For Gene Grant, 50, art isn’t just a talent or skill, it’s an inherited trait. His father, Ollie Eugene Grant Jr., indulged in drawing and photography, while his aunt, Estella Grant, was a skilled painter. For Gene Grant, his lifelong journey with art has taken many twists and turns.
“As a senior (in high school), the art teacher saw my work, just raved over it, and put me into the advanced art class where I graduated top art student in my school,” Grant, a Hallettsville resident, said.
After finishing high school, Grant began to prioritize other things in life like finding a job, starting a business, getting married, and starting a family. Art eventually fell by the wayside and Grant seldom practiced drawing.
In 2011, Grant’s carpet cleaning business fell on hard times. He went through a divorce with his ex-wife and was unable to pay child support because of his struggling business. In 2014, he found himself in child support court and was sentenced six months in county jail for failure to pay child support.
Despite being in a very dire situation, there was a silver lining for Grant during his time in jail. He rediscovered his love for art by doing commissions for his fellow inmates in exchange for commissary.
“That was my hustle, I would design new drawings for the inmates and they would buy me stuff I wanted when they ordered their commissary,” Grant said.
These commissions included drawings of animals for a letter an inmate was writing for their children, tattoo designs, drawings of angels, and portraits. In jail, Grant spent his free time, which he had a lot of, reading National Geographic magazines and making drawings from the images displayed in the magazine.
“When I got out, I kept drawing, and my sister gave me a set of graphite pencils. And I practice with those and I learned some techniques. And then I just kept doing it. The goal was to learn how to paint though.”
After Grant was released, he wanted to focus more on portraits and capturing people’s essence through his artwork. He also wanted to expand his color palette and explore different mediums of art.
Since 2018, Grant has attended art classes in Hallettsville taught by Michael Windberg every Tuesday. During these classes, Grant sharpens his painting skills with Windberg there to provide critique.
“Mike (Windberg) has helped me with learning colors and how to mix colors. And I’m getting better and more proficient at that. I want to not just be a charcoal pencil artist or a portrait artist, but I want to also be able to do that with oil painting, too,” Grant said.
Grant recently had his work displayed in The Hallet Oak Gallery during their Juneteenth celebration. There he displayed a series of artwork titled Black Excellence, which included portraits of famous black figures ranging from Malcolm X to Michael Jordan. The series also included a self-portrait he spent four years working on.
Despite the decades-long withdrawal from art, Grant continues to persist with his passion for art.
“I wish I’d never stopped drawing from high school up into 2014,” Grant said. “But at the same time, everything happens for a reason, too.”