Last May, two bands of local artists/adventurers experienced Horn Island, once a refuge for artist Walter Anderson. The island-inspired works, currently on exhibit at the Memphis College of Art and Studio 1688, add some powerful footnotes to Anderson's visionary watercolors and wood prints.
The Memphis College of Art exhibition, "Horn Island 21," displays the work that 20 students, two alumni, and Professor Leandra Urrutia (who also coordinated the trip) created on the island from May 12th to the 21st. Urrutia's consummately crafted clay sculpture, Lucky sets the tone for the show. "Lucky" is a horseshoe crab that's been hung on the gallery wall so that its underside is exposed. Instead of crab legs, nine human appendages dance around a headless female figure that is split wide open. This piece was made with a supple hand and pure intuition.
Lucky also tells us about 20 students who opened themselves up to the elements. For example, Cainin Hooks fashioned replicas of houseflies into gold jewelry (Horn Island Experience Ear Studs); Erin Morrison framed a long, sleek pelican skull in a weathered box/coffin (Eyes of the Island); and Manae Ross sculpted highly textured, earth-toned ceramic vessels by pressing clay into the sides of large, weathered buckets (Mollusk Vessel and Littoral Bowl).
Some of the most original works in the show are Judith Stevens' Deja Vous Dolls made from scraps of fabric, lace, shells, and baby-doll hands. There's a dark side to these colorful, imaginative hybrids. Their oversized heads and limp bodies held together with hosiery and cloth bandages suggest mutated creatures struggling to stay alive.
Alex Harrison's works are small masterworks of abstract expressionism. With thick ridges of oil, nuanced color fields, and highly expressive gestures, the artist recreates island topography, ocean depths, and currents. He diagrams his island adventures with tiny colorful geometries scattered across the thick impastos (S.C.I. and T.T.B.S.I., oil-and-collage on board). Mary Aday's Ubiquitous UV looks like a figure from a late Philip Guston painting that's been recast in clay. Its thick blue-black toenails, peeling skin, and complex libido (it sports both breasts and a cluster of penises) are masterfully rendered.
Daniel Long's mixed-media self-portraits, Flaunty Bob and his Fellow and Shortness Intermixture, conjure up some island magic in which the artist floats in gulf waters, communes with his spirit animals (seabirds and rabbits), and morphs into real and imaginary creatures. These playful meditations take us into Long's inner world where nature, imagination, and magic are gentle, sometimes indistinguishable companions.
Also on Horn Island, May 9th to the 18th, was the group of 13 artists led by Teresa White, Joseph Young, and Jon Lee, the owners of Studio 1688. The resulting exhibit, "Eight Days in Exile 2005," is filled with inventive work evoking the hot sun, the 100-degree temperatures, the lack of air-conditioning, and the sudden storms that had their way with the artists.
Kyle Thurman put together a series of increasingly burnt pieces of toast, each slice elaborately framed like an honored icon. Joseph Young went elemental/minimal with 11 square inches of chased copper (Out of the Fire), which is unassuming, unpolished, and uncarved and reveals the exquisite nuances of fired, hammered copper. Christian Ferloni's moody abstractions, Impending Paroxysms #1 and #2, suggest an island deluged in darkness and water (mixed-media on paper). And in Josh Miller's Gray Skies Are Coming (charcoal on paper), bright white sand and blue skies become infinite shades of gray.
Sand, sea, and sky cover the walls of the gallery. The delicately water-colored trees, sand dunes, and the ribbon of blue-gray lagoon in Betsy Brackin's I've Got a Flashlight are expertly detailed. Equally assured is Nikki Briggs' In Search of My Shades, which shows a small arbor of trees at the edge of the gulf in one seamless vision, which Briggs executed in pen-and-ink without whiteouts or strikeovers. Schools of jellyfish invade several of Teresa White's glass sculptures. Her translucent, graceful creatures are everywhere -- etched into sheets of glass that hang on the walls, sandblasted into a sculpture mounted on a glass table, and carved into a 72-by-51-inch glass room divider.
Jon Lee's collages are found throughout. In Adventures in Horn Island, sails billow, island flora thrives, red ribbons furl, and images of Lee's compatriots grow smaller as they recede into the background.
Capping off the show is Wendy Hailey's beautifully observed oil-on-canvas, Submerge, in which a headless body tinged with blues and greens is buoyed in a blue-black sea. Like Urrutia's horseshoe crab, Hailey's figure evokes the state of letting go mentally and physically.