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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

‘Art is the hope of glory’: MSU professor to receive Governor’s Art Award

Ivy Rose Ball
After 36 years at MSU, Funderburk continues his craft and mentors select students.

Mississippi State University Professor Emeritus Brent Funderburk is set to receive the Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in Visual Arts and Education Feb. 8, 2024 in downtown Jackson.

The Governor’s Art Awards are presented annually by the Mississippi Arts Commission to honor individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to art in the state.

Funderburk served the MSU Department of Art as department head and professor for nearly 36 years, teaching and inspiring students who went on to achieve great success in the art world. For Funderburk, art is powerful and revealing of something deeper than what we can see on our own.

“Art is the hope of glory – the hint of it is what art is about,” Funderburk said. “It’s tickling you like music saying there is something glorious in us that is infinite and beautiful, but it’s hidden, and you’ve got to work to get it out.”

Funderburk hopes to reveal this glory in his radiant watercolor paintings. His work often portrays a dancer, modelled by his wife Debby who was an MSU dance instructor, as well as the sights around him, such as the shack behind his home and images of nature. In these works, he recreates the subjects to reflect the beauty he sees using vibrant colors and moving compositions.

Commissioners Julie Martin and Ada McGrevey nominated Funderburk for the award early last year. In her letter to the Mississippi Arts Commission, Martin described Funderburk’s art, expressing her admiration for his skill and for the way he sees the world.

“Brent’s use of watercolor is intensely masterful, his intentional use of light captures and entices your eyes to dance around his enchanted world. If only we could see the foliage and flowers as it exist in his world,” Martin wrote.

However, Funderburk credits the magic of his work not to himself or his imagination, but to something higher. When asked where he gets the vision for his works, he said he often starts by drawing what he sees but that it always evolves into something greater, claiming that he never knows where the artwork is going to take him.

“It’s always surprising to me, I have no idea, I give credit to the divine,” Funderburk said.

Funderburk has been honored extensively throughout his career as an artist and educator, being featured in several international publications, awarded in numerous art shows and receiving several awards from MSU as an educator.

He was chosen as the official artist of the 2010 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. Additionally, he played a role in the efforts to recover and restore many of painter Walter Anderson’s works in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Angi Elsea Bourgeois serves as the dean of the MSU College of Architecture, Art and Design. Angi Elsea Bourgeois was mentored by Funderburk when she joined the MSU faculty. She claims that his belief in his students and colleagues gave them the confidence and inspiration they needed to do great work.

“He believes so strongly in his students that they do too, and they achieve and have achieved over the course of his career remarkable success,” Bourgeois said. “He’s a great mentor and touched a lot of lives through his teaching — not just his teaching of our students but teaching me as a brand-new faculty member.”

During his time at MSU, Funderburk taught classes at all levels. He expressed his love for seeing his students evolve as artists.

“I like to teach the very first students and the very last students,” Funderburk said. “It’s great to see them from little hatchlings go to full-fledged flying, mature beings and doing their artwork.”

Commissioner McGrevey said Funderburk’s dedication to the university in combination with his art is what inspired her and Martin to nominate him for the Governor’s Art Award.

“He was putting everything he had into Mississippi State, his students, his artwork, their career, and he’s just a phenomenal man. And then he’s a wonderful, wonderful artist on top of all of that,” McGrevey said.

Funderburk retired in 2018, but he continues to paint and mentor select students. He expressed that his motivation for painting does not come from money, success or recognition, but from a passion for the connection that stems from art.

“I don’t paint to sell the paintings,” Funderburk said. “I paint for my heart to connect with other hearts.”

Funderburk recalled when he sold a painting to a doctor at a cancer treatment center to be seen by patients as they walked out of treatment. Funderburk was given the chance to speak with a fellow artist who happened to be undergoing cancer treatment. Funderburk said they sat looking at the painting and talked about life as if the painting were a portal “to another dimension of life or the life beyond.” A few weeks later the artist died.

“So, you see, it’s not like ‘I’ve got to do a painting of a pear tree and it’ll sell and I’m successful’. That’s not it. It’s about the story that hearts make with other hearts,” Funderburk said.

About the Contributor
Ivy Rose Ball
Ivy Rose Ball, Editor-in-Chief
Ivy Rose Ball is a junior communication major from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief and served as the Photography Editor from 2023 to 2024. [email protected]
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