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Businessman-farmer finds solace, relaxation, release in producing art
by Jennifer Chick
As a child, Mike Sughroue used art as a way to retreat, to stay out of trouble and to deal with emotions.
“I’ve been painting or drawing probably my whole life,” Sughroue, 57, of Holdrege said. “It was just something to keep busy and keep me out of trouble. Mom would get tired of me and say, ‘Go color something besides the walls.’”
Sughroue graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in art but has never focused on that as his main career.
Instead, he farmed and, after his dad had a stroke, he took over Industrial Pipe Lines, a company that supplies water for dirt companies across the Midwest.
With the recent slow economy, Sughroue said, he has found himself turning more frequently to his art.
He has a studio in the former Nebraska Guard Armory in Holdrege. More than 100 canvases, both finished and in progress, line the walls and shelves and fill the nooks and crannies. They chronicle his last year of work.
‘Sometimes I forget lunch’
“Sometimes I’ll sit down there 15 to 16 hours a day,” Sughroue said. “Sometimes I’ll forget lunch. I’ve never found anything else where I could sit for that long.”
Since his 27-year-old stepdaughter Courtney Massoudi’s death in September 2007, Sughroue said he has turned to his art to deal with the tension and emotions.
“I can spend lots of hours not thinking about it,” Sughroue said.
Although he has sold several pieces through galleries, Sughroue has never focused on his art as a way to make money.
Instead, he takes inspiration from whatever he sees, whether that is a sunset, a chameleon, or an empty trash bin next to enormous piles of trash in Africa. He has dabbled in almost all artistic mediums: watercolors, oils, acrylics, wood covering and epoxy, but his latest medium of choice has been oils.
A large fossil hangs above the fireplace in his house. He likes to tell people he found it along the river, but it’s actually an epoxy replica he made.
The Chickenman series
The crane statue outside the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History is one of Sughroue’s pieces, but it is his Chickenman series that usually gathers the most comments. A mixture of whimsy and voodoo with an almost cartoon quality, Chickenman and his cohorts cover several canvases.
“I think I was mad when I started out,” Sughroue said.
In some, the chicken is putting pins into voodoo dolls of various football teams. Sughroue sent a few of his Chickenman paintings to the Miami Dolphins, speculating that the pictures might help them win, but he never heard from the team. The final picture in the series has the Chickenman enjoying a plate of fried chicken.
The majority of his work is paintings. He used to focus on wildlife, but a few years ago, someone asked him to do a portrait. Now, many of his most recent pictures are portraits.
He had an art show at Interiors Art Gallery in Holdrege last fall. His American Indian paintings are on display at the Nebraska Prairie Museum. Minden Opera House has also approached him about an art show there.
‘You have to work at it’
“You work at it every day; it’s just like any other job,” Sughroue said. “If you want to do it, you have to work at it.”
“Sometimes, you can do it in three or four hours or sometimes three or four weeks,” he said. “You get stuck sometimes, and sometimes you don’t like it. Sometimes, you are your own worst critic.” At those times, he’ll show paintings to his wife, Gail, for a new perspective. Other times he just walks away.
“Sometimes, it just falls into place, but sometimes when you are struggling, it’s better to put it away and come back to it,” Sughroue said. “If you look at it for so long, it’s sometimes like you can’t see it anymore. It’s better to walk away for a while. You can ruin more paintings by trying to fix them more than you can fix.
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