College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Community Art: Lou Haney Electrifies Powerhouse

University of Mississippi art professor Lou Haney lights up the Powerhouse this fall with an art exhibit that focuses on color and light.

Haney, who describes most of her work as “large photo-realistic paintings in acrylic,” has taken an unconventional approach to her show. Instead of using a singular theme to unite her work, she split the exhibit into two different components. The large space of the venue acts as a thread connecting the parts.

The enormous paintings grab attention as viewers take their first step into the Powerhouse. Their bright colors and details light up the room with whimsical fun.

“The paintings are more of a linear thing,” Haney said. “I’m not really thinking about them as a cohesive show. These paintings take about 200 hours a piece. Some of them take an entire semester. So, I have to kind of think about the paintings as what makes sense as a ‘Lou Haney painting.’”

Citing qualities such as absurdity, color and clarity, Haney finds inspiration in the relationship between the size of the paintings and the size of the showroom.

“I like working big,” Haney said. “So, I brought a lot of my big work because of all that space.”

The other half of Haney’s exhibit continues to deal with space, light and color but in a completely different way. What most would call the “centerpiece” of the show is a 24 feet by 9 feet fabric piece that cascades over one of the many large windows in the Powerhouse.

Simply called “Stained Glass,” the transparent quilt allows light and color to shine through the fabric and into the room.

“When I got the show, I thought a lot about how I wanted to fill the space,” Haney said. “I wanted to do something that dealt with the light with those windows that go all the way to the ceiling. With a painting you would never be able to use the light. I wanted something that was transparent where the light could come through. Color was the idea.”

Because the piece was created specifically for this show at the Powerhouse, Haney admits that it was scary doing something on such a huge scale and not knowing how it would look until it got there.

For Yoknapatawpha Arts Council director Wayne Andrews, the idea of an artist creating something specifically for the Powerhouse was more exciting than scary.

“For the arts council and for the Powerhouse, we’re very happy to have her show,” Andrews said. “It’s been a great opportunity for this gallery, and we hope that this inspires other artists to utilize the space.”

“I call it the ‘redneck stained-glass window’ because there is something about it,” Haney said. “To me, this is the most religious piece that I’ve done, and I don’t know what that means because I just made it. It might be two or three years down the road before I understand it.”

Although this particular piece might pose a mystery to some, including the artist, Haney’s work often deals with the over-the-top excess that presides in Southern culture.

“The images that I like and am interested in are images that appeal to my four-year-old self, but the age I’m at now tells me I know better than to be interested,” Haney said. “I really love transparency, glass and textures. I’m not afraid to use color.”

The unwavering attention to detail and the energy that each of her paintings exudes has helped propel Haney not only as an artist, but as a professor.

Even though she admits that there are many hardships with balancing teaching with creating, she enjoys teaching and being in an academic art environment.

“An art class was actually the very first ‘A’ I made in college,” Haney said.

Before that, she was not sure that she could make it as an artist.

“I always knew I loved it, but I had gone to a public high school in Alabama,” Haney said. “I didn’t know when I got to college if this was just going to be my hobby and I was going to be an English major, but when your priorities change, then you know that’s what you should be doing.”

This led to Haney getting her undergraduate degree in art, her master’s degree in painting and eventually her teaching position at UM.

Haney warns that working as an artist is hard.

“It’s a great life, but it’s not an easy life,” Haney said. “There’s lots and lots of artists in the world.”

As many as there are, there’s only one featured at the Powerhouse right now. Check out Haney’s exhibit, which will be on display until October 10.