In the years following graduate school, Brian Painter found himself living a nomadic lifestyle, moving from university town to university town. He felt like he was constantly packing and unpacking, moving from Tucson to Madison, Wisconsin, before coming to Northern Arizona University.
“The university life is a transient life,” he said. “You want to set down roots, but you can’t really. You have to drag all your possessions around.”
That was all in his head as he began work. Painter is a professor of sculpture in the College of Arts & Letters who created the piece “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.”
In his sculpture, which is now part of the permanent collection at the NAU Art Museum, a pug sits atop roots stretching downward. The cast-bronze canine is hauling a cart full of belongings.
If the James Joyceian title didn’t give it away, the dog represents Painter—and every college student or professor who’s lived the transient university life, holding onto their little treasures as they move from place to place in their lives.
Painter’s pug is one of many works of art that are part of “Then and Now: The Permanent Collection at NAU Art Museum,” which will be on display May 25 through July 8. The collection offers an exceptional range of media, themes and expressive forms in works of art dating from the middle of the 20th century to today. The artwork has been collected for decades, most recently by museum director George Speer.
The exhibition features original artwork by Diego Rivera, R.C. Gorman and other well-known “Then” artists, including Francisco Zuñiga, William Zorach, Philip Curtis and John Wade Hampton. Notable “Now” artists include Sherrie Wolf, Adrian Hatfield, Mary Shindell and NAU art teachers Steve Schaeffer, Painter and David Williams.
“This exhibition’s rarely seen paintings, sculptures, ceramics and printmakings reflect a vital creative community and demonstrate the evolution of the museum as an institution,” Speer said. “The show mixes significant works of a more or less representational nature with examples of recent acquisitions that challenge our preconceptions about what certain media and themes ‘look like.’”
Opening the exhibition during the summer allowed for a wider audience to experience this unique collection, with people from throughout the country and even the world coming through Flagstaff on their vacations.
The NAU Art Museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 620 S. Knoles Drive on NAU’s Flagstaff campus.