The gallery in the DePree Art Center is silent, except for the hum of Hope College students and professors bustling about, conversing animatedly. The periodic sound of a shutter on a camera can be heard every few seconds. It seems a fitting setting for an exhibition which is centered on the familiar sights and scenes around Hope. This exhibition showcases works from Hope Professor of Art Bruce McCombs. Professor McCombs began teaching at Hope in 1969, which marks this coming year as his 50th with the school. Not only is he a professor of art, he is an artist himself. He actively displays his own prints and paintings in various collections, both nationally and internationally, with some noteworthy locations being the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is not difficult to see why McCombs’ work is so well revered.
Upon entrance into the gallery, color and shape take hold of seemingly everyday objects and views and turn them into scenes full of life, despite existing only on paper. The gallery features scenes that most in the Hope community will recognize: the Hope College Arch, a snowy Pine Grove viewed from inside the Bultman Student Center and the checkered floors of Dimnent Chapel. It feels like a visual archive of Hope’s history; it takes us through the process of buildings being erected, seasons changing and even images of the sesquicentennial celebration of the college back in 2016. From afar, many of these paintings appear very real, almost as if they are photographs, but further inspection shows that they are intricately detailed watercolors.
What gives them this illusion are the perfectly structured lines and angles that depict the real-life inspirations for these images, as well as the strong use of shading to give an incredibly detailed and life-like impression. One particularly impressive piece is entitled HOPE, which depicts the real-life sculpture by Robert Indiana currently displayed in Manhattan. The metallic sides of the sculpture show distorted reflections of the surrounding area; not an easy aspect to include into a painting, but McCombs perfectly portrays it while inserting his own flare. The first painting in sight at the bottom of the DePree gallery stairs is untitled, but it scarcely needs introduction. It depicts the door handles of Dimnent Chapel, the right handle worn gold from over 90 years of use from students and faculty passing through this door.
It is hard to walk around campus without hearing about this image at least once in a student’s four years here; it is almost a broken record with the amount of times it has been mentioned as symbolism of Hope’s Christian origins. McCombs uses this image to show his audience, by placing it at the very start of the gallery, that the very core and heart of Hope is faith. It reminds us of the importance of faith in the lives of those in the Hope community and of the strength of tradition that exists. This gallery is an incredible collection of art that stirs pride in the hearts of the members of the Hope community that view it. Within each work, there is a certain sentiment of joy. McCombs has somehow worked the awes and wonders of Hope into each individual painting. The exhibition debuted on Oct. 12 and will be open to visitors until Nov. 9. Admisson is free for both students and the public.