When Craig Cully started teaching at New Mexico State University, his work consisted of mostly meticulous, small-scale paintings of high realism. Galleries across the United States were exhibiting and selling his work. After earning tenure as an art professor at NMSU, he began to rethink his practice.

“I often ask myself ‘What is the best thing I can do for humanity?’ and, over time, I’ve learned that the answer is teaching art,” Cully said.

On the walls of the second-floor hallway in Devasthali Hall, self-portraits of Cully’s students hang like family photos in a home. NMSU’s art department has been Cully’s home for the past 15 years, while sharing his love of painting with NMSU art students from all walks of life.

Cully’s care and dedication goes beyond teaching and mentoring. This year, he nominated art student Citlali Delgado for the Yale Norfolk School of Art’s Summer Residency Program. Delgado is the first NMSU student to be accepted into the prestigious program.

“I believe having professors who care for student success is critical in academia,” Delgado said. “Professor Cully is quick to email me links to resources and artist websites he thinks could be a good influence on my painterly techniques.”

While he is encouraging his students to push their limits to expand their experiences and vision as artists, he is also working to stretch his own capacity in the field and evolve his art.

“Part of my allocation of effort every year in order to retain my job is to do my own research and publish it,” Cully said. “In the art world, what that means is I need to study certain techniques and influences and have my work exhibited in museums and galleries every year. So, teaching and being in an institution like this is incredibly beneficial to me as an artist.”

During a one-year sabbatical in 2015 in his home state of Pennsylvania, he started investigating the sport of fox hunting, leading to the creation of “Discourse of the Chase.”

“I became interested in the constructs of the sport itself and the way the people thought about it and interacted with the land and the animals,” Cully said. “It became this new, bombastic body of work on canvases of up to eight feet tall.”

His work changed again in 2020, when he and his wife Kelly were confined to their Tucson home for months during the pandemic. Blending Cully’s painting style with his wife’s graphic design work, the pair created the “Collusions” series, a reflexive study of collaboration and cooperation.

New incarnations of Cully’s vision are still evolving and being exhibited in galleries across the country, most recently at the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery in Tucson.

Cully was recently a semi-finalist for the 2024 Herbert Freehills Portrait Award, selected from among more than 1,000 submissions. In a collaboration with former art department head Julia Barello, the duo also was among six semi-finalists for an installation at the Albuquerque Sunport.

“I’ve maintained a friendship with Julia since I first interviewed at NMSU,” Cully said. “The opportunity to think through ideas, design a composition and talk about materials with her has been so enlightening and thrilling. We have another collaborative piece in the works for a medical institution opening up in Miami. This collaboration thing is far from done for me.”

Cully’s work reveals his own inner world, while his teaching helps students to reveal themselves through their art. He recently celebrated his birthday by creating a series of birthday portraits, a tradition he’s kept since he turned 40. Visitors will notice the expressive self-portraits hanging on the wall inside his office, mirroring the student self-portraits that line the halls outside his door.

The full article can be seen at https://newsroom.nmsu.edu/news/nmsu-art-professor-s-work-and-life-evolve-through-teaching/s/92b90baa-f62d-4758-959b-afb19937ae76

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