The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Painter hosted by GV Art Gallery shares creative journey

Courtesy/ GVSU

Artist Stephen Duren spoke about his journey as an artist and inspired others during a reception at Grand Valley State University’s Art Gallery on Oct. 30. Duren’s artwork was displayed for four months in the gallery, located in the Thomas J. and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts, with its final day of exhibition on Nov. 3.

At “An Evening with Stephen Duren,” students were invited to listen to Duren speak on his beginnings as an artist, what influenced him and meet him afterward to ask questions and learn more. 

During his presentation, Duren spoke of his experiences in the Navy during the Vietnam War and how there were two events that helped start his vocation as an artist and bring him to where he is today.

“First, I overheard a young officer mumbling about the number of innocent farmers we may have killed, causing me to question the morality of our Vietnam endeavor,” Duren said. “Second, I sketched a portrait of our captain.” 

After serving in the Navy, Duren spent time in Europe, where he happened upon a Van Gogh exhibit.

“This was an awe-inspiring, almost mystical experience for me,” Duren said. 

Duren returned to the United States to study art at the San Francisco Art Institute, having been inspired by the European exhibit. He graduated with a BFA and confessed that he skipped many of his studio classes to paint and draw in the coastal foothills north of the city.

Now, Duren has artwork and exhibits that inspire others, such as GVSU student Madeline Swisher, who attended the event and had the chance to speak with Duren.

“Duren mentioned how he was a late bloomer when it came to the art world– that his art career didn’t take off until his thirties to forties,” Swisher said. “In a society where we’re expected to have our whole life figured out by our twenties, this is incredibly comforting.”

While Duren enjoys speaking about his beginnings in art and the inspiration he gets from other artists, he rarely titles or explains his paintings, as he wants viewers to use their own experiences to identify with them. 

“I would feel audacious and arrogant to speak about how my art might inspire others,” Duren said. “I’m happy when it does, and that’s enough.”

While Duren’s artistic style has changed over the years, the GVSU gallery display featured his allegorical paintings– artwork that symbolizes a deeper, more personal meaning. 

“The storylines in my allegorical paintings often happen unintentionally (and) unconsciously,” Duren said. “I don’t fully understand some paintings until long after I have completed them because some other part of me is speaking when I paint.”

This stood out to Swisher, who came to appreciate Duren as an artist who creates work for his viewers and not just himself. 

Duren has recently expanded his creative outlet from painting to writing as he works on an artist’s memoir that will cover various chapters of his life. 

Duren wants students like Swisher to know that artistic journeys can begin and change in many different ways. 

“Everyone lands on a path unique to themselves,” Duren said. “If you are edified by the process of making art, be it film, painting, dance, theatre or conceptual, then it should not matter what others think.”  

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