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Artist

Hallettsville artist shares life-long journey with art

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Gene Grant

Gene Grant, 50, poses for a portrait outside his home in Hallettsville with a self portrait.

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.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant works on a painting during his art class at Hallettsville City Park. Grant was a talented art student in high school but quit his art work after he graduated and took on other responsibilities.

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.”

Gene Grant

Gene Grant adds more details to a painting that’s a redo of a previous painting he worked on, pictured on the left.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant receives some feedback and advice from his art teacher Michael Windberg, who he has taken classes from since 2018. “Mike has helped me with learning the colors and how to mix colors. And I’m getting better and more proficient at that,” Grant said.

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.

Gene Grant

In addition to being an artist, Gene Grant owns and operates a carpet cleaning business. “I do have my own business because it’s called starving artist for a reason,” Grant said.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant cleans carpets during his day job at Treemont Apartments in Victoria.

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.”

Gene Grant

Gene Grant showcases a portrait of Michael Jordan. Grant recently included this portrait as apart of his Black Excellence series featuring famous black historical figures. Grant presented this series at The Hallet Oak Gallery during their Juneteenth celebration.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant showcases artwork he made while he was in jail for nonpayment of child support. During his time in jail, Grant rediscovered for passion for art through doing commissioned artwork for his fellow inmates.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant holds a photograph of his father, Ollie Eugene Grant Jr., who died 22 years ago. Like his son, Grant Jr. was also an artist, drawing portraits and taking countless amount of photos. Grant plans to work on a portrait using this photo as a reference. “My father was a man of few words even though he was great at many things,” Grant said.

Gene Grant

Gene Grant reflects on his time in a county jail and how that led him to where he is now as an artist. “What I appreciated the most when I got out just how quiet it was,” Grant said. “Had I not gotten locked up, I probably would have never figured I could still do (art).”

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Chase Cofield is a photojournalist for the Victoria Advocate. He is also a photojournalist with the Report For America program. He can be reached at ccofield@vicad.com.

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