Dr. Art Bacon has worn a lot of hats in his 80 years — scientist, researcher, student, educator, civil rights activist.
But as he addressed a crowded room of observers in Troy University’s International Arts Center on Tuesday, he focused on the role that makes him happiest.
“For 40 years I had essentially a dual profession: science and art, (but) art was, and is, my passion,” Bacon said. “I just turned 80, and I feel like I’m having one of the best years of my life, because I’m painting, and painting is my passion.”
Bacon started by briefly discussing his life and career, but he quickly turned the Gallery Talk into a freewheeling question-and-answer session with the crowd.
Bacon explained that his time as a scientist helped him in some vital ways as an artist.
“Especially as a biologist, it helped me with observing things,” said Bacon, who discovered a new species of protozoa during his biology career. “I had to be so precise in illustrating for science, whereas my art evolved over the years into a more free style where nothing is very precise. If you don’t evolve, you die.”
He discussed his humble beginnings, including landing his first commission while scrubbing floors for money as a high school student.
“I was a young guy in high school, and I was behind the store sketching,” Bacon said. “The store manager came out back and asked me to do his portrait. I never did get that commission money.”
Over the years, he’s found himself drawn to certain subjects. Many of his works focus on countryside objects like barns or mailboxes.
People, however, draw most of his artistic interest.
“I think people show their life experiences in their faces, and that’s what I’m all about,” Bacon said. “If they are feeling a certain way, I like to be able to depict that. That’s why I like to paint old people or very young people.”
He’s also keenly focused on honoring his African-American heritage.
“That’s who I am,” said Bacon, who suffered a racially motivated attack at a train station in Anniston in 1961. “I think there’s still a story there that needs to be told.”
Bacon’s audience Tuesday included dozens of TROY students from a variety of departments.
“It’s really important on a college campus to have someone with such a colorful history,” said Carrie Jaxon, curator of the International Arts Center. “He’s been immersed in the arts, in sciences and the civil rights movement. He has so many facets that appeal to a range of students.”
Bacon, who serves as artist in residence at Heritage Hall Museum in Talladega, praised the Troy Campus both during and after his speech.
“If I were going to school again, I think this is the place I would come,” Bacon said. “It’s a beautiful place. I like the spirit here. The architecture is great, and the campus is well groomed.”
He also assured the crowd that he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
“I’ll continue to paint until I can’t paint anymore,” Bacon said. “I’m going all the way. I still have some things I’m looking forward to. Right now, I’m branching off into abstracts.”