Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Brad Cushman has been gallery director and curator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock since 2000. He is also a studio artist and a previous Grand Award winner in the Arkansas Arts Center's "Delta Exhibition." He holds a master's degree in fine art from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, and taught art for 12 years at Oklahoma State University before coming to Arkansas. He is the creator of the "Picture This" segments on KUAR-FM, 89.1, in which he shares his considerable knowledge of art and art history, and is the host of UALR TV's "Inside Art" programs on exhibitions in the university gallery. He curated the Arkansas Arts Center's exhibition "Face to Face: Artists' Self-Portraits from the Collection of Jackye and Curtis Finch, Sr."
You do the "Picture This" segments on KUAR, and they are quite good. Do you have a favorite? Do you ever get feedback?
The segments on artcars. I had an artcar, a 1976 Delta 88 — it was transformed into The Big Peanutmobile with a mosaic of actual shell peanuts. After a few years of squirrels feeding on the car and weather rot, it was turned into The Tie Rod; then a rainbow of 1,600 men's neckties adorned the car.
I do get feedback. People I know tell me they hear me on the radio, and people I don't know will recognize my voice and say "What is your name?" "Are you on the radio?" I'm happy people are listening.
If you were doing a "Picture This" on your own work, what would you say?
UFO tattoos, professional wrestling, drag queens and 1970s televisions shows have inspired my work. My challenge to create artwork that negotiates the ambiguous spaces between popular culture, kitsch and fine art keeps me in the studio.
My paintings on canvas begin with an acrylic under-painting. With a series of oil glazes, I enrich the imagery. I was probably a burlesque dancer, vaudeville performer or sideshow barker in one or more of my previous lives, but today I am just having fun making uncomfortable art in uncomfortable shoes. If you hear anxious laughter in the gallery, then hopefully (good or bad) I have hit a nerve.
Is painting dead?
Only if you are a bad painter.
Why do you have that big Daumier print as your Facebook timeline photo?
After the last election, Daumier's lithograph "The Legislative Belly" seem to speak for itself.
Who is your favorite Arkansas artist? Who is your favorite artist, period?
I can't pick just one in either category. Today my Arkansas picks are Kathy Strause, Gary Cawood, Delita Martin, Thom Hall, David Scott Smith, David Clemons, Kensuke Yamada; tomorrow, others would make the list. Favorite, period: Andy Goldsworthy, Philip Guston and Hugo Crosthwaite.
If you could put on any exhibition you wanted at UALR, what would it be?
There are a number of artists out there making unusual kinetic sculpture — think about Jonathan Schipper's "Slow Room" in "State of the Art" [at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art]. I would like to bring that to UALR.
I also have daydreams about city-wide installations in empty buildings or artists doing elaborate projections off of the various bridges in town onto the Arkansas River (i.e. Jenny Holzer or Ann Hamilton).
What is your least favorite art, and if it is your least favorite, is it still art?
I love sculpture and crafted objects, but when the words "public sculpture" go together, the results are often less than adequate art.
If you could sit down with Alice Walton and talk to her about what you'd like to see in Crystal Bridges, or changes you'd make, how would that conversation go?
I would encourage Alice Walton to consider self-taught/folk art and contemporary craft/object makers for the CBMAA collection and exhibitions.
If you could sit down with the administration at UALR, what changes would you advise to improve the university's art education, if any?
Institutions for higher education have curriculum structures in place that are necessary to complete degrees. There are models out there that are not driven by grades — Cranbrook Academy of Art and Penland School of Crafts are two examples. They offer learning experiences for artists and creative types that do not involve grades. I wish universities as a whole would allow creative (art, music, theater, writing) departments more flexibility regarding program structures.
Who is the most fascinating person you know? What is it about him or her that fascinates you?
For 25 years one of my dearest friends was the Oklahoma writer Billie Letts. She wrote "Where the Heart Is." I met Billie first and with her friendship came her husband, Dennis Letts, an actor and educator with an amazing intellect. The whole family was/is a unique creative force with musicians and writers. I continue to marvel at the writings of Tracy Letts — the author of "Killer Joe," "Bug," "Man from Nebraska," and "August: Osage County." How lucky I was that the Letts family adopted me as one of their own.
What is your least intellectual pursuit?
Watching mindless TV (think "Housewives") or surfing the Internet with no direct purpose.
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