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Houston artist Floyd Newsum showcases works in UHCL Art Gallery

Some children change their minds every day about what they want to do when they grow up. Not Floyd Newsum. He knew he was born to be an artist by the time he was four years old.

"I've never changed my mind about it," said Newsum. "I've been a visual artist and a professor of art at University of Houston-Downtown for over 40 years. I was never intended to be anything else."

His upcoming exhibition at University of Houston-Clear Lake's Art Gallery, which opens Jan. 31 and will hold an opening reception Friday, Feb. 4 from 5-7 p.m., spotlights 13 paintings and two sculptures, each with its own individual meaning.

"This exhibition is a collection of old and new works," he said. "What you'll see is how I love color and the way I utilize certain recurring marks and images, like ladders and the tic tac toe image. Certain animals are embedded in my work, as well as images of women."

He explained that as the son of one of Memphis's first African American firefighters, the ladder was an especially meaningful symbol in his art. "When you see a ladder, you see rescue, ascension, elevation. These are all profound symbols to me," he said. "When you see a fire truck coming, you move to the right so you can allow that truck to go by and save someone. I honor firefighters with the ladders in my art."

Dogs, Newsum said, are also a prominent element in his works. "In Egyptian mythology, the dog is the protector of women. In Western civilization, the dog is loyal. I was raised to believe women should be treated as queens, so I depict dogs as loyal, protectors of women and I always have uplifting images of strong women."

Newsum said his work reflects his interest in African, South Pacific and Native American symbols. "By studying the symbols in these three cultures, I have developed my own symbols," he said. "You will see marks that repeat themselves, and they're not always obvious."

Two of Newsum's works are part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection as well as the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. His works have been exhibited in galleries around the United States.

In celebration of Black History Month, art and theater enthusiasts are invited to Newsum's opening reception on Feb. 4 at 5 p.m., and then to a performance by singer, historian and actor Vienna Carroll in the Bayou Theater at 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets to the Bayou Theater show. Newsum's exhibit will run through March 11.