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Horn Island: World of Space and Form

September 28, 2006 - January 7, 2007


Through January 7, 2007, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art is exhibiting Horn Island: World of Space and Form, which features the works of five different local artists of the past and present: Walter Anderson, Donald Bradburn, Stig Marcussen, Chris Stebly, and Steve White.

The barrier islands are not only long, low islands in the gulf that serve as coastal protection, but they have a life and mythology of their own. Seen through the eyes of artists in the different media of watercolor and of the camera lens, the stark beauty takes on new sight and vision. Color communicates in the textures and vibration of the white paper, and shape and form speak boldly through the blacks and greys of the photograph. Sometimes they have the same dunes and trees as the subject but take on different character. Revisit Horn Island as she was before Katrina on the walls of the Museum.

Collaboration with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has provided a post Katrina satellite image of Horn Island, which will be contrasted with the satellite image of Pre-Katrina Horn Island. With help from the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS) and Gulf Coast Research Lab, this exhibition will focus greatly on the natural and scientific aspects of the Horn Island ecosystem.

Walter Anderson's love for Horn Island is evident within much of his work. He would row the 12 miles in a small skiff, carrying minimal necessities and his art supplies. Anderson spent long periods of time on this uninhabited island over the last 18 years of his life. There he lived primitively, working in the open and sleeping under his boat, sometimes for weeks at a time. He endured extreme weather conditions, from blistering summers to hurricane winds and freezing winters. He painted and drew a multitude of species of island vegetation, animals, birds, and insects, penetrating the wild thickets on hands and knees and lying in lagoons in his search to record his beloved island paradise. Anderson's obsession to "realize" his subjects through his art, to be one with the natural world instead of an intruder, created works that are intense and evocative.

Horn Island, one of the barrier islands located 10 miles from the Mississippi mainland, beguiled Walter Anderson. He spoke of the island in these terms: "Such a sky -- such water, and Horn Island between with me walking it -- the back of Moby Dick, the white whale, the magic carpet, surrounded by inhabited space -- strange, inhabited? space."

Horn Island engaged Anderson not only as an artist but also as a philosopher, poet, and naturalist, meeting his great need for solitude. Paradoxically, while he reveled in his seclusion, Anderson was not isolated from life. He spoke of Horn Island as a stage and he participated fully in the drama.

In the extensive logs he kept while on Horn Island, Anderson wrote about what he saw, interpreting it for none other than himself and relating it to art, literature, philosophy, botany, and music. He documented through drawings, paintings, and prose his observations of events both great and small, from the activities of a spotted frog to the near-demise of the brown pelican due to the use of the pesticide DDT in the 1940s and 1950s.

In his logs, Anderson reflects on man's relationship to nature: "If he makes friends with it (nature), does he lose the careless relation that is so important, as every farmer knows from the careless sowing of seeds. If nature becomes a God, will it not also be a demon and destroy him with that careless brutality with which man destroys fish? If the brute is necessary, who is to be the brute? -- then music and art are the answer."

Donald Bradburn -- doctor of medicine, photographer, and environmental advocate from New Orleans -- has long shared Walter Anderson's passion for Horn Island and explored it since the early 1950s. Through the lens of his camera, we are shown images that simply reveal the complex interrelationship of natural elements on Horn Island. Bradburn has staunchly defended the wilderness for years, and it is largely due to his passionate efforts as an environmentalist that Horn Island is now federally protected as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The love of Horn Island runs deep within the family of Walter Anderson. His grandson, Ocean Springs artist Chris Stebly, also featured in this exhibition, expresses the magical nature of Horn Island and its inhabitants within much of his work. "Horn Island, to me, is a very mysterious place with many strange and wonderful treasures to be found if one is open to them and paying close attention. Human distractions and creature comforts can cause these jewels to slip through our fingers and minds without any absorption," said Stebly regarding the inspiration he receives from Horn Island. "It seems that the magic only happens, for me, when I lose myself in the place or surrender. Then and only then can the true richness of the place or any special place be felt! Thank goodness for Horn Island and our beautiful Gulf Coast!" Stebly further explained. Much like his grandfather, Chris Stebly spends much of his time sketching and painting creatures and life of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast artist Stig Marcussen draws upon nature as his source of inspiration for much of his work. As one art critic put it, "Marcussen paints so frequently his brush is almost an appendage to his body". Marcussen often renders the Gulf Coast scenery in a somewhat grainy or sketchy manner, which emphasizes the uncertainty within nature. As Chris Stebly's teacher and renowned Gulf Coast artist, Marcussen is inevitably featured in such an exhibition.

Steve White is a Mississippi Gulf Coast native. He is a self taught, black & white fine art photographer. White uses medium format film cameras as well as digital and develops and prints all of his own work. Negatives are scanned and printed on the highest quality giclee printers. These black and white images express a sense of movement, time, and history in an almost unbelievable representation that most black and white photographs are usually thought unable to convey. The viewer is swept into a time and place that is seemingly long forgotten and untouched by human civilization. This place is Horn Island, but the time is now. The photography of Donald Bradburn and Steve White will be paralleled with the works of Walter Anderson and Chris Stebly.


From the gallery guide

This exhibition lets us revisit the island as it was in the mid-20th century through Walter Anderson's watercolors and Donald Bradburn's photographs. Much of the island's scenery and wildlife has a timeless quality to it that is still seen in the more recent work of Stig Marcussen, Chris Stebly, and Steve White. These works round out this exhibit of watercolors, oils, journals, and photography.

Pelicans, raccoons and egrets peer out from the corners of the galleries having made their way from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. Satellite images of Horn Island before and after Katrina take their place in the galleria from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Information from Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Gulf Coast Research Lab further bring in the eye of the scientists and naturalists to give us other views.

In many ways, this is exactly the kind of exhibition that Walter Anderson would have liked. It presents many moments of "realization," and a myriad of ways of seeing that he used. Being a naturalist himself, he professed to being an artist "who prefers nature to art" and his endless lists of birds, and drawings of cloud formations, and attention to the details of life on the island seem to bring dual emphasis to his work. His love of the island and its rich resources for discovery that never seem exhausted continues through all these artists. They continue to find Horn Island a theatrical stage on which the comedies and tragedies of its actor inhabitants are played out in endless seasonal acts.

The barrier islands were formed 4000 to 6000 years ago from the stone (sand) of the Appalachian mountains.

The islands were formed by longshore currents so that they actually drift about a mile west every 100 years.

Horn Island is the largest of the barrier islands, is 14 miles long, varies up to one half mile wide and contains about 4000 acres. Its dunes reach a height of 25-35' above sea level. However, Katrina caused a loss of vegetation to about 250 acres on the island, altered the location of dunes and their height. As Walter Anderson said about another storm, "the Great Leveler has been over it."


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