Words from an Art Professor: An Interview with UAB’s Gary Chapman

The best, the brightest, and the boldest.

Gary Chapman, professor of painting and drawing at UAB, has selected work from his most talented students for the Birmingham Public Library's (BPL) latest art gallery, Painting @ UAB: The Students of Gary Chapman. Join the opening reception for the exhibit on November 15 at the Fourth Floor Gallery in the East Building of the Central Library.

The art students range in age from 19-28 and include both UAB alumni and current seniors and juniors. According to Gary Chapman, the gallery will display a “broad range of style and content.” Many of the pieces have taken from two weeks to two months to complete. Some works are still in progress as students prepare for the exhibit's opening.

Gary Chapman discussed his take on art in a feature interview with the ALS department.

Bethany: The students’ artwork represented in this gallery varies significantly in mood, context, and composition. Yet all the artists share the same teacher—you. As such, how do you encourage your students to develop their own aesthetic within the restrictions of the academic setting?

Gary: All of my students begin with a very academic “How to Paint with Oil” class, which centers upon a series of still lifes with very clear steps and objectives. Each subsequent still life builds upon the objectives of the previous assignment. Students come out of the class with a real sense of accomplishment and confidence to explore the medium with a solid range of skill sets. They learn the command of the language of paint, which is necessary for any fine painting whether it be realism or abstract. Of course this mastery ultimately takes more than one semester, but the foundation has been established with a clear platform we refer to as “The Mantra,” which helps guide them to the mastery of the medium.

After the first semester of painting, all other painting courses at UAB focus upon expanding this understanding of paint through exploration and developing each students unique voice or hand with paint and image making. They are challenged to research artists, writers and thinkers with unique yet related interests. They are also challenged to think introspectively on the events and persons in their lives that helped to shape who they are and who they are becoming. This ultimately helps the student to develop an authentic, personal aesthetic and conceptual purpose.

Bethany: Madeleine L'Engle, author of Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, considers “the discipline of creation” as an “effort towards wholeness.” This suggests that the process of creating art is not merely an external practice but is in fact the artist’s continual effort to understand himself/herself. What has surprised you most about your students as they continue to develop their skills?

Gary: My students are college students so they are fully engaged in the transformation process that the college experience affords them. Ideally they are stretching themselves, opening up to new experiences, shedding themselves of all the baggage they have acquired or that has been thrust upon them by peer pressure, family, and typical teenage social pressures. For many of these students, making Art becomes an important part of their coming of age and finding themselves post high school and having left home. The cathartic process can be a fantastic means for establishing Art as an important component to a creative person's life.

Bethany: In the art classroom, what is the most common mistake that you have noticed artists-in-training make, and how do you help them resolve that mistake?

Gary: Students sometimes rely too heavily on what they already know how to do and are afraid to let go, explore and allow the medium to do what it wants to do. These students need to reacquaint themselves with the medium by approaching it from a different process. Learn what the medium naturally can do and capitalize on these qualities instead of trying to harness and control it.

Bethany: What is the most important advice you can give to aspiring artists?

Gary: Really explore the questions, “Why do you want to do this?” “What do you expect to get out of your art and the life choice of being an artist?” The statistics are staggering regarding how many people graduate with Art degrees and then later stop making Art. As much as so many want to do this, so few succeed. It clearly must not be easy. Find what drives you to think, create, and do.

Bethany: Louis L'Amour, author of Education of a Wandering Man, states, “The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting, sculpture.” In your opinion, what is popular art today saying about recent generations?

Gary: It is both an exciting and frustrating time to be making Art. We are scattered, bi-polar, without focus, and somewhat superficial.

Bethany: Finally, how can Birmingham residents best support their city’s art community?

Gary: We have a very fine art museum, a number of fine art institutions such as Space One Eleven, Studio By the Tracks, Beta Pictoris Gallery and, of course, UAB’s spectacular AEIVA. Get on their mailing lists and attend openings. Buy art when you are compelled and attend some of our exceptional art events: Artwalk, Magic City Art Connection in Linn Park, Bluff Park Art Show. Most of all, don’t buy cheap reproduction pictures at Hobby Lobby and Bed Bath & Beyond to decorate your walls. Buy real work that moves you to do so. There is plenty of exceptional Art being created in this great city.

BPL presents an exhibition of artwork by students in the painting program at UAB. The exhibit opens in the Fourth Floor Gallery of the Central Library located at 2100 Park Place on Sunday, November 15, and runs through Thursday, December 31.

The public is invited to meet the artists at the opening reception on Sunday, November 15, 2015, from 2:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. in the Central Library’s Boardroom adjacent to the gallery. The reception is free of charge and open to the public.


Professor of Painting & Drawing
UAB Department of Art and Art History

Gary Chapman received his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and a BA and BS from Berea College. Chapman has had over 60 solo exhibitions with institutions such as The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, University of Cincinnati, University of Georgia, and University of Miami. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions with regional, national, and international venues.

In 2013 Chapman was awarded and named a CALL Legacy Artist by the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Chapman's work has received recognition and awards from such notable figures as Ned Rifkin, Dennis Barrie, John Ravenal, Annette Carlozzi, and Jack Cowart. In 2008 his work was selected and published in the book Alabama Masters: Artists and their work. He has received numerous grants and fellowships including a 1996 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Painting from the Southern Arts Federation and 2001 and 1994, Individual Artist Fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. His work has been reviewed extensively and is published in over 20 catalogs and books including the third, sixteenth, and fifty-second editions of New American Paintings.

Paintings by Chapman have been purchased for the permanent collections of 10 museums throughout the Southeastern region. These include the Birmingham, Montgomery, and Ogden Museums of Art. His work is also included in many corporate and private collections throughout the country.

Thinking about learning to paint? Check out these feature items from ALS, and don’t forget to take a look at past, current, and future art exhibits at the Birmingham Public library here.

New American Paintings
Alabama Masters: Artists and Their Work (Features work from Gary Chapman)
200 great painting ideas for artists
Creative painting of everyday subjects

How to look at a painting
Color mixology: how to see and mix the color you really want
Creating abstract art
Design dynamic paintings: how fundamental design and composition principles can improve your paintings

Bethany Mitchell
Arts/Literature/Sports Department
Central Library