Vandorn Hinnant Career Narrative
“What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things.”
– Constantin Brancusi
This journey as artist began at a rather early age. I was drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil in my hands. The intentional effort to render a shareable image and to record an inner vision is the story of my life as an artist/educator.
From the beginning of my efforts to visually record inner visions that had been with me since my birth, I have consistently remained true to the essence of these visions.
During the first half of my career my aesthetic was informed by an identification with a mytho- poetic imaginary realm possibly of the same origin as Hilma af Klint’s. My earliest attempts to record these visions in paint were at the age of fourteen and without any coaching or instruction on how to successfully do so.
Across this expanse of decades, my continued efforts to out-picture images and forms indicative of, and expressive of the life essence that my ancestors were committed to out-picturing has been the central driving force in my practice.
I provide here a number of highlights from this journey.
My first solo exhibition was held in Greensboro NC, the city of my birth, at a well-respected photographer’s studio/gallery; Heroy’s Photography in 1974 during my 21st year of living. This experience provided me with an incentive to explore the possibility of living as a visual artist.
Six years later, two of my works were curated into a group exhibition at the NC Museum of Art. The guest curator, Eva Hamlin Miller named the exhibition “Afro-American Artists, NC, USA”. Both works in the exhibition were purchased by local collectors.
My first meeting with Dr David Driskell was the same year, 1980. He was exhibiting at NC State University. During the reception, our conversation turned to graduate studies and he invited me to come to Maryland and study with him. I had different plans and thanked him graciously for the invitation. That was the beginning of a long association and dialogue that continued up to his death. For me, this association was both nurturing and educative. The instruction continues.
The first half of my career was spent creating two-dimensional works that are conveniently labeled abstractions. This category has continued to be problematic for me since the source of my imagery originates at an energetic level that is generally witnessed through a faculty of awareness identified with ancient mystical traditions. Sharing these works via gallery settings and through the efforts of art dealers was of paramount importance and remained so for three decades.
“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual – become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.”
The mid-to-late nineteen eighties were filled with experiments; exhibiting at universities (Duke University’s Institute for the Arts, 1988) and other comparable venues. Many of these opportunities were attended with a gallery talk where I would articulate how my imagery was deeply connected to our collective history of an identification with the mytho-poetic sphere of consciousness our ancestors lived in.
The early-to-mid nineteen nineties were rich with experiences that grounded me in a belief that my efforts were not in vain. From one solo exhibition to another; Green Hill Center for NC Art (1990), Hammonds House Galleries in Atlanta GA (1993), and more universities, each exhibition was attended by a gallery talk. This was feeling rather encouraging. There were artist residencies; Penland School of Crafts (1994), The Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences (1994), Brandywine Workshop (1994), and a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship (1993), each providing incentive for me to continue. In addition, I was awarded a National Arts Education Association COMC: Multiethnic Faculty Fellowship in Art Education. This grant assisted me in further development of a hands-on workshop teaching strategy I had begun to employ in educational workshops I was delivering to adult and youth learners.
In 1996, during a conversation with Sam Gilliam, he strongly encouraged me to put aside my efforts with 2D imagery and to pursue sculpture full time. He could see the necessity for me to give my all to these forms he was viewing.
In the latter half of that decade there was a defining residency, 1999, at Project Row Houses in Houston TX where my installation “Pattern: Reflection of Universal Order” was complemented by several guided group tours and hands-on educational workshops for local community youth. This added fuel to the idea that these exhibitions/installations could very well be key to educating the public on connections between ancient knowledge and modern scientific and intellectual concerns. This installation opportunity gave me a sense of what it might feel like to be successful as a visual artist/educator. Several commissions during this period added to a sense of forward momentum.
During this time, my work was morphing into a more structured geometry where each form or body in the compositions were expressive of a quality of consciousness representing an aspect of individuation. Text began to appear in the work reflecting my long history of writing out my thoughts on life through poems. These works were less successful being placed in collections via art dealers and galleries and some of these landed in my private collection.
“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.”
From ‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri (1960)
The tenacity of my spirit has been the driving force behind my continued efforts to maintain a sense of certainty and forward movement in the intellectual climate of today. There is an inner force of will which remains present in each action. Some of the early twentieth century visionaries; Constantin Brancusi, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Hilma af Klint, to name a few, remain sources of inspiration here. History does repeat itself in some ways and the mytho-poetic is the true heartbeat in the consciousness of humankind. I remember when I first discovered the mytho-poetic works of Hale Woodruff, Wilfredo Lam, and Norman Lewis. I was beyond ecstatic to learn that these artists were speaking a very similar visual language as myself and it was then that an extra dimension of inspiration was ignited within me.
“Life is a farce if a person does not serve truth.” Hilma af Klint
The past twenty years have resulted in a gradual migration from working primarily two dimensionally to a focus on translating these two-dimensional geometries into three dimensional forms. With this migration to sculpture came ideas about how these forms carry or embody energetic signatures and the possible effect these geometries could have upon human consciousness in general and living matter in particular. These ideas are rooted in ancient knowledge that is slowly coming to light in and through the new physics emerging in the world. This very fact serves in my reasons for persevering against the odds.
“Paint the flying spirit of the bird rather than its feathers.” Robert Henri
With several university solo exhibitions beginning in 2014; Diggs Gallery at WSSU, The NCCU Museum of Art in Durham NC, Rosenthal Gallery at UNCFSU in Fayetteville NC, I have succeeded in introducing a synthesis of my 2D and 3D work illustrating the connection between the two. The intent to elevate and to illuminate thinking on how geometry is found at both the microscopic and macrocosmic levels of life continues to be the subject matter presented in wall text and attending lectures and workshops in these venues. One memorable related workshop I conducted was at the Design Science Day at Re-Viewing Black Mountain College #4, An International Conference: Looking Forward at Buckminter Fuller’s Legacy, September 28-30, 2012, UNC -Asheville, NC. The experience proved to be edifying for each participant and I later learned the materials shared were given further distribution by attendees. As an artist/educator, rewards such as this serve as fuel for this walk.
During this past decade, I have continued to show 2D works directly related to my sculptural aesthetic which has steadily been evolving into a series of totemic forms reminiscent of, and possibly inspired in part, by Constantin Brancusi’s THE ENDLESS COLUMN (1938).
Several public art commissions have assisted in furthering my vision.
My first significant commission, “Together We Rise” (Twin Columns), was in 2014. The client, the City of Winston-Salem NC, awarded me the commission based on how directly my proposal spoke to the intent to commemorate and celebrate the 1913 official merger of the two separate cities. This title for the twin columns was inspired by one of Dr Maya Angelou’s famous poems.
In 2017 Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville NC, commissioned: “A Monument to Leadership at FSU”, a 21’ x 10’ x 3.5’ stainless steel totemic column commemorating the 150th anniversary of the school and celebrating the fourteen leaders of the school since its beginning. This process of bringing forth a best possible solution was an educative experience for myself and for the school’s administration. The presentation of each iteration of a model became a classroom event. Everyone deepened and grew via the relevant information shared about the creative, reasoning, and developmental processes involved in an effort to meet the client half way. No value can be placed on such interactions and the ripple effects may never be known.
In 2019, Action Greensboro of Greensboro NC commissioned me to create work for their Greenway Project. “A Monument to Dignity and Respect”. These twin forms were created and installed January 2019 on the greenway. The twin monuments were conceived as a tribute to pioneers in the Civil Rights Movement in America, and as a furthering of the global cause for human rights. This work inspired the Greenway committee to add another work on the greenway that will speak to the plight of Africans brought to the Americas via the slave trade. This second commission has been awarded to my friend Radcliff Bailey.
These commissions add encouragement to my efforts to bring forth work inspired by my studies of the ubiquitous nature of the Golden Ratio throughout nature and manifesting in practically all of the sacred architecture we know of including the many pyramids scattered across the earth.
“The atom has found that Patience and Forbearance are absolute conditions for progress.”
– the title of a composition by Hilma af Klint where she references the atom as herself.
In the recent solo exhibition, “The HIDDEN MATHEMATICS: Images by Vandorn Hinnant – A surprising connection between math and science”, New York Hall of Science, Corona Park NY, 2 June – 4 November 2018, I offered the public another glimpse into the dynamic interplay between geometry, number, and universal order.
An exhibition is being planned at my Alma Mater, NC A&T State University, Greensboro NC in the University Galleries for the beginning of the 2021 Fall semester. We envision this exhibition to be the next installment of “Vandorn Hinnant: Explorer of Form and the Beauty of Number” (working title) with an expansion on this theme via new sculptural works in my geometric totemic sculpture series. There will be an emphasis placed on how the two-dimensional and three-dimensional works are interdependent and engender a resonant dialogue between the two. We have an opportunity to utilize the exhibition as a laboratory of discovery for the students and faculty making possible an edifying conversation about the age-old notion of form follows function.