25 years on, Horn Is­land still in­spires

> Col­lege of Art’s lat­est works, ret­ro­spec­tive re­veal trip’s in­flu­ence

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art - By Bill El­lis

Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

A quar­ter cen­tury af­ter the first few from the Mem­phis Col­lege of Art de­scended on un­de­vel­oped Horn Is­land, they keep com­ing back, en­dur­ing un­for­giv­ing heat, in­sects, no run­ning wa­ter and — es­pe­cially harsh for to­day’s art stu­dents — no cell phones or In­ter­net, all for a chance at “dis­con­nect­ing to get con­nected,” ac­cord­ing to Don Du­Mont, the MCA ad­junct fac­ulty mem­ber who has been lead­ing the trip for the past four years.

“The is­land is a hun­dred per­cent raw,” he says of the an­nual des­ti­na­tion for MCA stu­dents, fac­ulty and alumni. “There are no buf­fers, and the is­land does not dis­crim­i­nate. It will come at you, it will burn you up; it will eat you up. They may think, ‘How am I go­ing to sur­vive this for eight days?’ But af­ter they get used to the idea, they start to look in, and by the sec­ond or third day, they’re not ready to leave the place.”

Two con­cur­rent MCA ex­hibits cel­e­brate the sil­ver an­niver­sary of the Horn Is­land work­shop/art colony. The first — tra­di­tion­ally the an­nual open­ing exhibit of the school year — has been dubbed “Horn Is­land 25” and of­fers more than 150 works by stu­dents, alumni and fac­ulty from the most re­cent ex­cur­sion May 28-June 6. It runs through Oct. 2 with a re­cep­tion at the col­lege 6-9 p.m. Sept. 12.

The sec­ond, ti­tled “Horn of Plenty: MCA Horn Is­land Alumni Re­flect and Re­mem­ber, 1985-2009,” is more of an in­vi­ta­tional meant to honor the best of the best over the past 25 years, 37 works by alumni and fac­ulty that pro­vide a his­tor­i­cal and creative sum­ma­tion of the project. It runs through Sept. 18 at MCA’s Down­town gallery, 338 S. Main., with a re­cep­tion 6-9 p.m. to­day.

Ten miles off the Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast be­tween Ocean Springs and Pascagoula and barely a mile wide, Horn Is­land be­longs to the Gulf Is­lands Na­tional Seashore and was fre­quently vis­ited by dis­tin­guished Ocean Springs painter Wal­ter An­der­son, who spent much of the last decades of his life cap­tur­ing the is­land’s essence.

An­der­son’s lead helped give birth to the Mem­phis art trek as did founder/MCA fac­ulty mem­ber Robert Risel­ing’s de­sire to re-cre­ate the type of off-cam­pus art out­ings he had ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ing in St. Cloud, Minn. Then-MCA stu­dent Bill Nel­son, who was based in Moss Point, Miss., near Pascagoula, sug­gested Horn Is­land, and “that’s all it took,” says Risel­ing. “I said this is the place for me.”

Nine stu­dents were part of the first ex­pe­di­tion, which Risel­ing thought would be a one-time op­por­tu­nity. In­stead, he led such trips for 20 years, wit­ness­ing not only the mat­u­ra­tion of his stu­dents’ tal­ents but also the mar­riage of his daugh­ter, artist Mi­caela Risel­ing, to fel­low artist Larry Cooper, on the is­land.

More than two dozen stu­dents and alumni re­cently par­tic­i­pated, and the re­sults as seen in “Horn Is­land 25” are at times whim­si­cal, pro­found, sub­dued and brash, a wild ar­ray of styles, tech­niques and voices tied to­gether by both re­spect for the sub­ject mat­ter and the joy of self-dis­cov­ery.

High­lights are many, and in­clude the amus­ing pop cul­ture mash-up by Michael Roy, “Left the Wa­ter at Base Camp,” which imag­ines Don­ald Duck surf­ing the waves of Ja­panese mas­ter Hoku­sai; the rush of words that ef­fec­tively splash across the sur­face of Bob Bur­dette’s “Qui­etly Loud;” Michelle Duck­worth’s dis­tinc­tive ink on wood fan­tasies; Court­ney Lol­lar’s trans­for­ma­tive use of wa­ter­color and acrylic into or­ganic, lichen-like minia­tures; Du­Mont’s sculp­tural in­fu­sion of Na­tive Amer­i­can mo­tif and myth in “Snap­per Spirit Salute;” and Risel­ing’s “Drift Log on the Beach,” a dis­til­la­tion of the is­land’s per­son­al­ity into pure form and color.

The Down­town show is just as sat­is­fy­ing and car­ries the air of con­ver­sa­tion among its pieces — works by Robert and Mi­caela Risel­ing, Larry Cooper, Le­an­dra Ur­ra­tia and oth­ers bounce off each other with the ring of shared mem­ory and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yet for Robert Risel­ing, the best part of a 25th an­niver­sary is wit­ness­ing how the Horn Is­land legacy has grown be­yond its ini­tial par­tic­i­pants.

“There are so many peo­ple now all over the na­tion that have been on this trip over the years. ... We’re known around the coun­try, and we’ve ac­tu­ally had stu­dents come to the school be­cause of Horn Is­land. Ev­ery year at grad­u­a­tion, the stu­dents who re­ceive the great­est hon­ors, they’re al­most al­ways stu­dents who have gone to Horn Is­land. They be­come larger peo­ple than just stu­dents.”

“Drift Log on the Beach,” from Robert Risel­ing’s lat­est Horn Is­land trip.

“Left the Wa­ter at Base Camp,” by Michael Roy, imag­ines Don­ald Duck surf­ing the waves of Ja­panese mas­ter Hoku­sai.

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