University of Dallas looks back with retrospective alumni art exhibit

The University of Dallas aids scholars and artists to find meaning and fulfillment through higher education. After five decades of artistic excellence, the school organized a massive exhibit to showcase art from both present students and those who studied at the school at its inception.

Nancy Israel, guest curator for the exhibit, discussed how it represents the artistic accomplishments of UD Alumni since the Braniff Graduate School’s founding.

“Since this is the 15th anniversary of the Braniff Graduate School, we put together this incredible exhibition,” Israel said. “We asked quite a few alumni to participate, and we have 44 artists whose work represents from the first graduating class to the current graduating MFA class. It’s an entire span of the art department.”

Christina Haley, a curator who worked with Nancy on the exhibit, spoke about the logistics of bringing so many different artists together.

“That was a fantastic process Nancy started with one of the other graduate researchers here,” Haley said. “It was a matter of going through records and getting samples of current work, so Nancy could be able to have a look at it and select it. Then the process was finding people, we were on the Internet, calling up galleries, and all sorts of connections have been made. It’s been great, because a lot of the alumni haven’t connected with people in a long time, so it’s a big anniversary reunion element happening as well.”

Jeffrey Vaughn, a professional artist and University of Dallas alumni featured in the exhibit, mentioned why he chose to come to the show in person.

“To meet up with the professors, old friends, and other artists that might be in the show, and to just celebrate the 50th year anniversary of the graduate program,” Vaughn said. “The experience I had here as a student was incredibly rewarding. It was really the start of my professional career, studying with Dan Hammett, and many of the other teachers teaching here.

“I saw it mostly as an opportunity to reconnect and see old friends. I was also really curious about the other artists to see what the rest of the artwork looked like. I’m not familiar with most of the other artists. I was only here for the brief period of time when I was studying. This covers a fifty year span, so I thought it would be interesting.”

“My daughter also got her BFA here a couple years ago, and I have another older daughter who got a degree in education here, so we’re pretty well connected with the University of Dallas,” he said.

Vaughn also talked about his own work within the exhibit, and how it relates back to the style he has been exploring through his other pieces.

“It’s a painting based on a photograph,” he said. “I work from photographs, and I go through a selection process in choosing photographs I think will make a good painting, because there’s a certain amount of interpretation that takes place. I work within a photorealistic style to try and keep it painterly and imbue an interesting surface as well. I’ve been exhibiting ever since I was a student here. I started exhibiting in galleries in Dallas and continued to exhibit in St. Louis, New York, and Chicago. Fortunately, there’s been enough interest in my work to where I can keep busy with it.”

In a time when the National Endowment for the Arts is being threatened with a total loss of federal funding, many are being convinced that art is frivolous to society and should not be pursued professionally. Vaughn shared his thoughts on why he feels the visual arts are important for the spirit of a country.

“I think art is important, because it kind of defines the soul of a culture, and it’s kind of the underlying spirituality so to speak of the culture as expressed through the artist,” Vaughn said. “I think it’s important for art to be supported and pushed and made visible. There are so many ways to do it, but I think it’s important for art to be featured and made available for the culture.

Vaughn offered some advice to young artists who were hoping to pursue art through higher education.

“Be determined, don’t give up on it,” he said. “If you’re excited about it, if it’s your inspiration, then stay with it. There are so many ways you can find employment within the art world, so you can have the time to do your art work and have the means to continue working. I think studying in school is a good way to get a foothold, to get a response to your work, some appreciation and help with your work. It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about selling it so much, but a place where you can work with other artists and the professors to find your means of expression.”

Vaughn values his time at the University of Dallas.

“I think it was a valuable experience, and I’ll always revere it,” Vaughn said. “I think this was where I got the first really professional support for my work. The community here was so supportive and strong. Dallas at that time, 30 years ago, was growing, it was booming, and it’s continued to grow. I’m just very fortunate to be a part of it back then. It was fun to be here.”

The exhibit is open to the public in the Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery at the University of Texas and runs until April 29.