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Van Hinnant is watching for the arrival of the mail.

``They told me I should get the check today for a work in an Atlanta show,' explains the Greensboro artist, who has been working at his career full time for the past nine months.Most artists do their art when they can, keeping bills paid by teaching, office work or other means. Hinnant, 36, quit his remodeling business on the strength of two commissions.

One is for a sculpture in a new Charlotte restaurant. The other is for one of two large murals in Williams Cafeteria at N.C. A&T State University.

Eight and a half feet high and 19 feet wide, Hinnant's mural took about six months to complete. It shows campus growth in the '70s and '80s and looks to the future. In it are famous graduates Jesse Jackson and the late astronaut Ron McNair, as well as new buildings, students and computers. A red disk represents Mars and forecasts A&T's science school's participation in NASA's mission to the red planet.

The mural will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Friday along with a companion piece by Eva Hamlin Miller, Hinnant's friend and a former A&T faculty member. Miller's mural shows the '50s and '60s and chronicles the school's part in the freedom movement.

That dedication is one of many displays and exhibitions with which Hinnant is involved. In February, he will have works in five shows, including the one in Atlanta. His ``Portal: 96214W' is on the poster for the United Arts Council's Black American Arts Festival. The work itself is on display in a show at Greensboro College's Irene Cullis Gallery.

Hinnant also will show pieces at the Urban Arts Black Artists Invitational at Sawtooth Center in Winston-Salem in February and March. He has a work in ``Collaborations,' a group show at CCB Galleries in the Durham Arts Center and one at the High Point Theatre Art Galleries.

A 1981 A&T arts graduate, Hinnant has made a reputation for himself, but he can't depend on occasional invitations to show if he is to make a living with his art. He's found that getting his abstract work before the public means he must also be his own secretary and promoter.

``I spend 75 percent of my time on this,' he says, gesturing at a pile of paperwork, some plastic sleeves containing slides of his works bound for a gallery, and the briefcase beside his chair.

He began doing that when he started working on a full-time basis as an artist. ``I got a bunch of letters written to galleries, stuffed in slides and put them in the mail box. I thought, 'I am now a full-time artist,' ' he recalls.

The letters brought answers and new galleries to handle his work. Less than three years ago, he started making connections outside the central part of North Carolina. Now he has them from coast to coast.

His work is clearly paying off. Often the check is in the mail.

The one from Atlanta was.

It's a purchase commission for winning second place with ``Awakenings' in the Atlanta Life Insurance Competition. ``Awakenings' was one of two pieces Hinnant did in a weekend, never expecting such a result.

His art is now commanding prices starting at around $350 for a small painting and going to $3,500 for a major piece, he says. Galleries from Alexandria, Va., to Los Angeles are handling his work.

All his works currently in shows is abstract, Hinnant says. While the pieces are not based on realism, they draw upon the real, natural world. ``Color harmonies are related to other harmonies in nature,' says Hinnant, who draws upon his memory of the natural world as he paints. In his work, that comes through as unconscious recollection of shades and colors.

When Hinnant uses geometric patterns and a variety of colors, he is looking for a means of touching viewers with a concept of beauty.

Abstractions may ``allow us an unusual look into the soul of nature and the universe,' says Hinnant, who is studying the concept of a sacred geometry. The ``golden proportion' Greeks discovered centuries ago figures prominently in it. The idea is that design elements are repeated in predictable and measurable ways in a shell or a leaf, for example. The concept links geometry, as well as the objects of nature, with the creativity of the cosmos.

Hinnant uses the idea in his abstractions. The elements of shape and color work together in them to create a ``total effect which cannot be measured' because it can affect viewers in different ways. If ``beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that beauty will differ for every pair of eyes seeing a work,' Hinnant says.

``This is how I see it with the open-ended nature of abstractions: We are free to begin and to end where we wish. All points are points of departure and again points of centering. We choose. This is the beauty of the expression.'

Hinnant's interest in geometric patterns has led him back to a long-standing interest in sculpture. He works in a variety of media.

``Just today I was over at A&T, getting ready to varnish the mural, and I saw bags of shredded paper. 'Is there any way I can get this material?' I asked, because it would be great for paper mache.'

Hinnant likes the idea of some of his sculpture being impermanent, ``just like I am,' but he has also worked in wood and canvas, ``which can be permanent or impermanent, depending on the care and interest you take in it.'

The piece he did for the Charlotte restaurant, for instance, gave him a chance to focus on form and light in the shapes he created. And although he has turned some of his attention to sculpture, he isn't through with the explorations of angle, line and curve on flat surfaces.

``Galleries like to have an idea of the kind of thing you do, and expect you to do it for a year or two before you switch to something else,' says Hinnant, who adds that the doesn't mind continuing a series of works he still finds exciting and stimulating.

He's also looking at additional graduate study, probably at the Unversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He wants to explore the ideas of ``sacred geometry' in Islamic art and other non-European cultures. A graduate degree also would prepare him to teach, should he decide to follow a more traditional pattern as an artist.

But as Hinnant ushers a visitor past the now-empty mailbox onto the porch, he smiles.

``I'd like to enjoy my new notoriety for a while, and maybe relax a little,' he says.

Then he turns back toward the pile of correspondence on the dining room table. Relaxing seems the farthest thing from his mind.

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