Patrick Earl Hammie (MFA Painting, 2008) is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and exhibits his work widely. He recently shared some thoughts about his MFA experience and the challenges of building a career as an artist and educator:
What were the most valuable aspects of your graduate education here at UConn? How did the MFA program prepare you for success as an artist and teacher?
Having the space and time at UConn to develop artistically and cognitively in a safe and stimulating environment was crucial in my development as an artist. It allowed me the distance from which to reconsider my work and development, and to put in a numerous amount of studio hours without the lure of distraction.
Being in close proximity to New York and frequent trips there through seminars were important in developing a mental sketch of the art world that I wanted to participate in, as well as reinforcing my own sense of artists’ values and aesthetics.
Having access to a diverse group of faculty and peers was invaluable. It provided me with the experience of seeing how other problem solvers with diverse media backgrounds addressed and critiqued formal, humanistic, and conceptual concerns within their work and mine. Similarly, being in close quarters with the art historians provided me with a different critical context from which to consider the grand narrative of Art and how I could situate myself within it.
Access to lecturers and visiting artists opened up new dialogues around content and criticisms and provided me with behavioral models that demonstrated what practicing artists and scholars looked and sounded like outside of the UConn faculty.
The opportunities that I had to teach undergraduate courses allowed me to hone pedagogical skills and strategies that would help me to define a teaching philosophy, ask questions about my studio practice, and be competitive among other candidates in the job market.
Through interactions with faculty, staff, grads and undergrads, I learned how to collaborate with others and how to navigate academic politics and various personalities. While not typically forefronted, these valuable and sometimes difficult lessons still serve me in forming collegial and rewarding relationships in academia and the art world.
What have you been doing since graduating?
Since graduating, my ongoing research blends traditions of the Old Masters with contemporary modes of representation, to explore the tension between power and vulnerability. I adopt body language and narrative to reinvent and remix ideal beauty and heroic nudity. My paintings examine how male artists have historically represented themselves and the nude. Perhaps more than any other form of image-making, figurative painting is often read as a mirror of the time in which it is made; the canvas might be uniquely valued as a type of sociohistorical document. In this vein, my portraits are situated in the discourse of contemporary art that investigates constructions of identity, gender politics, and race.
I’ve received several awards that include the Alliance of Artists Communities’ Midwestern Voices & Visions Award, the Tanne Foundation Award and an Award of Excellence from the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. I’ve exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as Kathleen Cullen Gallery, Dakshina Chitra Gallery, Real Art Ways, Kunst in der Carlshütte, SoFA Gallery Indiana University, The Painting Center, Manifest Creative Research Gallery, West Gallery at California State University, Jewett Art Gallery at Wellesley College, Stewart Center Gallery at Purdue University and Boseman Gallery at University of North Carolina Wilmington. I’ve lectured at venues that include Skidmore College, Krannert Art Museum, Morehead State University and Northeastern Illinois University.
I’ve participated in a couple of residencies through fellowships and grants at places such as Wellesley College and the John Michael Kohler Art Center. At Wellesley I was provided with a livable sum and stipend for one year so I could dedicate that time to my research and career development. This culminated in my first post-graduate solo exhibition. At Kohler I participated in their Arts/Industry residency program that primarily included the industrial pottery studio at the Kohler Company. There I spent 2 months creating works utilizing the industrial materials and equipment, and was exposed to a body of technical knowledge that enabled me to explore ceramic sculptural forms and concepts not possible in my own studio.
In 2009, I joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a tenure-track assistant professor. At UIUC I teach foundational drawing, all levels of painting, life drawing, and graduate seminars and advising.
Any advice for current or future students?
These are some things that have served me well.
In regard to research and creative practice, the majority of successful artists I’ve observed have answered for themselves these questions that Kerry James Marshall stated every artist needs to ask:
Why is the world the way it is, and who says it should be so?
What is this Art thing all about?
What’s at stake?
What do you want as an artist who means to participate in it?
What is it you can do to determine or to guarantee that you achieve the kind of things you set out to achieve for yourself?
In regard to research and teaching, the situation at UConn is unique in that you have direct access to a diverse field of creative practitioners and academics within your peers and professors. Learn as much as you can about the material and conceptual language and concerns specific to your area of focus and understand the communalities with your own area of concentration through informal discussion and critiques. Having the ability to engage in multitude of dialogues involving a spectrum of media will enrich and prepare you for a life as a contemporary artist (even if your practice is medium specific), and make you a more viable candidate for teaching positions that increasingly demand that instructors have specific media and/or conceptual expertise as well as the ability to fluidly and responsibly discourse across media.
You currently have two years in which to complete your degree. Candidates that thrive in this curriculum are self-starters with a deep seriousness of purpose and strong sense of self-identity. That’s not to say that experimentation and self-doubt are not part of the process, they are imperative; I only wish to stress the necessity to contextualize your situation and forefront the need to establish a rigorous and sustainable physical and conceptual work ethic.
Once you graduate, apply for every opportunity, monetary award, open call for juried shows, exhibition proposals and papers, and job prospects that you can reasonably afford. This will help you forge your identity as a practitioner and gain precious experiences only available to those who’ve put themselves out into the world. Be open to the rewards and rejections that will follow.
Respect and invest in your mentors and peers, their companionship can feed your spirit and provide inroads to opportunities that may further your career. As time goes on become more selective and edit your CV to feature the more prestigious moments. Get out into the world and meet people: people you want to be among professionally and those who have access to spaces that you would like to operate within.
In regard to service, learn what it means to be a good citizen first in the university/school and ultimately in the various Art Worlds. Giving back isn’t something you only begin doing once you’ve reached a “certain age.” Involving yourself in curatorial projects, internships, studio assistantships, collaborations, workshops and panel discussions are some of the ways in which to engage with your community, build bridges between yourself and other like-minded people in and outside of your field, and reinvest in the worlds that you participating in.
Lastly, don’t stop working (aggressively) and be ambitious. Remember, it’s hard to see all the progress you’re making while you’re in the forest.