For Arlington Heights resident Michael Hopkins, an excruciatingly dull semester of college business courses in 1976 was proof enough that deferring his dream of becoming an artist was not an option. Four decades later, Hopkins, 57, holds the distinction of having his work included in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, and next month, he will be honored at an exhibit of his work at a gallery in Seattle. We caught up with Hopkins at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library this week, one of his favorite venues in the village.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
A: After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so my parents suggested I get a business degree, and I absolutely hated it. After that, I had the worst job in the world, reading meters, even during a blizzard. It finally got through my thick skull that I'd always loved art, so maybe I should go to art school. I was in my early twenties by then, so I took two years of art classes at Harper College, where I had great teachers, and the program was absolutely fantastic. After that, I transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago, where I got my bachelor of fine arts degree.
Q: What type of work did you find after you graduated from art school?
A: My first job was as a museum guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which was great, because I got to see how the art world worked, and got to meet a lot of artists, which was fantastic. These might not be household names, but I got to meet Robert Ryman, Donald Sultan and Brice Marden. They were all very nice, and willing to talk to me. I think there's this outside perception that artists are snooty and off-putting, but I have never found that to be true. And I'm still strongly influenced by Marden's work.
Q: How would you describe your work within the genre of modern art?
A: I'm very influenced by the Japanese aesthetic. My watercolor paintings of insects are known as gouache, which is not transparent, but opaque. I don't work at a certain time of day, so it could be in the morning or the evening. I have a giant drawing table in my apartment in Arlington Heights, and all of my drawings and paintings are very small in size, so it works out very well. I also teach children's art classes at the Brickton Art Center in Park Ridge, where I have some very talented students. And I write articles for Neoteric Art, an online art magazine.
Q: What advice would you give to parents whose children are heading off to college this fall, and are majoring in the fine arts? Can they make a living?
A: That's not the right question to ask. (He laughs). You need to let children who truly love art follow their dreams, and if they're talented and passionate enough, they will do fine. And if they're not, they will have gotten it out of their system. The worst thing that could happen is they don't follow their dreams, and they end up regretting it. If you're in your forties or fifties, married with kids, a house, a dog and a cat, that's probably a pretty hard time to realize, "maybe I should have went to art school." But they do need to know that most artists live close to the vest. We're not driving brand new cars and living in six-bedroom houses, although I'm not against people wanting those things. When I look back at my life, and I'm on my death bed, I think I'll be able to say it was well worth pursuing my dream, and I'm proud of what I have created.