UTC graduates Dennis Famble and Reggie Washington returned to campus last week to celebrate Black History Month with works of art that glistened under blacklights and reflected rainbows off glass.
The artists explained how they worked and took audience questions Friday night in the Tennessee Room of the University Center, turning off the lights to reveal aspects of their pieces.
“I never knew you could do all that,” Lance I. Jackson, Atlanta junior, said. “You could go get glass and rocks and all that to make a painting, I had no idea.”
Famble, class of 1985, used acrylic and neon and glow-in-the-dark paints for his fifteen portraits mostly inspired by nature.
Famble said, “I always kind of look for the next level. How can I make this thing jump out at you? How can I make it pop?” Many of his animal subjects were exotic, ranging from whales, flamingos, tigers to tree frogs.
“You could probably categorize a lot of my paintings as pop art,” he said. Under the blacklights he brought with him, the lines and surfaces of the paintings even changed color. “It’s multifaceted. It’s like three paintings in one.”
Washington, class of 2010, displayed a large painted sculpture of Africa as well as two canvases, all three with his signature crushed glass effect. He created a portrait of Terrell Owens just for the UTC show, a three-foot photo of Owens making a catch collaged with white glass, black graffiti and other tiny details.
Washington said, “I try to get it to show that everything means something. If you look at my art… there are a lot of hidden objects.”
Famble, originally from Savannah, Georgia, was recruited to UTC to play football and run track.
He said “most everybody was shocked” when he showed them his art. “But it’s just another side of me.”
Famble thought about architecture before choosing graphic design, and said UTC laid the groundwork for his printing career with a real-world education. He painted on the side until the pandemic gave him more free time to concentrate on his artwork. He also credited Atlanta art communities—MODA and Creative Mornings— with connecting him to virtual field trips and other artists during the pandemic.
Famble brought his company, Sirius Graphics and Gallery (http://www.siriusgngallery.com), online in 2020 with two friends who also paint and another who paints and sculpts.
Some of his works had personal connections.
“The divine nine… I started off with the sororities first,” Famble said, referring to the nine Black Greek organizations. Five of the paintings at the showcase included colors and symbols of Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Zeta Phi Beta. Famble’s wife Joyce is a Delta, and he is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.
Washington, originally from Memphis, grew up in a creative household, yet said he graduated UTC with no art experience. He earned a degree in marketing and business administration but also described himself as a partier. He said one marketing project temporarily brought him back to his love for art.
When he was transferred to a small town and had a lot of time on his hands, a friend told Washington about an online sale of art materials. He then stumbled upon a YouTube video, which featured an artist crushing glass while looking for a way to add texture. Since that video, he hasn’t looked back.
Washington said, “I wanted to create pieces that I wanted. Instead of going to buy something I would just make it myself… I love seeing the possibilities.”
Many of his subjects are athletes, and he launched a successful Instagram campaign in 2020 to present Penny Hardaway with a tribute portrait. Washington also gained notice after he posted a Kobe Bryant piece, days before Bryant’s death. The self-taught Washington has since become a full-time artist (http://www.byrwayne.com) and mentioned Jean-Michel Basquiat, calling him “the Holy Grail of artists.”
Famble would like to paint full time, however, his niece “begged” him to come back to Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, where he teaches art. He said the fraternities are next, and possibly some UTC-inspired pieces.
His advice to aspiring artists?
Famble said, “If you really love painting, try to stay in the industry… If you love it, don’t let anything stop you.”
Washington has had shows in Memphis, Dallas, and Nashville, where he lives. He said his next project is a series of portraits for his nonprofit called “Little Homies.” Washington plans to sell these smaller, colorful close-ups, some based on real people, as non-fungible tokens. The proceeds will provide art supplies and resources to low-income schools.
Washington said, “I’ve only been doing it for three years. It just took on a life of its own.”
Sirius Graphics and Gallery: http://www.siriusgngallery.com.
By R. Wayne: http://www.byrwayne.com.