When Beck Chen ’13 graduated from Baylor, he enrolled in Union University in Schenectady, N.Y., declaring a major in mechanical engineering but not forgetting his love of art that was initially nurtured in art classes in China and blossomed at Baylor on the Liz Aplin trip.
“I took weekend art classes when I was in China, and I’ve always been interested in drawing things,” remembers Chen, who was a three-year boarding student from Shanghai. “But it was impossible for me to spend as much time on it as I wanted. At Baylor, Ms. (Betsy) Carmichael really encouraged me to push forward in my skills, and she invited me on the Liz Aplin trip to southern Italy. That is where I met my friend and mentor, Daud Akhriev.”
Akhriev, who frequently visits Baylor as an artist-in-residence, had provided Chen with critical art instruction and inspiration, and that is whom Chen turned to when he began questioning his career choice after one semester at Union. “I was doing well academically but felt genuinely lost about what to do,” Chen recalls. “I had always known about and admired the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia – its tradition and the great painters that have come from there, and I thought he could maybe help me go there.”
Chen spent a couple of weeks over Christmas break in Spain with Akhriev, and with his mentor’s assistance and strenuous pre-admission work that included learning Russian, he was admitted to the academy. “It was an intense three or four months, but I squeezed in. They put the scores on the board, and mine was the last or second to last name on the list,” he smiles. He is currently a fourth-year student at the Imperial Academy and will graduate in two years with a master’s degree in fine arts.
He was back at Baylor this fall as a visiting artist (pictured with some of his art on display outside the Baylor dining hall), along with Akhriev, conducting workshops for Baylor art students. When asked about giving advice to other aspiring artists, Chen says art is very much like any other profession. “To be an artist you must work hard, be honest with yourself, and connect with people. People think that inspiration just comes to artists from nowhere, but it actually comes from hard work. If you work hard and push your own limits, you will be amazed at what you can find.”