For Dr. James Koukl, associate professor of biology at The University of Texas at Tyler, two subjects that some may think clash come easily for him.
The love for art and the study of life both were developed in Koukl while attending high school in Illinois.
“I became interested in microbiology as a freshman in high school and even built my own microbiology lab in my basement,” said Koukl, a faculty member since 1979.
At left, Dr. Koukl works in his art studio in Tyler.
“My interest in art and drawing also developed in high school, and I began to paint in oils and acrylics during my later years in high school.
“I was exposed to music and art at an early age,” he said. “My father was a teacher and professional musician and did some oil painting when he had time. I love jazz. Jazz music was always playing in the house. I always listen to jazz when I am painting. In fact, I have just recently finished a series of portraits of local and national jazz artists.”
His multiple trips to the Chicago Art Museum also inspired him.
“I like looking at the classics and was really inspired by the impressionists like Cezanne, Morisot, Degas and Monet. I saw some really fantastic artwork and architecture in Europe when touring the Czech Republic,” he added.
With a focus on chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics, Koukl decided to go into pre-med studies and left his art behind. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a medic to the Apollo astronauts while stationed at Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“I also began to redo my art career at that point as well,” Koukl said. “I had one-man shows in Coca Beach and started my art business back in the early 1970s.”
When he moved to the Rose City to begin teaching at UT Tyler, he continued to develop his art skills. He currently has an art studio near downtown.
“I was able to make enough money by selling my paintings 16 years ago to have an out-of-house studio,” Koukl added. “I take mainly summers and weekends to do art shows around the country.”
Do art and biology go hand in hand? Koukl believes in a way, it does.
“I think to do science, it takes a creative process,” he said. “You’ll find a lot of scientists who are also artists. But art is an enigma to me. I think it is just a different way to see the world and comment on it.”
Although Koukl says he keeps his art business separate from his university life, President Rodney Mabry commissioned him to sketch the Dub and B.J. Riter Millennium Carillon Tower. The rendering serves as a gift to UT Tyler graduates when they walk across the stage at graduation.
“I’m not an art faculty member, but I’ve tried to develop my skills and knowledge through workshops and art lessons and have taken workshops from university art faculty members through the years,” Koukl said.
At UT Tyler, he teaches microbiology, physiology and biochemistry and conducts research that focuses on reptiles, particularly turtles.
“I just have a passion for painting,” Koukl said. “I am fortunate enough to be accepted into a few galleries and art shows around the country and sell my paintings. The art shows are a lot of fun, and I get to hang out with other wonderful artists who are also great people.”
From oils and acrylics, to abstracts, portraits – human and non human alike – landscapes and still-lifes, he’s painted in many different styles. But Koukl says he prefers watercolors; and frogs and turtles are perfect subjects.
“I think watercolors are more challenging, and you have to think about them more. I like the spontaneity and lucidity of it,” he said.
His wife, Shari, also works as at the university as the coordinator of institutional research. They have one son, Matthew, who is an electrical engineer in Madison, Wis.
Koukl also teaches watercolor lessons in his studio and conducts workshops for groups in the Southwest region. His Web site can be found at http://web.mac.com/kouklstudios.
One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.