Art: Interview with Greg Constantine


(system) #1

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

Greg Constantine is an emeritus research professor and artist in residence at Andrews University, where he taught art for forty-two years. He has exhibited his art across the U.S. and in Europe, and his art has previously appeared on the cover of Spectrum. Born in Ontario, Canada, Constantine received his Bachelor of Arts from Andrews University in 1960 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Michigan State University in 1968.

Through his career, Constantine has explored unusual techniques and perspectives. His early work includes a series of paintings made by "squeezing paint tubes in horizontal lines directly on the canvas to create large television images" and what he calls "slices of art," or paintings that combine famous artworks." Constantine has also experimented with juxtaposing or integrating faces and buildings, trios of faces in profile, and more recently, "tilted images" and "stretched images," which toy with the perspective in famous paintings.

"King Tut Trio," © Greg Constantine, acrylic on canvas and wood, 34" x 48" x5"

I caught up with the artist recently (via email) to ask him about his creations:

SF-J: How would you describe your artwork? What are you exploring in your artwork?

Constantine: My artwork has, for the last 32 years, involved transforming pre-existing images taken from art history—not just changing them, but creating something else. This is not an entirely new idea. Artists from Rembrandt to Picasso and on have incorporated other artists' visual images into their own work.

I may have gone a step further in making art about the artists themselves in my artist licenses of 1981 and my three books of drawings depicting three well-known artists visiting three American cities (Vincent van Gogh Visits New York, Leonardo Visits Los Angeles, Picasso Visits Chicago). Although I am a painter of acrylics, these four concepts were rendered in other mediums (oil ink or acrylic on styrene, and the drawings were conte crayon on paper.

I have pretty much pursued novel ideas, as they present themselves, in an impulsive way--although I cannot allow too many other ideas to intrude while I am attempting to explore and realize a concept to its logical conclusion. I've always seemed to have many more ideas than time to pursue them.

SF-J: What are your influences, artistic and otherwise?

Constantine: Much of my output has started with well-known masterpieces and their attendant museum quality frames. I suppose because I have taught art history and also been involved with the contemporary art scene, my life can be defined by this as well as teaching studio art for 43 years. I am also an avid golfer and have a patent on an object that I created as well as about a dozen paintings concerning the history of golf.

SF-J: You’ve taught art for many years and have even been called an “evangelist for art.” As a professor, what do you hope to convey to your students?

Constantine: I retired from teaching in May [2006], but not from painting! I may be found in my studio 5 days a week and I really feel great that I don't have to prepare for classes any more. I never thought that was a burden, but this is even better. I hope I have been an influence to my students to be original (in spite of my own art seeming to borrow from the masters), and also to have integrity and being honest to oneself with healthy self-criticism, and perhaps most importantly, to pursue ideas and look for “connections” amongst existing concepts.

SF-J: During your years as art professor, how did you divide/balance your time between teaching and creating art?

Constantine: Many times I was asked, “Where do you find time to make all this stuff?” Well, I couldn't FIND the time. I had to MAKE time! That entails saying no to some things that want to intrude. Even so, I didn't skip committees either.

SF-J: What kind of physical space do you create in, and what is your creative process like?

Constantine: Andrews University has been good to me—I retired as an emeritus research professor and artist in residence—and I have been provided with a wonderful studio and office. I have a difficult time explaining my creative process. I suppose I’m not aware of the non-self conscious methodology, which has been my modus operandi.

SF-J: How would you describe the state of visual art in Adventism, in Christianity?

Constantine: I cannot pretend to be informed about the state of visual art in Adventism. I know I had to just go out there (into the art world) and try to see if my work “cut it.” I decided to start at the top (New York), and if that didn't work out, I'd try Plan B. I don't know what Plan B would have been, because I had immediate acceptance to Plan A. I've had support within the church as well, both from the institution and the membership interested in my art.

SF-J: Do you believe art can or ought to bring about social change?

Constantine: My art has never been about social issues.

SF-J: Do you consider yourself a Christian artist?

Constantine: I consider myself an artist who happens to be an Adventist Christian (or the other way around). I have created works, which could be considered to have overt spiritual implications (e.g., Jesus of New York—another book of drawings that I can't seem to get published).

SF-J: What are you currently working on? Any plans to publish more books?

Constantine: I am currently working on a series of paintings which involve violating the traditional “picture plane.” You'll have to refer to my website to get an idea of these "tilted paintings.” I still show my work regularly in New York at OK Harris Works of Art. I've been with them since 1983. I'm also putting together a book of my artist licenses, which I hope gets published. I've also submitted a book idea about the origins of golf (Scottish shepherds and all that).

"Vincent Paints Coney Island on a Sunday Afternoon," © Greg Constantine, 44 " x 65"

View Greg Constantine's websites: www.gconstantine.com and www.shepherdstick.com

Is there an artist you'd like to see interviewed on this blog? Leave us a comment and let us know.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4275