The founder of the Davidson College art department, Douglas Clay Houchens was an accomplished painter and filmmaker, as well as a passionate teacher. His dynamic abstract canvases and powerful portraits reflect his expressionist aesthetic and personal resolve to “return to nature and the human spirit” in his art and to celebrate each created work as “an expression of life itself.”
Houchens attended the Augusta Military Academy in Fort Defiance, Virginia before earning his BFA at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University) in 1940. During World War II, he served as a surgical technician in the European theater. From 1946-1951, he was active in New York and also earned an MFA from Ohio State University. In 1953, Houchens studied with the renowned Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann at the Provincetown, Massachusetts, art colony; he credited Hofmann with helping him understand the “importance of the picture plane” and encouraging a sense of “dynamic expansion” in his art. That same year, he was hired to create Davidson’s art department and spent many years as a one-man faculty at the North Carolina institution. Sabbatical experiences took the artist to Mexico in 1960-1961 and later to Mallorca, where he painted some of his best received oils and nurtured his exploration in filmmaking. Houchens’ best known student, Herb Jackson, is also represented in the Johnson Collection.