitski used commercial spray painting equipment. As I mentioned earlier, I was using canned spray paint as a method of applying color to large drawings and this led to acquiring an air brush in an effort to control the application, so the jump to larger spray equipment was a natural progression which was fueled by Gene Bavinger. Gene’s work at that time was visually similar to Olitski, very large lyrical abstractions that the viewer could literally get lost in the spacial illusion. I began the same way, playing (I want to emphasize the word play, much of what I was doing was experimentation) with the spray to create atmospheric backgrounds that I could draw with paint on top. This experimentation along with my observation of Bavinger’s personal work led me to a natural phenomenon directly related to the spray application. I think anyone that has experimented in spray paint application has witnessed this phenomenon at some point. The phenomenon that I am referring to is commonly called the “Wrinkle Technique.” The technique is simple, spray color on a wrinkled material, i.e. paper or canvas, stretch the material flat and the illusion of the wrinkle remains. I had witnessed this technique earlier in one of Bavinger’s paintings. It was a very small and insignificant part of the concept of the painting but very interesting, so when I discovered it myself, I immediately started working with it. The first few paintings were simple wrinkle illusions sprayed in different colors from different directions. I had some initial success outside the classroom and school. I entered a highly respected state competition sponsored by Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and won a purchase award. Another very nice thing about OU at that time was they had a nice visiting artist program and because it was the largest art program in the state there were always professional artists and professors from other schools dropping in unannounced. During this short period of time we had one “famous” artist (Paul Jenkins) and also two professors from other Universities (Bob Russell from Pittsburg, Kansas, and Bill Wyman from the University of Texas) drop in. They all seemed impressed with the wrinkle technique and were very encouraging. This outside encouragement along with input from Bavinger led me to push beyond the natural phenomenon of the technique and incorporate it with bigger and better concepts. I worked with this technique for about two years trying to make the visual aspect of the technique secondary to the overall concepts of light and space. I don’t think I ever really did that because the natural phenomenon was so powerful visually. Darn it, they were just too pretty! Yep, you guessed it, I was still stuck making big “pretty pictures.” [caption id="attachment_792" align="aligncenter" width="769"]"Organic Forms" - Acrylic & Shaped Canvas - 60"x60" "Organic Forms" - Acrylic & Shaped Canvas - 60"x60"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_793" align="aligncenter" width="796"]"Organic Landscape" - Acrylic - 42"x60" "Organic Landscape" - Acrylic - 42"x60"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_794" align="aligncenter" width="586"]"Light and Space" - Acrylic - 32"x36" "Light and Space" - Acrylic - 32"x36"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_796" align="aligncenter" width="633"]"Light and Space 2" - Acrylic - 48"x60" "Light and Space 2" - Acrylic - 48"x60"[/caption] About this time, 1970, OU hired a new painting professor, George Bogart. George came to help Gene with the growing painting program. He was an imposing figure; tall, thick dark hair and a big black mustache but he turned out to be a gentle patient man and one of the best teachers I have known. He immediately became another important mentor to my painting development. He was a great compliment to Gene’s technical, process driven approach to painting. George was a little more concept driven and both were prolific, passionate painters that practiced their craft every day. They both pushed me to work through problems and had a huge impact on me to develop a strong work ethic. I remember George telling me numerous times that, “A lot of good soldiers had to die before you can win the battle.” This was his way of telling me to keep working. I was now a senior in the program and realized that I should start thinking about what I was going to do when I graduated. I was majoring in Advertising Design and as I mentioned earlier very frustrated with my classes. It seemed no matter how hard I worked that I just wasn’t getting it. I now realize that my passion was elsewhere and it would take a different time and a different commitment, which I eventually achieved in about six years. I still retained a friendship with Jack Bryan at Cameron University. In a conversation with him, he mentioned that he was hopeful that in about a year he would be looking for a person to teach with him at Cameron. Wow, teach with Jack! How cool would that be? If I remember correctly, I think I stopped him mid-sentence and asked what it took to get that job. He replied, “Get your masters and come on down.”  I now know that it would take a little more than that but I took that as a job offer, so I started thinking and actively looking at grad schools that offered a masters in art. I really hadn’t thought about teaching as a career and I sure didn’t know what it took to become one so I started doing a little research. I started asking my professors what kind of degrees they had and where they got their graduate degrees. I quickly found out there were different types of graduate degrees and even different types of masters degrees. I had become friends with some of the grad students at OU and most of them were in the MFA program. I learned that this was considered the highest graduate degree available in studio art and was basically the equivalent of a PhD in other academic areas. I found out that most MFA programs were around 60 hours and usually took at least two years to complete. Darn, this was about a year too long for my projected job offer at Cameron. I continued to look for grad programs that could be completed in one year. I found that in addition to the MFA there existed a MA program that consisted of about 30 hours and was geared more to secondary education teachers seeking to add to their teaching credentials. This degree was considered less professional but only took one year to complete. I also found there were 30-hour masters available in art history but I was definitely not interested in art history, again that came much later when I had to teach it. You know I had always heard that if you truly want to learn anything just teach it, it is definitely true. So, now I knew that I was probably looking for a 30-hour masters program that was heavy on studio work. In my limited research, I found that it was generally frowned on to attend the same school for your undergrad and graduate work. This made a lot of sense to me because you spend a minimum of four years studying with a group of professors then it’s time to get input from other sources to broaden the educational experience. Unfortunately for me, I was under a self-imposed deadline that greatly affected my decisions. My only choices in the state of Oklahoma at the time were to continue at OU and pursue a MA or possibly a MFA or to go to the University of Tulsa where they offered a MA. I could also look at schools outside the state but that didn’t seem possible with my tight deadline. At this point, I took a look at my major and decided that a studio degree would be better for graduate school application. I also thought the higher the GPA in my major area the better my chances would be for acceptance so, I switched my major from Advertising Design to Printmaking. I had enough credits to major in Ad Design, Painting or Printmaking but I had a 4.0 GPA in printmaking so I chose it. As I mentioned OU offered both a MFA and a MA and it appeared that the only difference in the academic requirements was the number of hours necessary for graduation. During my last semester in my undergraduate degree I started trying to calculate the number of hours and the minimum time it would take finish. At that time their MFA program consisted of 56 hours, 4 hours short of the more standard 60-hour programs. Their program consisted entirely of studio hours, no academic classes were required and this was very appealing. I was used to taking summer classes and I thought my one-year deadline could consist of two regular semesters and two summer semesters. After some quick calculations I realized that if I took 12 hours each summer semester and 16 hours each regular semester, voilà, that was the magic 56 hours. I was very young and naive but even I knew it would be a tremendous amount of work but the payoff seemed worth the effort. I made an appointment to talk with the Director of the Art School about the submission process and a few other questions I had about the differences in the MA and MFA programs. The Director at that time was Joe Hobbs. Joe was a tall lanky cowboy want-to-be sculptor. I never had him for any classes so I can’t speak to his ability to teach. He didn’t seem to actively make sculpture or art and the pieces that I had seen were a bit dated, but he was the Director of the program the entire time I was there and quite a few years after I left so he had a lot of administrative experience. When we met, I told him I was interested in applying for grad school. He was very encouraging and asked if I had specific questions. I asked him the difference in the two possible masters programs and he basically told me that the MFA was what I should be interested in. I then asked him if there was a mandatory amount of residency time necessary to fulfill the requirements for graduation and to obtain the degree. He looked at me with a puzzled look and said, “What do you mean?” I restated the question a little more directly and said, “If I can finish the required number of hours early can I graduate in less than two years.” He replied that there was no requirement on time, you must simply complete the required 56-hours and that was it. This was great news for me; he had just confirmed that it was possible to complete the MFA program in one year. I was set, all I had to do now was complete the application process, get accepted and start. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than I thought. I completed the necessary paperwork during my last undergraduate semester. I finished my last semester and was awarded the Alexander Letzeiser silver metal. This was a surprise and a nice honor; it was the second highest honor that OU gave for graduating undergraduate art students. [caption id="attachment_798" align="aligncenter" width="403"]"Wrinkle Study 1" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30" "Wrinkle Study 1" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_799" align="aligncenter" width="972"]"Wrinkle Study 2" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30" "Wrinkle Study 2" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_800" align="aligncenter" width="1044"]"Wrinkle Study 3" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30" "Wrinkle Study 3" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_801" align="aligncenter" width="1044"]"Wrinkle Study 4" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30" "Wrinkle Study 4" - Acrylic & Watercolor - 22"x30"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_802" align="aligncenter" width="527"]"Ken and Irma's Horse" - Acrylic - 60"x72" "Ken and Irma's Horse" - Acrylic - 60"x72"[/caption]
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