More than two decades after his retirement, Morris Tager, chair
of the microbiology department from 1951–78, still looks in
on the department he once led.
A portrait of him does, anyway.
Centered on one wall of the departmental conference room on the
third floor of the Rollins Research Center is a painting of Tager
that was commissioned upon the completion of his 25-plus years as
chair. The man who painted the portrait, Lamar Bryant, works just
down the hall in the microbiology lab.
A senior lab technician, Bryant painted his first picture when he
was 5 years old. That painting—of a school bus—won him
first prize in a community-sponsored art contest in his then-home
of West Palm Beach, Fla. He beat out some children twice his age.
In the years since, Bryant has produced hundreds of paintings—some
of which hang in some very impressive homes—and he is now
embarking in a new direction with a new style he says is unique
in the art world. That journey will begin next week with a show
right here at Emory.
Bryant’s work as an artist first came to the attention of
his department in the summer of 1978. He finished second in a national
medical art competition, sponsored by the American Medical Student
Association, for his illustration, “Nail Invasion.”
Bryant earned $150, a plaque and some new fans.
After graduating from Paine College in Augusta with a biology degree
(he painted portraits to help pay the bills), Bryant worked for
a year as a medical illustrator at Georgia State University. He
then joined the Emory microbiology lab in 1977.
While word of Bryant’s artistic proficiency got around campus—resulting
in a few requests for portraits—he hadn’t painted anyone
in his own department. Following the AMSA art competition (and after
having his photo published in the Campus Report, precursor
to Emory Report), departmental leaders signed him up to
paint a portrait of the retiring director.
“That’s when the commissions started rolling in,”
When Tager saw his portrait, he loved it. It soon became a permanent
part of the department.
Bryant estimates he has painted more than 600 portraits. Some are
of Emory leaders, like Bob Ethridge, vice president for Equal Opportunity
Programs. Others are friends from the medical school, like microbiology
Professor Linda Gooding and John Thompson, professor of obstetrics/gynecology
Outside Emory, his subjects are nothing short of impressive. Bryant
did a portrait of Maynard Jackson while he was serving as Atlanta’s
first African American mayor, and 10 years ago boxer Evander Holyfield
commissioned a Bryant portrait that now hangs in the former heavyweight
champion’s multimillion-dollar mansion.
Bryant uses a very realistic style in much of his work. The details
are so lifelike that, from a distance of only about 15 feet, his
paintings can resemble photographs. Despite that proficiency, he
longed to try something different.
“About 10 years ago, I decided that if I could just paint
the most beautiful painting I’d ever done in this style—the
realist style—I would try another one,” Bryant says.
Bryant completed that “most beautiful painting” in 1998.
Its title is “Shades of Beauty and Peaches, Too.” A
print of the work, which features three former Emory students and
was painted using a campus background, hangs not only in the microbiology
main office but in several other offices on campus. The original,
which Bryant keeps, is being considered for display at Hartsfield
With the completion of that painting, Bryant decided the time had
come to test himself stylistically. He tried several genres, but
didn’t feel moved by what he was doing. But one interrupted
evening changed everything.
About two-and-a-half years ago, Bryant awoke in the middle of the
night. In the blackness he saw images. Different objects in the
room. Silhouettes only.
“That’s when it clicked,” he says. “Shadism.
Taking one image—one color—and shading that color into
a three-dimensional form.”
“Shadism” (pronounced with a long a) is a term Bryant
invented. It’s not abstract, but it is far from the realistic
style Bryant has used throughout his career. Bryant chose sports
as his subject matter because of its inherent motion. The figure
pictured on his current work,“The Fumble,” is a scene
from a football game.
Bryant is very guarded about his latest work, which no one has seen.
The showing at Emory will be the first time the piece has ventured
outside his studio.
From Sept. 2–6, the painting will be on display in the Rollins
Building’s third-floor common area next to the elevator. From
there it will begin a tour of several Atlanta-area art galleries,
and Bryant is negotiating with other galleries around the country
to show the work.
Bryant hopes the community comes out and supports him. While his
new painting isn’t for sale, Bryant says he is looking forward
to taking commissions for future shadism pieces. The client would
pick the sport, size and color, then Bryant would do the rest.
Art is not the only outlet for Bryant’s creativity. Three
months from now, Bryant expects to finish the manuscript of his
first book, The Real Truth. A devout Christian, Bryant’s
book is a commentary on Biblical teachings in a multitude of areas:
Justice, sin, forgiveness and predestination are just a few of the
things Bryant explores.
Bryant, who has studied the Bible all his life, was motivated to
write The Real Truth after watching Christian-themed television
shows, listening to Christian radio programming and finding that
the dialogue in the popular culture and his personal thoughts were
often on different pages.
“I want to put my interpretation of my belief out there for
the world to see and to know,” Bryant says. As yet, there
isn’t a timetable for the book’s release. Bryant has
met with publishers and is negotiating a deal.
But Bryant’s writing career is merely a hobby compared with
his other vocations. “In another five years, I might just
retire and [paint] full time,” Bryant says. “It’s
what I love.”
Not that leaving the University would be easy. With more than 25
years as an Emory employee under his belt, Bryant’s ties to
the University are pretty strong. His son, Lamar Jr., graduated
summa cum laude from Emory College in 1998 with a degree in psychology.
Daughter Nekeya will start nursing school in 2003.
Both are artists, as well. Lamar Jr.—a painter like his father—had
a one-man show on campus his freshman year. Nekeya, who works primarily
in colored pencil, will probably follow suit when she becomes a
None of the Bryants have had formal art training, but there is no
question that the talent and work ethic (Bryant paints about 30
hours a week) is there.
“It’s a gift from God,” Lamar Sr. says.