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In the Studio: Flashing Lights and Fluorescent Skulls

Influenced by Pop Art and humor, Alton DuLaney and Gao Hang ensnare viewers with large-scale, dynamic work.

As we prepare for the 40th M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on April 6, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students! 

Big, bright and bold: the studios of University of Houston artists Alton DuLaney and Gao Hang are hard to miss.

A marquee sign lined with flashing bulbs shouts the word “art,” grabbing the attention of anyone passing by DuLaney’s immaculate window display in his third floor studio. The display reflects DuLaney’s keen eye for aesthetic presentation, demonstrated by his distinction as the world’s most famous giftwrap artist and experience as a professional window dresser. 

Hang’s studio is covered in neon paintings — bright orange and green images that buzz vibrantly, drawing a viewer’s eye from one corner to the next. One wall is covered with fluorescent skulls, another with a series of hyper-stylized bears. Classically trained in photorealistic painting in China, Hang’s paintings are a clear departure from his previous work, but the energy of this new direction radiates through the studio. 

Learn more about DuLaney and Hang in the Q&As below!

Alton DuLaney, M.F.A. Interdisciplinary Practice and Emerging Forms ’18 

Most, if not all, of the pieces on display in your studio incorporate the word “art.” Where did this idea come from, and why is it important for you to use it?
I approached this grad program with a very clear vision of what I wanted to do: I wanted to create a collection of art about Art, with a capital “A.” I use the word “art” to look at the ability of art to transform things. 

Are there other themes you explore in this body of work?
I examine things that are connected to ideas of power, pride and patriotism. I did a piece that featured a firearm, a very powerful object both symbolically and physically. Pride makes me think of luxury items and vanity, and I’ve done pieces in diamonds and gold, which I’ll be showing at the exhibition. I also got into this whole idea of winning, or school spirit, as pride, which inspired the mum series. Then, I started working on a red, white and blue series because a flag is basically power, pride and patriotism all rolled into one. 

How has being in the Interdisciplinary Practice and Emerging Forms (IPEF) program benefitted you?
As a conceptual artist, I do painting and found object work and performance art. I do everything that I want to, which is why I love the interdisciplinary program. It gives us the latitude to experiment.

I also did this amazing Marfa residency program with Abinadi Meza. After a semester in the class here, we all spent a week in Paris with our students from Beaux-arts Nantes, then went to Marfa, Texas for several weeks. It was the best class I’ve ever taken.

Gao Hang, M.F.A. Painting ’18

How have you grown as an artist during your graduate studies?
Even though I was a career artist before coming to UH, I moved here without any of my previous paintings and basically had to start over. But I think it’s a good thing because nobody knew me here, and I started fresh and really challenged myself. The first two semesters I just painted whatever I wanted — huge dinosaurs, installations, anything just trying to find my new direction. It was the perfect chance to experiment. 

What themes or ideas are you exploring with your new body of work?
I’m mimicking how my generation deals with found images. We search for things online, find a picture and repurpose it. But we also like to mess with it, to change the colors, write comments, zoom in on it. That’s what I’m doing with my paintings. I’m messing with the original image, zooming in, zooming out and adding text.

We also like to post photos of ourselves on social media all the time. We want to broadcast ourselves in order to survive, to prove we exist. So, to me, all of us are fluorescent. That’s why I use fluorescent paint. I’m trying to reference what’s happening online, but slowing it down to savor the process. 

Where do you look for inspiration?
Books. I don’t really use online sources to learn stuff. I go to the library and look up books on artists I like. Some of the artists I admire are Andy Warhol, Benjamin Butler, Peter Doig and David Hockney — he’s my hero.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 21.