GVSU alumnus creates art on a larger scale
GVL / Courtesy - Hubert Massey
Though images of the “Mona Lisa” or “American Gothic” have become iconic, art doesn’t have to be constrained to an easel. The work of Grand Valley State University alumnus and muralist Hubert Massey has shown that unique creations can be produced through grand combinations of art, architecture and engineering.
Massey said that his pieces, which can reach 30 feet high and 30 feet wide, transcend typical ideas of art.
“I do large-scale, monumental pieces of artwork. My pieces are not the kind of pieces you hang on the wall,” Massey said. “They actually become the wall, and it happens to be art.”
Massey is the current president of Hubert Massey Murals, a group that creates community art projects, murals and installations. Massey has taught mural painting techniques to younger artists through groups like the Detroit Summer Youth Employment program and the Advanced Gifted and Talented program.
A 1981 graduate of GVSU, Massey left the university with a degree in studio art. One of his fresco murals, “Importing and Exporting of Knowledge,” remains on display in the DeVos Center.
During his time at GVSU, Massey studied abroad at the University of London. He said experiencing European architecture strongly influenced his artistic future.
“Being exposed to a number of Reubens and Rembrandts (in Europe) and just understanding the architectural structure that was housing these art pieces just had a major affect on me,” Massey said. “When I came back to the states, I didn’t see 700-year-old buildings. I started looking at buildings and how those things can be manipulated into some artwork.”
After graduating, Massey worked as a sign painter for 12 years, hand painting 48-foot-long billboards with short, three-day deadlines. Massey said that after the market changed for billboards, he was inspired to do art that lasted longer.
“I decided to start doing large murals, and so it fit the bill for me," Massey said. "Billboards are up only temporarily. They could be up for three days, they could be up for five days. All that work you put into it, and all of a sudden it’s gone.
“But monumental pieces? Large pieces of artwork? If it’s a fresco, you could have thousands of years, like the Diego Rivera murals that were done in 1932.”
In addition to architecture, Massey said that the interplay of art and engineering makes it easier to prevent complications during mural painting, like weathering and falling panels.
“Not only do I like architecture, but I also like how engineers work out their problems and build these structures," he said. "When we do large, monumental pieces of artwork, you need to have structural engineers. They give you the best method on how to construct something without it breaking down.”
Massey said that the teamwork of construction, architecture and art makes creating massive pieces at tall heights and with tight time constraints more rewarding than intimidating.
“I’ve been doing it so long that I get pretty excited: the bigger the better," Massey said. "It’s about logistics, it’s about putting a team of people together in order to create the piece of artwork.”
For Massey, learning and developing personal perspective is the most rewarding part of creating art.
“The reason I’m driven is the opportunity to create something for the first time it’s ever been created,” he said. “Everybody has their own way of seeing things or doing things, so you can have a million people and you have a million ideas. Each is totally unique. I get pretty excited about creating these one-of-a-kind type pieces and being able to develop my own world and my own identity within my pieces.”