Work ethic, spirituality give artist inspiration

by Amy Kingsley

Brian Hibbard ended up in Greensboro after trying to literally walk away from his art. He and his wife planned to hike across America. They started in California after training on the east coast, but after a few days striding over unfamiliar, rocky terrain, their dog’s feet blistered and split.

They gave up, bought a Westphalia van, lost it to a thieving hostel manager in Durango, Colo., and ended up living in a camper perched atop a mountain.

Compared to that, Hibbard’s life six years later seems downright staid. He’s standing outside Lyndon Street Artworks, dressed in a utilitarian ensemble of polar fleece, navy twill and hiking boots. If the paint streaks on his clothes were dirt instead, he might easily be mistaken for a hand on the Santa Fe ranch where he refined his work ethic.

Instead of replacing the art he’d studied at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and Winthrop College, Hibbard’s sojourn in the Southwest returned him to it with a renewed sense of focus. Since he arrived in Greensboro in 2000, the man in the primer-striped shorts has become one of the most in-demand, talented and hard-working artists in Greensboro.

“My little experiment of doing something else failed,” Hibbard says.

When he and his wife returned to North Carolina, where his family relocated from Greenville, SC, Hibbard found a job assisting sculptor Jim Galucci. Under his tutelage, Hibbard learned the ropes of the art business alongside his apprenticeship in metals, epoxies and plaster.

The sculpture experience encouraged the painter to experiment with texture, something he started doing on his nights and weekends off.

After four years working alongside Galucci, Hibbard had enough work – through private commissions, gallery sales and public art – to support his family, which by then had grown by two children.

These days he does most of his work in his backyard. He has a methodical, workmanlike approach to his vocation, which he pursues through even the occasional bout of artist’s block. Hibbard prides himself on meeting deadlines and returning phone calls in a timely manner. Much of his prodigious output is stored in a wire-fenced workspace at Lyndon Street Artworks, where he does a brisk business.

“It’s amazing how busy I’ve stayed,” Hibbard says. “Since I do this full-time I’m able to jump on opportunities when they come up. If somebody calls I try within a day or week to jump on it. I take pride in that.”

And the calls have been coming. Samples of Hibbard’s work are on display across town, from the bronze plaques at First Horizon Park to downtown’s classical portrait of Nathaniel Greene.

Even though he’s stayed busy, it isn’t all toil. Hibbard makes time for flashes of inspiration. Two unfinished sculptures, a horse and the gigantic head of a woman, languish in the weedy lot next to the studios.

Inside his storage space, more than a dozen collage pears occupy floor space between still-life paintings and western landscapes. Walls on the opposite side support stacks of figurative work, abstract paintings and combinations of the two.

Hibbard works on panel, not canvas, for most of his paintings. For some of the figurative pieces, Hibbard employs experimental media like tar, mineral spirits and resin. He emphasizes the sculptural element even more in some of his abstract work, like one dark painting caked with broken bottles and resin.

Although he experiments with nontraditional media and abstraction, the artist’s touchstone is classical technique.

“If all I could do was paint abstract acrylics, I would not be able to well express myself,” he says.

These days he’s not going anywhere. Painting and art have become a means to support his family. It was family that, from the beginning, inspired Hibbard to make art. His first serious attempt at drawing was copying a still-life charcoal of a wine bottle, orange and teakettle that his mother drew when she was in the sixth grade.

And painting is about more than family to Hibbard, who ranks his priorities thusly: “Number one is God, number two is my family and number three is art.”

By making art for a living, Hibbard has found a way to accommodate all three.

“As a father I want to support my family,” he says. “I can do that through painting. And my paintings come from searching for God, by looking for the unearthly.”

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