By Bob Bahr
In 1992, Doug Hiser was standing on an unsteady, toadstool-like platform, trying not to fall off while a giant, muscle-bound man pummeled him with a foam bat.
Hiser, a dedicated athlete and bodybuilder, was a regular contestant on the “American Gladiators” TV show. He remembers that era fondly, but the work he does today is so dear to his heart, he might tear up talking about it. Hiser is an art teacher in a charter school in an economically depressed part of Texas.
He went from fingertip pushups and behind the back chin-ups to hallway murals and lighting a fire in young minds. But first, he was a child watching red wolves, snakes, turtles, and raccoons in Santa Fe, Texas. “I was Tarzan out there,” says Hiser. “I had my own zoo.”
In high school, he started drawing comics and cars, and from then on he was bitten by the art bug. His primary medium has long been pen-and-ink—Alvin TechLiners with a hard .01 tip–but he is increasingly using watercolors to express himself. His subject matter is usually wildlife. But his backgrounds are often Frazetta.
The illustrator Frank Frazetta—the artist behind many classic book covers and movie posters—was a big influence on Hiser. He was even married on Frazetta’s estate, and came to know him well. The element of Frazetta’s work that shows through the most is his dynamism and intensity. Not surprisingly, considering Hiser’s personality. “I don’t need a lot of sleep,” says Hiser. “When everyone is eating I am standing up ready to do something. At age 60, I still play sports and work out everyday. I have always had boundless energy. My life is intense. And it’s all the same way–intensity in colors, in artwork, in sports… I want my stuff to still look like a painting, not a photograph. It is almost hyperreal, with trees with a Frazetta influence.” Hiser is thrilled to make the vegetation in his paintings seemingly grow in front of you, a primordial hothouse, with fungus growing on limbs and tendrils and vines winding through the scene.
Did he see this kind of extravagant fecundity on his mail route? Hiser was with the postal service for years, both as a mailman and in management. He retired in 2006, but, as he put it, Hiser “couldn’t stay retired.”
He became an art teacher. Hiser says his art room has plants and animals hanging from the ceiling, twinkle lights and music, and all kinds of artwork hung on the walls. It’s a wonderland, a place deemed definitely cool in his school, and the children can’t wait to be old enough to take classes there. It’s not all fun and entertainment, though. Hiser has his students draw master paintings from great artists, little graphite 4″-x-4″ drawings done from black & white photocopies. By the time they graduate, his students have copied 100 masters. Hiser has had students come back after graduation to tell him their college art appreciation class was a breeze thanks to these sketchbooks.
He wrote books. Hiser has written several books that mix romance, adventure, and the outdoors, including his well-received novel The Honey Bee Girl. His latest book, Ten Secrets of Love, was released in January.
Hiser has had a full life, highlighted by a family of now-grown children, interesting jobs, and plenty of sports and bike riding. But without hesitation, he points to his recent Teacher of the Year award as one of the top highlights of his life.
“I can’t think of doing anything else,” says Hiser. “I feel like I have all these sons and daughters, and that is awesome.” Ω