Colony Artists 1998



United States
of America
Sergej Andreevski
Gligor Cemerski
Per H. Bille
Ricardo Calanchini
Daniela Viotti
Michel Raby
Dimitar Stojcevski

Carol Collier
Bob Deyoung
Mimi Carter Haley
Evalyn Boyd Hines
Fritzi Huber
Sandra Ihly
Eric Lawing
Minda Lawing
Jan Miles
Marshall Milton
Donna S. Moore
Alice Ballard Munn
Dick Roberts*
Leon Schenker
Traudi Thornton
Pamela Toll*
Gayle Tustin*
Chappy Valente
Dina Wilde-Ramsing
*NBI Co-founder/Co-Director
by Anthony F. Janson

Something incredible happened in Wilmington. Yes, Wilmington, North Carolina, of all places. An international artist retreat that actually produced something! No small miracle indeed. Most artist colonies and retreats result in very little significant work. This one, by contrast, was a resounding success.

You could see it in the works that were hung in the group exhibition at the end of the two weeks on Bald Head Island and at the Acme Art Studios downtown, where the retreat continued for the artists from abroad. You could hear it in the voices of the artists as they discussed the experience — their sense of accomplishment, their wistfulness that it was over, their hope that it would happen again someday.

What was it? How did it happen? Many things contributed to it: the setting removed from landfall and reality, the hospitality of Bald Head Island’s developer Kent Mitchell, the first-rate catered meals donated by several restaurants and individuals, the nightly music, dancing and storytelling. But though important, they provided the setting for an ideal summer camp, which does not in itself guarantee artistic success. No, what really happened is that everyone took the theme “No Boundaries” seriously. In contrast to what usually happens at artist colonies, no one put his or her ego on the line, erected fences, or staked out turf. For a brief magical period, everyone was accepted without question as an artist, and therefore as someone to be taken seriously as a human being as well. Everyone had license to experiment openly without criticism. Everyone had the freedom to learn from others. The result was an explosion of creativity, individually and collectively, such as one rarely sees.

The catalyst was surely the presence of foreign artists. The idea was born of visits by Pam Toll, Gayle Tustin and Dick Roberts to artist colonies in Macedonia, where they had each grown tremendously. Three honored guests from Macedonia joined the Bald Head colony, but the retreat also included Michel Raby from France, Per Bille from Denmark, and Ricardo Calanchini and Daniela Viotti from Argentina. It is good to see that the Expressionist tradition is alive and well in Europe. The Macedonians — Sergej Andreevski, Gligor Cemerski and Dimitar Stojcevski — practice individual variants of it. By its very nature, Expressionism requires absolute freedom of approach, which involves taking risks. That necessarily brings with it an equally great chance of success or failure. In this instance, it proved liberating to everyone, for it unleashed their potential to the fullest.

It would be impossible to catalog all the achievements of this remarkable event. Herewith are some — but only some — of the highlights, in no particular order, of those artists who were there for the entire retreat, and a few others who visited for varying lengths of time.

The canvases by Dick Roberts are the finest things he has ever done, especially the great billowing abstractions that were clearly inspired by the sea. They capture the movement of light and atmosphere in a way that no realistic marine painting could hope to match.

Traudi Thornton, normally a ceramist, decided to experiment with linoleum cuts. Not the German Expressionist variety but pure abstractions, overlaid with color. She produced more than a dozen, all of them little gems: self-contained realms of light glowing as from within.

The paintings from Bald Head by Gayle Tustin, another ceramist artist, show an energy and, at the same time, control and confidence never before seen in her oils.

Pam Toll continued her recent investigations of soft-focus landscapes in a series of canvases that recorded the topography of Bald Head Island.

Sandra Ihly, who does assemblage, produced her most important work yet after she came back from Bald Head. She went to the studio early in the morning and heard a voice urging her to “Reach higher! Reach higher!” She did, and the result was a painting assemblage of a woman that almost literally reaches out to grab the viewer’s attention. It is powerful stuff, but that is what good art is about.

Mimi Carter Haley, primarily a watercolorist, painted two strong abstract oils with a freedom and boldness that must have caught her entirely by surprise.

Fritzi Huber made paper and pigments out of natural materials she found on the island that produced an unaccustomed subject matter, color and texture for her. Whereas her usual works on handmade paper are colorful and abstract, these are soft and muted, carrying the impressions of the scenery itself.

With typical Gallic wit, Michel Raby painted a confrontation titled Goya’s Dog at the Beach that is nevertheless very effective as pure painting.

Per Bille captured the dilemma of control versus freedom in a pair of canvases that juxtapose complete control of design and total freedom of brushwork. Is it an accident on the day he left he completed a densely painted flower still life that marries Expressionist color and brushwork with a strong composition in a way that would have made Van Gogh or Munch proud?

Dimitar Stojcevski’s intensely expressive drawings of the trees and buildings around Bald Head, such as the old chapel, have a soulful air that seems to unveil the hidden life of the island, before it was taken over by the developer (who, I must say, has been amazingly conscientious in his efforts to preserve the natural landscape). There are numerous trees several centuries old, and one whose growth has been measured at more than 1300 years!

Like all Macedonian artists it seems, Gligor Cemerski is much concerned with his national heritage, especially its religious and mythological past. But these themes he uses to question traditional subjects and to invest them with new meaning, for example by having St. George lose for a change to the dragon in the handsome triptych that is the finest work from his stay in the United States. They provide the framework for an ongoing dialogue with paint itself. Each time he takes up a subject it comes out differently. He attacks each canvas like a fencer, jabbing at it with deft strokes until the image takes shape out of a welter of brushstrokes.

If Gligor is the biggest chance-taker of the three, Sergej Andreevski is the most assured painter. He certainly had the strongest impact on the Americans at the retreat. It is little wonder that he has been having an increasing number of shows around Europe. This is a major talent, one worthy of international attention. He did one large canvas in particular that is dazzling in its seeming virtuosity. Yet it does not waste a single gesture. Like Gligor, he uses a lot of paint, straight from the tube or mixed directly on the canvas, but with a sense of rightness that is truly masterful.

Everyone was captivated by Ricardo Calanchini’s whimsical drawings of the Bald Head lighthouse — so much so that developer Kent Mitchell bought the entire suite and invited him to stay on an extra two weeks to do more work. These almost surreal fantasies of the lighthouse being constructed by pudgy architects and builders using the most im­probable materials have a wonderfully Latin imaginativeness. The drawings are, by the artist’s own accounting, superior to his pressed oil paint­ings because he did not have all his painting materials at hand. On those he uses a rubbing technique similar to one invented by Max Ernst called “frottage.” His paintings are handsome works in their own right.

The life of the colony was captured on film by Arrow Ross. He has always been a very solid professional photographer. But like everyone else, he became caught up with the creative frenzy. The over 1200 photographs he took are more than a documentary. They, too, are his finest body of work to date. Anyone who doubts that need only view Arrow’s extraordinary photograph of Ricardo and Daniela!

“No Boundaries” was such a success that Kent Mitchell has made the Captain Charlie cottages available to the colony on an annual basis. Current plans call for alternating the international gathering with a small one of local artists. There have even been discussions for a summer version in Italy or France. Stay tuned for further developments!