Alumnus painting sparks collection celebrating diversity at Baylor

Dr. Heidi Hornik, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History, starts a collection of student paintings to display Baylor’s artistic diversity. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

It only takes a flame to start a fire. For Dr. Heidi Hornik, chair of the department of art and art history, it only takes a painting to start a collection. Hanging on the wall of her office in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center is the painting that started it all.

John Singletary, a 2020 alumnus, painted a single figure bathed in red light and surrounded by a harsh, heavy-stroked darkness as if it were consuming him. In comparison to this thinly rendered background, the man portrayed on the canvas is filled with life, evident through his glowing skin and intense stare. Singletary’s former painting instructor, professor Winter Rusiloski, said this manner of contrasting simplicity with detail is what catches the eye of the viewer.

“I think his work has this really nice combination of power and delicateness, which really speaks to the subject that he’s addressing,” Rusiloski said. “His work centers on the proximity of death and Blackness and the emotion that accompanies that idea. He often contemplates biblical narratives through the lens of his personal identity in both blackness and spirituality.”

Rusiloski said Singletary was artistically motivated by his own experiences with racism as a person of color. Singletary was raised in an interracial household and his father was a civil rights activist. Rusikoski said she appreciates the diversity of students such as Singletary, who bring enlightening conversations to the table, such as what it means to be Black in America. She said Singletary would discuss perspectives on police brutality and the difficulties of walking through a white neighborhood as a Black man.

These “human, spiritual concepts through the lens of a Black man” have often been unrepresented, Rusiloski said.

During his time at Baylor, Singletary received a Pollock-Krasner Grant for his work and an Elizabeth Greenshields Grant after graduation. Since graduating, his works have been displayed in various exhibitions, namely at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. Singletary and his painting “Devil’s Pie” have also appeared on the cover of “Time: the Next Generation Leaders” with writer and collector Akwaeke Emezi.

Though Singletary no longer paints and creates at Baylor, his work remains present through Hornik’s collection. She said she decided to create a collection of art works from recent alumni like Singletary using donations called “excellence funds,” which are used to meet the needs of the department.

Hornik has dubbed the group of paintings and sculpting works by Singletary and other graduates, “The Chair’s Excellence Alumni Collection.” These alumni artists are all students of color.

“We’re very proud of our alumni and they reflect the diversity of the department,” Hornik said.

Though only a few works make up the collection now, Hornik said these are just the beginning of a growing group.

Hornik is not alone in working toward celebrating diversity in the arts at Baylor. The entire art department continues to seek ways to further celebrate Black artists and Black History Month through the College of Arts and Sciences’ implementation of a diversity, equity and inclusion committee, Hornik said.

“Attention needs to be spent on diverse cultures, people of color, and so Black History Month is a wonderful time to further talk, discuss and think about how we can all be better at that,” Hornik said.