Not many people are born knowing their exact vocation, except for artist Wanda Sullivan. For most, finding a career path takes time and discernment that is certainly past the age of 5. “I always knew what I was going to do and have never faltered,” Sullivan recounted.
After straightening her signature black cardigan, Sullivan took off her retro-squared tortoise shell glasses and reflected on growing up in the deep South of Mobile, Alabama. Sullivan assured that she was a natural artist from the start. As a kindergartner, Sullivan pursued her passion through painting whatever she could, whenever she could. “I painted my envelope purple, whereas they were all doing all primitive little drawings”, Sullivan jumps to add. Unlike some, Sullivan trusted her instinct and pursued her specialty. She continued her education at University of South Alabama, earning a bachelor’s of fine arts in Painting, and later she received a master’s of fine arts in Painting at the University of Mississippi. Moving forward, in 2007, Sullivan took a chance at applying for a position as an instructor at Spring Hill College. With Sullivan’s confidence in herself and diligence in her work, naturally, she got it.
Sullivan humbly revealed her whimsical office. But, the humming of the air conditioner was not the only thing filling the room. The walls cease to exist by themselves in Sullivan’s office display. The shelves, stacked with novels, textbooks, empty and filled frames, knickknacks, and walls holding multi-medium art pieces and pictures, represent her appreciation for not only art but teaching. With a sigh of relief and excitement still in her eyes, Sullivan said, “I love it here, because it’s the perfect fit for me.” With being a relatively small art department, relationships are built throughout the years. Sullivan’s sincere and welcoming persona allows for comfort and familiarity to students. Sullivan stopped to point out her coffee pot in the corner which is always open for students to use. Senior graphic design student, Adele Lemm, explained, “there is a reason why so many of the art students call her our ‘art mama’… from our highest highs of success to our lowest lows of crying in her office, she is always there for us.” Sullivan adds, “they are just like family to me.” In addition, teaching students has allowed Sullivan to grasp another point of view of criticism for her own work. Concerning her work, after the oil spill in 2010, Sullivan transitioned her work from nonobjective to imagery based on the natural world. She discovered the natural world through her own lens, or iPad, by using a kaleidoscope app to photograph flowers. These aesthetically and symmetrically pleasing fuchsia and violet pieces of work highlight her office with their vibrancy. Glancing over at her latest work, a piece from her collection of “synthetic naturals”, Sullivan selected a paintbrush from the stash. The accumulation of paint on her palette, residing on all the pieces of the stand, reflects the effect of how art has affected all parts of her own life.
Despite the additional vocations of being an artist and professor, Sullivan, as a mother, manages to give her time and heart to her children. Whether she’s driving her 12-year-old son to baseball games or advising to her 16-year-old daughter, Sullivan is on the move, loving every part of it. However, every bit of Sullivan’s time to herself is precious. “Painting is not optional, you have to make time,” Sullivan acknowledged. In pursuing a vocation as an artist, Sullivan always reminds her students of the benefit of hard work. Sullivan remarked, “I was never the best, but I was always the most tenacious.” In addition, Sullivan feels an artist does need to feel inspired to paint. Sullivan recognized, “museums would be empty if all artists painted when we felt like it.” Just as museums need art, students and family need Wanda Sullivan to support them.