Story by KATE ARTHUR
Propped along one wall of Dustin Springer’s
narrow studio are three, nearly finished 7-by-3½-foot oil paintings that combine the human form with botanical structures against a black canvas. Male torsos emerge from the stem of flowers, but the human heads are replaced by a showy snapdragon, the fan of an iris and the throat of a white calla lily.
Springer ’12 uses various sources for his models, including himself, friends from school and composite images. The idea for the series started three years ago when he created a small painting of a calla lily with twigs for arms.
So what does he call the series? “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “That’s probably something I should work out before too long.”
Whatever he calls them, Springer can explain them. With careful strokes, he’s blended and balanced two symbols of beauty — nature and the human body — as an expression of harmony.
“People perceive the human form, themselves, as being separate from the things that surround them. I use the human form to show that there’s a closer link between us and other things in the world,” he says.
Thanks to his Eckley scholarship, Springer enjoyed access to a private studio in the Joyce Eichhorn Ames School of Art Building over the summer. Having this block of uninterrupted time allowed him to focus on his large-scale paintings and also taught him some important lessons about himself — one being that he’s “easily distracted,” he confides with a laugh.
The scholarship also gave Springer the time to try something he wasn’t sure he could do: switch from acrylic to slow-curing oil paint. “I told myself I wouldn’t switch because I wasn’t sure I had the confidence. I’ve learned I’m more capable than I thought.”
Through his IWU experience, Springer says he has gained confidence since his high school days, recalling a brutal critique in which a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago described his work as “sterile.”
“I thought I would change that but I haven’t,” he said. “Instead, I decided to embrace it.”
And that’s just fine with Miles Bair, director of Wesleyan’s School of Art. The professor describes his student’s work as ambitious, saying he’s shown exceptional artistic and creative promise.
“Dustin devotes long days to working in his studio space and was selected because of his strong artistic and academic performance. He has been consistently outstanding,” says Bair, whose own paintings have been exhibited widely, including at the Dubuque Art Museum, which is featuring a selection of 10 of his mosaic forest paintings this fall.
Bair added that he is proud to be associated with the Eckley gift and be among the first faculty to have the opportunity to further the education of exceptionally promising students.
Along with his professors, there’s someone else who encouraged Springer’s artistic development, someone who let him purloin a paint set from his older brother when they were preschoolers.
“My mother,” he said. “She will tell anyone who will listen that she made me take art classes. In high school, I didn’t think I had time to take any, and she said I needed to take an art class or I would be miserable. She was right.”
Springer’s paintings will be on display during this spring’s Senior Art Show but he knows where they’ll likely end up.
“My mom will probably want them, but I will be looking for commercial galleries to submit them to.”