Dr. Willie Hooker

by Tonya Dixon | March 11th, 2015
Dr. Willie Hooker (Photos by TMF Photography)

Dr. Willie Hooker (Photos by TMF Photography)

Dr. Willie Hooker has always been fascinated with art and the art world. Even as a little kid he was enamored by the different coloring books and art supplies his mother would always give him. The thrill he got every time he colored brilliantly inside the contoured lines was a satisfaction unmatched by anything else. As he grew in age and matured in his craft he became less interested in staying inside the borders and lines (literally and figuratively) and relished much more in pushing past their confines, developing his own voice in the artistic world and bridging culture and art.

“When I was in undergrad I would get bored sitting around with other students only painting still life; flowers and other things. They [The professors] would tell us we were going to work with acrylic or pastels or watercolors today. My thing was why couldn’t we combine all that together,” he says.

As a professor at North Carolina A & T State University (by way of Dillard University, Wilberforce University and Prairie View A&M University) pushing past the boundaries and honing and developing skills are just some of the lessons that he imparts in to his students. He pushes them to not only be excellent in technique, but also retain a theoretical and analytical knowledgeable of what they are physically able to produce. “Students need to be able to deal with the intellectual aspect of art and articulate what it is,” Hooker says. “I’ve been doing mostly work and research. I’m deeply into African American art history, researching black art and seeing how it intersects with other art.”

Hooker learned many of the techniques he teaches his students from his mentor, Dr. Ted Jones. He credits Jones with cultivating his talent and teaching him to explore and use different types of material. “I owe everything to him,” he says.

A great deal of Hooker’s work has been featured in various capacities throughout the world, from London to Paris and across the United States. In addition, he has presented papers to many prestigious bodies. Hollywood has certainly taken notice of his masterpieces. Celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to D.L. Hughley have some of his works of art and some have even been featured on the small screen.

The vast majority of Hooker’s work is designed or produced in an attempt to connect the Afro-centric culture to the African American lifestyle and plight. He believes African Americans become empowered when they are able to connect with their African heritage. “I want people, especially blacks to feel a sense of pride when they look at my work and interpret it. It should produce a respect for Africa,” he says.

Hooker’s works of art are so full of symbolism that it’s hard to simply view without delving into his mindset. While he is known to use various or “mixed media” he has a love for sculpting and casting. In one piece in particular he casts an impression of his face through a stucco-like material. The cast is obviously that of Hooker or an African American male in general, but the fascinating aspect is that the cast is completely overlaid in white. The question arises, if the piece is of a black man why is it covered in white. Hooker’s answer is thought provoking and representative of the unfortunate narrative of today’s society.

“There’s a story with that. One day I was going to the store to get milk for my son. It was early in the morning and as I was walking toward the store there were three white women coming towards me in the opposite direction. The first thing they did was clutch their bags. So the point I’m trying to make is people see people of color in another perspective. I call that piece black man looking into a white world. They didn’t know whether or not I had my Ph.D. or what. It’s all about perception.”

Art imitates life and it’s often used to explain life. Recently Dr. Hooker and several of his students were commissioned by Dr. Goldie Byrd, one of North Carolina’s most prominent and leading Alzheimer’s research investigators, to compose a mural for The Center for Outreach in Alzheimer’s Aging and Community Health. The mural is titled “Art Meets Science.” It depicts good and bad cells of the brain in an attempt to deliver a simplified understanding of the devastating disease. The project is extremely dear to Hooker who has a family member dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.

The passion that Hooker exhibits for art and art history extends beyond the classroom and even beyond his own pallet. He believes one of the best ways to produce art is to see art. He is even more motivated to expose his students than himself. With the help of many benefactors and supporters like Dr. Byrd, as well as many others, he and his students have actively traveled the globe; from Brazil to Europe in an attempt to increase their knowledge and think outside of the box.

The box is certainly no place for Hooker. He’s currently adding to his repertoire and delving into sculpting with cement. Additionally, he has made strides to help cultivate and educate the European audience about the legacy of black art in the United States. His drive won’t allow for him to sit idly by and not challenge himself and push the limits of his craft. His urge to do more is the world’s gain. Many businesses and individuals have commissioned him for unique, specialized pieces and none have been disappointed. His creativity, passion and understanding of African and African American art are simply immeasurable.

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