Masters & Students

Christopher Troutman stands between works by his mentor Yu Ji, left, and himself. ISSUE photo by Andy Coughlan

Dishman Art Museum exhibit explores ‘Art of the Teacher’

When Christopher Troutman decided to go to graduate school after teaching in Japan, there was only one choice — Long Beach State in California — to work with Yu Ji and Domenic Cretara.

The relationship he built with Ji led to the exhibition, “The Art of the Teacher,” on display at the Dishman Art Museum through Nov. 12, which also includes Nicole Duet, who was mentored by Cretara.

Ji and Cretara were already influencing Troutman before he attended Long Beach, so the chance to study with them was exciting.

“When I first met Yu Ji, he said, ‘Do you want to study with me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want to study with you.’ He said, ‘Look, most students don’t want to put in the time. If you don’t want to put in the time, don’t waste my time.’ I was like, ‘No, I came from halfway across the planet. I am here to work. Give me chance.’ He said, ‘OK, let’s see how it goes.’ It was interesting,” Troutman, Lamar University assistant professor of art, said.

When the idea for the show came up, Troutman suggested bringing in Duet, currently an assistant professor of drawing and art at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana, whose painting mentor was Cretara.

Both artists’ work draws on a personal narrative and feature family scenes. Troutman said Cretara is like an old master.

“His paintings are in textbooks,” Troutman said. “He’s pretty serious, but he can joke around a bit.”

“Tug” by Nicole Duet

Duet earned a bachelor of fine arts in theater, and her paintings have the quality of storytelling as a result.

“I think I am drawn to her photography because of the weird distortions and blurs,” Troutman said.

The four artists, despite differing styles, share a common theme.

“Everybody here has some sort of connection between the human figure and some sort of story,” Troutman said.

Troutman graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from Bradley University before moving with his wife to Japan for three years where the pair taught English. Troutman was painting and entering competitions where he earned a couple of prizes.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I’m doing pretty good, I’m going to really knock their socks off next year’ — and their socks were still fully on,” Troutman said. “I thought, ‘OK, I have got to go back to school.’ I had tried really hard, or I thought I’d tried really hard, but I hadn’t tried smart.”

Troutman said he had his sights set on Long Beach specifically because of Ji and Cretara, but for the past 10 years he has been mainly drawing, so that’s what led to Ji’s drawings as his influence. Troutman said Ji’s influence is more than simply drawing the human figure, a common theme in their work.

“It’s engaging with the environment somehow, interpreting that through your work,” he said. “Even now, in the summer I had a research fellowship to do paintings exploring the interest between Beaumont and living in Miyakonojo, Japan. I think that idea sticks with me. Somehow engaging with real stuff and putting that out there.”

Troutman said he is a fan of graphic novels, and his pieces on display in the Dishman have the feel of the story, with multiple images of people in their environment. There are no words, but the viewer feels compelled to try to decipher the narrative and the images demand time and study.

“Accusation” by Domenic Cretara

Cretara’s pieces are colorful and vibrant, depicting familial scenes, yet they also echo compositions from Renaissance religious paintings.

Cretara’s work has a theatrical flair. Troutman said he talked to Cretara about a piece and said it reminded him of “Twin Peaks.” Cretara scoffed and started referencing Shakespeare.

Troutman’s time studying with his mentors led him to Lamar.

“If I hadn’t been to Long Beach I wouldn’t have had the career I had,” he said.

The Dishman Art Museum is located at 1030 E. Lavaca on the Lamar University campus in Beaumont.

Also on display in the upstairs gallery is “The Truth of In­­k” by Liu Wei, visiting artist/scholar from Henan Polytechnic University in China. A free talk and demonstration by the artist is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 10.

Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor