Gene Hatfield of Conway is a man of distinction, an artist whose works are on display in a multitude of places here and abroad, especially in the many hallways of the University of Central Arkansas where he was schooled and toiled for many years teaching aspiring young artists.
Hatfield showed up recently in AETN’s televised offering of men and women of distinction.
Looking dapper and appearing virile as he always had, he talked art for one thing and about life, too.
In his own words, Hatfield paints the picture of a true Renaissance man who has tried his hand at many forms of artistic expression,
“I can’t count the number of paintings I’ve done,” he once said. That reminded this writer of the occasion of a visit in his kaleidoscopic home when the topic of production came up.
Hatfield suddenly bolted from his chair, excused himself, and left the room only to return a few moments later carrying an alluring load of radiant watercolor paintings.
“Here are a few I’ve done,” he said impishly, displaying a riot of colors in a range of paintings one would give his eyetooth to possess.
Hatfield was profiled in AETN’s intriguing show which divulged the story of the painter and sculptor and author.
Thus he joins several Arkansas heavy hitters of distinction like Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Sid McMath, Judge Morris Arnold and Dr. Joyceln Elders.
Hatfield is a lifelong Arkansan whose unique artistic perspectives shape his being.
He has, by the way, always ignored the impulse of painting for self-aggrandizement, for the main urge to make money, believing that this was a self-destructive motive.
He says candidly that artists are more in tune with the spiritual world than others and they observe the world differently,
If the reader has trouble with that assumption, he might take a drive down Donaghey Avenue near the UCA campus for a look at an atypical house where Hatfield resides among a tangled maze of twisted metal objects, automobile parts, odd furniture pieces and other unusual trappings that are too many to mention.
At this point in time Hatfield is taking a self-imposed sabbatical and doing little other than television stints and thinking seriously about writing an autobiography.
He may produce another novel that would go with his trilogy that begins with a book called “Enola Victrola” in which the author falls in love with Madame Zingara, a fortuneteller whose clairvoyance is startling.
She is, by the way, a spirit of another world.
He tells the story of trying to peddle the book solo - without an agent. He recalls the New York agent who charged $500 for a consultation.
“Well, you’ve finished your first book; now go on to your second.”
“That’s all he said” Hatfield remembers. “For $500. That’s all he said. “It was incredible.”
Writing, he once said surprisingly is more satisfying than painting. “A painting can be destroyed, but a book will endure if it is reprinted, so that makes books more durable than paintings.”
Hatfield is an engaging and fascinating personage - especially when he transforms discards of a wasteful world into objects rich with metaphorical and seductive design.
Objects considered as “junk” would seem to have little to do with art, but in the hands of a talented artist they can take on a new purpose.
It’s been said that Hatfield has no preconceived ideas about his woks. He says that he does not sketch out a work before actually executing it.
“It is useless; I just examine the objects I have and then start picking out and putting together. I never know what it is going to look like until it is finished.”
Over the years his production has been startling. It is possible that it may be directly related to the wound be received while serving in World War II. He was shot in one of his eyes during combat, and for a time it was feared that he would lose the eye.
It’s recalled that he said: “When I recovered, I had a lot of impetus to do things in abundance.”
Hatfield, when prodded, will talk about a happening some years ago when neighbors attempted to stifle his attachment for recycled materials or “found objects” as he prefers to call them. They proved to be a lightening rod for a controversy that found its way to city hall, where after much wrangling about the merits of art versus junk, a ruling in his favor established the legitimacy of his art.
He continues to add to his collection today.
Probably his greatest legacy is the mark he made on art students during his 27-year tenure as a professor at UCA.
Helping to build the program from the ground up, he brought his extensive European training to the classroom.
In 2010 he was honored with the award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts by Gov. Mike Beebe.
Hatfield was born in 1925. His youth was fairly placid but after being honorably discharged from the army in 1944 he attended UCA where he majored in speech and drama and minored in art. In 1948 he received a bachelor of arts degree. In the same year he taught a class in the newly developed art department. He also attended the State College of Education in Greeley, Colorado where he received a master of arts degree in education in 1950.
Hatfield was to tour France, Italy, Scotland, England and Holland. He married Nicole Wable, a native of France in 1957 and later attended art school at Fountainebleau in southern France.
Back home Hatfield taught at UCA until he retired in 1985.