John McVicker's painting, "Five Bulbs," (above, far left) was recently exhibited at Webster University's "40@100" exhibit. (Jeff Hughes)
John McVicker’s painting, “Five Bulbs,” (above, far left) was recently exhibited at Webster University’s “40@100” exhibit. (Jeff Hughes)

Athens Artist McVicker’s Work Exhibited at Alma Mater

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Many college students try new things while at school, whether it’s joining a club or engaging in an artistic activity.

Athens artist John McVicker was no exception — in his case, he spent his free time painting. However, unlike many former students, McVicker stuck with it after graduating.

Now, more than 40 years later, the Chicago native’s work was recently exhibited at his alma mater: Webster University in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Originally an all-girls college, Webster University is celebrating the 40th anniversary of it’s BFA program as well as its centennial. In light of those two events, the art department held an alumni art show titled 40@100.

Jeffrey Hughes, director of the graduate program and professor of art history and criticism, said that originally, 40@100 was only going to feature alumni who had graduated from the BFA program, which was established in 1975. McVicker graduated in 1974.

“As I did more research, I found more about our alumni,” said Hughes, who discovered there were plenty of former students who graduated before 1975 who are still active in art, and the 40@100 show was meant to feature recent artwork. Also, many students who did not major in art — political science majors, for example — enjoyed taking art classes at Webster, too.

“It quickly became sort of obvious to me that 1975 was just kind of the bare minimum. There are lots of people that are still actively making work,” Hughes said, adding that he was “really taken” with McVicker’s paintings.

McVicker’s featured piece is a colorful abstract titled Five Bulbs. He and his wife Wendy, whom he met when they were students at Webster, traveled to Saint Louis for the exhibit’s opening last month. More than 500 people attended the opening ceremony.

“It was incredible,” said Hughes. “Absolutely incredible.”

McVicker didn’t make a career out of painting. Instead, he began a teaching career as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at a university in Switzerland. What started as a six-month vacation working on illustrations ended up becoming a seven-year teaching job.

After he and Wendy, who recently published a book of poetry and has one of her poems featured on an Athens transit bus, moved back to the U.S., he got a teaching job with Ohio University’s Ohio Program of Intensive English (OPIE). He gradually picked up painting again toward the end of his career, from which he retired in 2012.

“(Art is) supposed to bring pleasure. It’s supposed to make you smile. If it makes you smile, then it’s done it’s job,” McVicker said. “I’m almost legally blind, and artwork is a way of making me look really closely at the world and (trying) to figure out what it is that I’m seeing. The fact that I don’t see the world the way other folks do may be actually helpful for me.”