Scenes from the Spillway

Drawn together by the devastating flooding of the Mississippi River in 2011, 25 rising Southern artists showcase their skills at Tunica RiverPark and Museum’s Delta Artists exhibit

 

Story by Shaunda Crockett

 

Right on the cusp of the Delta region in Mississippi lays a little jewel known as the Tunica RiverPark and Museum. Boasting more than 40 feet of overlook with an incredible view of the mighty Mississippi River, the RiverPark also includes a nature trail, museum, gift shop and a launch for riverboat cruises. Remodeled after the floods in 2011, the Tunica RiverPark immerses its visitors in native flora and fauna. The beauty of the park has not gone unnoticed, as shown when Rand McNally named the park its “Best of the Road” winner in 2011.
Now and through the end of August, the museum is host to a traveling exhibit, Delta Artists. Pat Brown, co-owner of T Clifton Art located in Memphis, Tennessee, curated the exhibit.  With more than 30 years of experience in the art industry, Brown has worked with an assortment of artists and helped to showcase their individual styles. That diversity, which is abundant in the Mississippi Delta, contributed to the creation of the exhibit. Employing various media, styles and personal influences, the artists reflect their Delta heritage and the individual journeys that have culminated in this exhibit. “Some feel that artists choose their respective style,” says Brown. “Others feel that style reflects the soul of an artist. Style is neither good nor bad — it is born within the artist and seen through the eyes of the viewer.”
The variety of styles showcased in the exhibit includes contemporary, folk, traditional and impressionistic. Whether a fine art connoisseur or weekend gallery gawker, the exhibit welcomes viewers to compare and contrast the convergence of artistic styles, media and career points. For those less experienced in art, the exhibit provides a brief course in art appreciation, specifically connected to the Mississippi River and the Delta region. The media are as diverse as the artists themselves, ranging from monotype to photography to mezzo fresco, a plaster canvas with acrylic paint medium that gained popularity during the Renaissance Era. But the creativity does not stop there. Some artists strayed from the traditional canvas altogether and elected to work on Masonite and old LP records instead. “Some artists choose to mix their medium as they create a work of art,” she says. “Others build expertise in one medium. The choice of medium is somewhat dictated by style and subject matter; however, artists love to experiment and push the boundaries of how a medium is typically used,” Brown says.
When comparing pieces in the exhibit, viewers should not think of artistic style as a black-and-white issue, Brown says. Instead, they should know that artists tend to blend artistic styles as a way to fully express themselves, she says. For example, Stacy Wills describes herself as contemplative, since she delights in exploring the many ways that spirituality and creativity intersect.  The mandala (Sanskrit word that means “circle”) she included in this exhibit reflects this intersection — as she interpreted a dream through painting on an old vinyl LP. In another piece, Tom Clifton adapts the use of plaster and paint to canvas. “He utilizes many of the same processes that fresco artists made famous as they painted the walls of cathedrals and castles throughout Europe during the 17th century,” Brown says.
While these two artists appear to have nothing in common, their work is connected just as the Mississippi River links the South to the North. Specifically, the 2011 flood is what ties these seemingly disparate artists together. “The flooding in 2011 reminds us how widespread the rivers which flow into the Mississippi River really are — just as widespread as the artistic talent and influences of the artists in the exhibit,” Brown says.
Though the selection process was not easy, Brown describes those featured as being chosen to reflect the diversity of styles, media and career paths found among the artistic community of the Delta. With 25 artists on display, the exhibit features one to two pieces from each. Artists will replenish the exhibit as pieces are sold at price points of less than $1,000.
Each piece is representative of the artists themselves and what they try to achieve through artwork. Asking Brown if she could spotlight a few of her favorite artists is like asking a child to pick their favorite treat from a candy shop. She says that a couple of those capturing her interest are Angela Davis Johnson and Stacy Wills. Angela Davis Johnson, a Little Rock, Arkansas native, is an artist who has painted a new flair into the history of folk art. Leaving behind the primitive look that folk art is well known for, Johnson has brightened up the palette with a more contemporary and contemplative feel. Her work is also on display in Gallery 360 and the Cox Creative Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Another artist in Brown’s sight is Stacy Wills from Madison County, Mississippi.  Wills often creates her masterpieces on old LP albums, the perfect canvas for her mandala-style works. Wills is very excited to have her work on display at the Tunica RiverPark Museum. “It was both an honor and a surprise to be asked to be a part of the exhibit. The artists on display are very talented and I feel honored to be in their company,” she says. In addition to the “Mandala Meditation” series, Wills is also a fan of working with alcohol-based ink and stretching her limits through a digital process she calls “sacred altering.”  More of Wills’ work can be seen in the videos on her website at stacywills.com.
Those looking for a more personal connection can find a pair of DeSoto County natives on display, as well. Janice Kennedy of Nesbit has been painting for 10 years and is a self-taught artist. “She was particularly chosen for the exhibit because she paints a variety of subjects using various media — oils, pastels and watercolors,” says Brown. For a more realistic view of nature, Rick DeStafinis of Olive Branch employs a camera as his canvas. “His style is unique in the current genre of photography, as he produces his images with minimal photo editing for light, color and contrast. Other than cropping and stamping for minor imperfections, Rick’s photos are displayed ‘as taken.’”
The Delta Artist exhibit is the first exhibit to be housed in the newly designed traveling exhibit space at the museum.  All exhibits that will be on display in this section of the museum will remain for six-month periods before a new exhibit goes on display.  The exhibit will remain open through August 31 and is open to the public from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors 65 years and older, and $5 for children 12 and under.

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