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Two members of A-State Art Faculty Earn Statewide Recognition from Arkansas Arts Council


JONESBORO – Art students in classes taught by John Harlan Norris and Melissa Wilkinson draw upon traditional techniques, but enjoy their exposure to the teachers’ more contemporary approaches.  That mix, which is reflected across the spectrum from the classroom to their professional work, underlies a significant part of the painters' success.

While their students are already benefitting, that success also was recognized recently by an out-of-state jury of professional peers.

Norris and Wilkinson, both of whom are assistant professors of drawing and painting in the Department of Art at Arkansas State University, are recipients of Individual Artist Fellowships in painting for 2013 from the Arkansas Arts Council, according to Curtis Steele, professor of art and chair of the Department of Art.

Each artist received a $4,000 prize with the award, two of only three that were presented statewide, Steele added.

An assistant professor at ASU, Norris is originally from Kentucky, where he majored in studio art and English at Centre College in Danville.  He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in painting at Louisiana State University.  His current body of work features a series of portraits in which the identities of the subjects are concealed.

“My work combines a contemporary studio practice with elements of traditional drawing and painting,” Norris commented.  “Thus, there's a direct correlation between my own work and what I teach in the classroom, whether it's a beginning painting class or an advanced class in which students are looking to work with new media and concepts. That interplay between the future and the past is always interesting and informs both my work and my teaching on a daily basis.”

Norris has exhibited widely in venues including Memphis, Las Vegas, Little Rock, Tallahassee, and Lafayette, La.  Next year he will hold solo exhibitions at Dumois Gallery in New Orleans and at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Wilkinson, who also is an assistant professor of art, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from Western Illinois University and her Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern Illinois University.  Her work has been featured in publications throughout the country including two editions of “New American Paintings,” a juried exhibition in print.  She has shown in various locations nationally and internationally including South Korea and India.

“Through my paintings, I try to engage with the genres of the past in a fresh way.  Like my undergraduate students, I deal with imagery from the figure and landscape,” Wilkinson explained.  “My concerns are, however, to reflect tradition within a contemporary context.  I try to bridge conceptual concerns about popular culture with formal issues to create dynamic picture constructions.  With my students, I impress upon them the importance of balancing craft with socially relevant ideas.  I ask that they respect the past but push their work towards newer visions.”

Norris’s exhibit, “Occupants,” and Wilkinson’s exhibit, “Gentlemen Wear Black,” run through this week at Bradbury Gallery in Fowler Center, 201 Olympic Dr.

Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and by appointment. 

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