Colleen Rockey graduated from Western Michigan University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting. That year the city of Kalamazoo selected her to paint a mural downtown. The mural had faded and was peeling after years in the sun and elements. Colleen, now retired, took it upon herself to restore it. The restoration project has been a nostalgic and sentimental trip for Colleen as she remembers where she was in her life and as a painter 44 years ago.
What did you study at WMU and what year did you graduate?
entered WMU as a freshman in 1970 and in 1974 received a BFA degree with a concentration in painting. I also studied drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics. Ninety of my 120 credits for BFA graduation were in fine art studio classes or art history. At the time I received this degree, the next logical step would have been graduate school for an MFA. Instead, life happened. I started working and never did make it to graduate school. I learned the graphic design trade and made my living in that field. But I always painted. I entered shows whenever I could, joined fine art groups, discussed painting with other artists, and took life-drawing classes whenever possible. However, it was only when I retired from full-time work that I could I devoted myself to painting and the creation of artwork. So that is what I do now.
What was your favorite class at WMU? How did it shape your career and contribute to your successes?
I loved my art school at WMU and I loved student life. I loved all my college classes and learned so much from every single class that I simply cannot claim that any one class was my favorite or that any one classed shaped my career or successes. Whether it was geology or history of Islam, I appreciated those classes and really liked them. The conglomerate of my college experience prepared me for the rest of my life.
What have you been doing since graduation? How has your career changed over time?
What is next for you?
I retired in 2014. Since that time, I have devoted myself to painting. I was accepted into a cooperative gallery in Grand Haven and exhibit my work there. I enter as many art shows as I can. I am also involved in an art collective that exhibits pop-up shows in unusual venues. If this is any measure of success, I have sold eleven paintings thus far in 2018. But I would continue to paint even if I sold none.
Why did you enter this image in the competition for an outdoor mural for this wall?
Frankly, I can’t remember much of my decision-making process. The image is an example of the kind of painting I was doing at the time. I was very interested in exploring color juxtaposition and compositional balance. I imagine that I thought the artwork to be suitable and doable for outdoor public art. I can tell you that there were four iterations. The first was a 9”x12” oil crayon study and that became a 48”x48” oil painting. After deciding that this was the image I would submit to the competition, I then recreated an acrylic 26”x18” version (scaled to the 26’x18’ outdoor wall) as my submitted entry. After winning the award and stipend for the wall, the fourth version was the painted wall itself.
Can you describe a bit about your process for restoring the mural and how this came about?
WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE TO CURRENT STUDENTS?
You can do anything you want to do. Don’t wait for opportunity; make opportunities for yourself. Sometimes you must be patient but if you work hard and seek continuous improvement, opportunity will come to you.
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