UAA painting professor provokes thought with exhibition in Anchorage Museum

“When I first walked in, the thing that struck me was the level of skill that I saw in the paintings. They are incredibly well done regarding technique and the scale was impressive,” Steve Godfrey, chair of the department of art, said. “The paintings are collages of images and the images are very striking and provocative. That in combination with the scale and skill ended up being a pretty impressive experience.”

Photo credit: Christian Cielo
Photo credit: Christian Cielo

Godfrey was one of the many attendees at the opening reception of UAA assistant professor of painting Thomas Chung’s exhibition “Everything is Sacred” on Sept. 28. The exhibition features a variety of mural-sized paintings depicting a celebration of different cultures while tying in some of their less attractive side effects, including racism and bigotry.

“The same words, if you yell them, mean something completely different if you whisper them,” Chung said. “These messages are being screamed and yelled, and they have to be.”

Chung worked on the paintings for “Everything is Sacred” for over two years, tying in the community, his family’s ancestry, his own experiences and multiculturalism. He surprised even himself with the end result.

“My life is an example of art being more than just a decorative thing on a wall,” he said. “Art is not innocuous, art is not benign. It can communicate, it can change things and it has. It always has and it always will.”

Godfrey believes that students can learn a lot from Chung’s paintings.

“I think often times when people think about paintings, they have certain images in their mind of what it should be, and Tom [Chung]’s work moves beyond the stereotypical image of a painting,” Godfrey said. “I think this can teach students how to have some guts… and have an opinion and a voice about something that is important to them beyond just a landscape or portrait.”

Brooke Vencill and Thomas Chung. Photo credit: Christian Cielo
Anchorage Museum Chief Curator, Francesca Du Brock, and Thomas Chung. Photo credit: Christian Cielo
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Brooke Vencill, a bachelor of fines arts pre-major in graphic design illustration with a secondary in painting, was also in attendance of the exhibition’s opening ceremony. Vencill was in awe of the detail and sheer size of Chung’s paintings in his exhibition.

“He has an unapologetic way of using his mediums. He is a painter first and foremost, but he has done everything you can think of, drawing, sculpture, performative art, and you can see all of these things come through in his pieces,” she said. “He has a very elegant way of putting them together without it looking chaotic. It was just very grandiose.”

Chung has taught at UAA for five years, and hopes to stay there for the rest of his life, helping his students in the ways that his art teachers helped him growing up.

“[My ceramics teacher] seeing something special in me made me think that maybe there was something special about what I was doing, so I just kept doing it,” Chung said. “It’s exciting because now, being a professor at UAA, I find myself in the same position that my teachers were in with me and it’s really meaningful to me because I don’t think anyone affected my life as much as those art teachers did.”

Vencill is currently taking her third class with Chung, and credits him for inspiring her to unexpectedly get into painting and continuing to pursue it.

“We have excellent painting professors here [at UAA], but I won’t take a class with anyone else,” she said. “He is such a humble artist…. and just a really great person. You can see it in everything that he does, the way he talks, the way he is. He’s the kind of guy you want to be around.”

“Everything is Sacred” is on display in the Anchorage Museum until Jan. 20, 2019. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday, and 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets for the museum are $18 for adults, $15 for Alaskan residents, $12 for seniors, students and military personnel, $9 for children age 3-12, and free for members and children under the age of 2.