UAB Alumni Thrive in Creative Careers

By Glenny Brock

UAB alumnus David Sandlin, who has built a successful career as an artist in New York (his painting "Begin" is shown above), is returning to Birmingham for the UAB Alumni Open Exhibition at the Gallery at UAB.

The UAB Alumni Open Exhibition, which opened earlier this month and runs through November 6, is part class reunion, part show-and-tell. The event has filled the newly renamed Gallery at UAB (formerly the Visual Arts Gallery) with paintings, drawings, photographs, mixed-media assemblages, and sculpture from about two dozen graduates of the bachelor of arts and bachelor of fine arts degree programs at UAB. But this inaugural gathering is as much a showcase of working artists as works of art.

Some of the alumni showing their work only make art as an avocation now, while others have forged careers as full-time artists. Yet all have learned that being an artist can mean making work and making it work—in part by applying lessons learned in the classroom in the real world.

The Power of Creative Thinking

Daisy Winfrey
(click image above to see larger version)

“I always knew that if I personally wanted to make it as a ‘professional artist,’ I would need a supplementary income,” says Daisy Winfrey, a 2007 UAB graduate. “Ideally, this would be a job that existed in the realm of the art world, but I also knew it was possible it would be a job that I hated.”

As it turns out, Winfrey found a job that she loves. After completing her B.A., Winfrey became art director of Studio By The Tracks, a nonprofit organization in Irondale that provides free art classes to children and adults with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or mental illness.

“I coordinate all the curricula and supplies for the adults and children who attend our art classes,” Winfrey explains. “It helps to be creative and it helps to be a problem-solver. I’d say that having an art degree facilitates this kind of flexibility and quick thinking.”

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Making It Memorable

Dan Bynum
Dan Bynum
(click image above to see larger version)

Dan Bynum, who graduated from UAB in 2000, says an invaluable part of his art education was learning how to submit work to juried shows, regional festivals, and galleries. Birmingham had a burgeoning gallery scene by the time Bynum finished his degree; at Bare Hands, a nonprofit art gallery with a special emphasis on contemporary Alabama artists, Bynum found a sort of artistic headquarters for his paintings, drawings, and mixed-media collages. His work has a strong narrative element and he strives to include subtle humor. “Humor can lower defenses, thus opening the mind and making the message memorable,” Bynum says in his artist’s statement.

The combination of the content and his knowledge of marketing his work has made Bynum one of the most prolific graduates of a UAB arts program. In addition to Bare Hands Gallery, he is represented by TAG Art Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee, and has shown at Space 301 in Mobile and the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. In addition to this year’s Alumni Open, he has participated as an alumnus in numerous shows in the Gallery at UAB.

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Coming Back, Giving Back

David Sandlin

For David Sandlin, the Alumni Open marks a kind of homecoming. Originally from Northern Ireland, Sandlin was one of only a dozen art majors when he started at UAB in 1975. “I tried everything—painting, drawing, printmaking,” he says. “I wasn’t really ready for painting yet, but printmaking was a good fit.”

Sandlin became a student of John Dillon, who taught printmaking in the UAB art department from 1972 to 1997 (and for whom a departmental scholarship is named). “John Dillon was really the high point of my experience at UAB,” Sandlin says. Along with Dillon and three other students—Dennis Harper, Alan Jackson, and Susan Roark—Sandlin started an art club called Ruckus. “We were the punk scene of the department,” he says. “It was all about pushing each other’s work.”

Check It Out

The UAB Alumni Open exhibition runs through November 6 at the Gallery at UAB, 950 13th Street South. Admission to the gallery is free. Call (205) 934-0815 for more information.

As a student, Sandlin visited New York several times. As graduation approached, he was more focused on moving to the city than on his future career as an artist. But everything changed when he submitted a piece to an invitational at the Birmingham Museum of Art and won first prize. Conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim was the judge of the contest; in addition to $500 in prize money, the recognition buoyed Sandlin. “It was sort of a validation of a lifestyle, an indication that making art was a real possibility,” he remembers.

Sandlin graduated in 1979, moved to New York in 1980, and has now been working full-time as an artist for nearly 30 years. He will return to Birmingham for the Alumni Open and conduct a printmaking workshop with UAB students.

Sandlin considers teaching a small but vital part of his career as a working artist. He explains that in printmaking in particular, “one of the skills you learn is how to work in close proximity to other artists.” By teaching this skill where he first learned it, Sandlin is coming full circle, contributing to an atmosphere in the art department that is as collaborative as it is competitive.

“I always tell my students that it’s as much your peers who influence you as your professors,” Sandlin says.


More Information

Department of Art and Art History