Colony Artists 2004
Ráed Al-Rawi
Don H. Baker
Steve Bakunas
Aleks Bartosik
Gligor Cemerski
Jeff Chase
Danielle Couture
Desislava Deneva
Matthew Dols
Beverly Floyd
Debra Fritts
Ann Cary J. Hevener
Evalyn Boyd Hines
Tim A. Jones
Susan Lange
Maximo Laura
Eric Lawing
Wayne McDowell
Gerlinde Pistner
Larry Pritchard
Dick Roberts*
Arrow Ross
Frank Shelton
Pamela Toll*
Gayle Tustin*
Brynn Ulisnik
Slavko Upevce
Virginia Wright-Frierson
*NBI Co-founder/Co-Director
The Ocean as a Witness
by Gligor Cemerski

For Kent Mitchell

I was one of the painters who landed on Bald Head Island in early November 1998 for the first No Boundaries colony. I can now see that it was something extraordinarily important, wrought with uncommon excitement and resounding with an almost impossible rhythm. Undoubtedly, we all shared something in common in the midst of that ungraspable fever: each of us carried the air and space of our own sides of the world and these were bound to blend together mysteriously and become one on this small island.

My trajectory from Skopje in Macedonia to Wilmington in North Carolina resembled that of a ball in a pinball machine — with the same lightning speed, chaotic rebounds and sudden turns. I arrived in Washington, D.C. in the very beginning of October. I had left behind the European airports. After more than a month’s stay in America — bustling between New York and Washington, where speed is at least tenfold compared to Macedonia — there I was, getting off the Amtrak train on the small platform in Raleigh. Painted in color all over, Pam Toll is checking every carriage in search of me, her friend from St. Joakim Osogovski — from a very distant and imaginary part of the world.

Deep into the night, we reach the shore. Before it shows itself, the Ocean makes its presence know by its plangent roar — a heavy and alarming sound that benumbs one’s body. On the deck of the ferry Adventure, the swelling waves dart tiny needles into our faces. The few lights on Bald Head Island hint that our friends are there. And before the vessel comes to a stop, a racket bursts from the marina and a small accordion rips the air to shreds. Gayle Tustin, Sergej Andreevski, Michel Raby, Dimitar Stojcevski and a multitude of unfamiliar, yet already dear, smiling faces impatiently besiege the fence. Wine spills from the raised glasses and mixes with the Ocean — our host and perhaps our secret patron.

The map of Bald Head Island clearly shows where it is open to the Ocean, where East, West, North and South are. Yet, on the island itself we all seem to be without a compass. In this labyrinth of woods, where the paths look like green tunnels roofed by the crowns of the age-old trees, everybody finds their own painting landmark. Some paint in their bedrooms, others on their porches, yet others on the very beach by the Ocean, using the sand for an easel. Scattered on the dunes, the turfs or in the very forest, painters from all over the world seem like spiders, all spin­ning their own webs from the visible before them and from their memories.

In the group studios differences are often readily visible. Yet, one thing is certain: as the force of the painting expression increases, so grows the intensity.

Night comes to reconcile energies. The imperfections of the world, our own imperfections and even the occasional defeats of the day demand the repose and forgiveness to which they are entitled. Now, on the dining table that gathers friends the wine is not spilt only to bribe the vast sea but also to remind the unpredictable within us that uncertainty has an attractiveness of its own. The Dane, Per Bille, stretches his accordion slowly: this time its sound is muffled; it moans quietly. “A story, a story, each of us has to tell a story,” he says. He tells some Scandinavian tale that hardly anybody understands. Michel takes over and comes up with a chanson, but Sergej and Dimitar have already started a solemn Macedonian reel: “The Arduous” — the choreography of anguish and pride. Gayle has already found the motto for No Boundaries: “this is it,” she says, “a celebration of art and a celebration of life too.” The Ocean beats time with the crash of the waves. And then, someone remembers the olden rituals: going to the porch or to the dunes, moving the dining table, lighting candles, sharing the bread, the wine and the light with the stars. Then it dawns on me that this is a place of encounters, of a bigger and more general reunion that the day breaks by closing it within walls of impenetrable glass. Adults have become used to looking from within that cage. Why is Bald Head Island precisely the opposite? The reason, I realized, is that it is an island, a land on its own; it is because, like any other island (even the smallest of islands), it is a separate continent: a small, utopian labyrinth of encounters under the patronage of Kent Mitchell.

Four Encounters

Pamela Toll is a painter of generosity and internal richness. At the entrance of her studio, reminiscent of some vast mythic vestibule, innumerable sensations, characters, visions and dreams queue to settle on her canvases. Sometimes they are lyrically cloaked in the ungrasp­able silk of childhood. Sometimes they are furious, even nightmarish. Hence, her dedication to the monumental, to large formats, to grandiose compositions that never end on a single canvas. They continue onto the next and onwards, in whole cycles. Had she lived in the Middle Ages, Pamela would have cer­tainly dreamt up and found her own cathedral. In her vast studio at Acme Art in Wilmington, in different order or in different disorder, her paintings live like a big and unfinished ensemble. Indeed, sometimes they are too densely placed and confront each other, shouting each other down, gasping greedily for their common ozone. Taken out of this familiar studio, set in separate and tamer environments, in someone’s home or in someone’s collection, each of Pam’s paintings reclaims its own full energy — an energy equal to that of all the paintings together. That is true magic.

Intelligent, gifted, having become a master of realization virtually through Zen exercises, Gayle Tustin lives in art with a sort of serenity that one can be but envious of. Her charm springs from her naturalness; this does not mean that her works lack drama but rather that she possesses the power to create a new hypnotic light from everything that goes through her hands, from her life in art. Here seductiveness has a superior effect. This is how Gayle expresses her sense of color and her impressive chromatic culture: “In our piece of Macedonia — St. Joakim Osogovski — there was inspiration everywhere...the walls of the churches were painted with narrative, religious fantasies in subtle colors, akin to the natural oxides: cobalt blue, chrome yellow, chrome-oxide and terra cotta, then again a yellow with a different hue.” But what I personally envy her for is the magical confidence with which she turns clay into sculpture, sculptures into rich chromatic spatial pictures, and her paintings and drawings, be they on canvas or on paper, into space of such freedom as only the purest childhoods still reside in. This is yet another proof that talent gets where ambition cannot. Gayle is undoubtedly the embodiment of talent – in flesh.

Along with Pamela and Gayle, Dick Roberts closes the triangular basis upon which No Boundaries grows, the great moving tent of art stretching between Wilmington and Bald Head Island, and beyond. This, of course, is not a visible architecture, but it is clearly visible that its soundness rests on Pamela, Gayle and Dick. In North Carolina, as far as I know, nothing similar exists. Dick’s first encounter with Macedonia may have produced in him mixed feelings of shock and admiration, even a new revelation of his own self. A poet, musician, cer­tainly most of all and from the depths of his impulse a painter, he has proven to be inexhaus­tibly curious and open to everything: the bells of the monastery of St. Joakim Osogovski, the light and the solemn luxury of Ohrid, the old Macedonian capital, the stern force of the medieval frescoes and icons — all have nested in his spirit. With Sergej Andreevski he became familiar with the anarchic and wild nature of the Demir Hisar area of Macedonia. Dick returned home having one more fatherland within. His painting too now lives in a new synthesis: vast space and tamed universal light. Ultra­marine, cobalt, enriched black, a kind of sharp green and a broad flash of white lights — this is what the entrances to Ohrid’s medieval painting ensembles look like. But, that is also what the Ocean seen from Bald Head Island looks like when the starry night falls. And this is where yet again we find Dick. In real life and in the photos I see him spread his arms before his paintings and towards his friends. Such a gesture painted on the old frescoes is called Oranta, which translates loosely as “one who embraces the whole world.”

Arrow Ross is the big and omnipresent eye of No Boundaries. Like those lucky protected beasts that the woods on Bald Head Island are teeming with — the squirrels, raccoons and perhaps the otters — rather than being visible, Arrow is present more through some barely perceivable invention, except when he creates his great spectacles and events. Then he puts the vast multi­tude of painters and their friends into motion and, like a director, conductor or military commander, he puts us all under his tyrannical willpower. Only later, when it is all over, do we recognize our­selves as seen through his eye. Perhaps in addition to the few paintings of our own, his photographs are the only proof of our existence here. Arrow certainly ranks among the top masters of the camera that I know. He suffers the same pain that torments us, the painters: he knows that the eye is emotional, intelligent, cunning, gentle, cruel — in short, that it is the fastest lightning of our body. I remember the beautiful book on the Danish medieval cathedrals that Arrow made years ago together with the great Danish painter Asger Jorn. We are no longer speaking of stone chimeras, petrified faces of the ancestors or of a defense of a religious doctrine. Through light and darkness, Arrow had awakened and breathed life into a kind of people whose reality makes our own seem banal. Arrow — another magician and another magic.

In October 2004 I arrived in Wilmington for the fourth time, and the very next day I was on Bald Head Island. No Boundaries was no longer a curious experiment but rather an institution with an established name. I could see the intensity with which this, as the press put it, “painters’ paradise” echoed not only in the neigh­boring towns, such as Fayetteville, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, but also throughout North Carolina. After all the partings and reunions, what new could we, the “veterans,” see? We already knew the vegetation, the humidity, the winds and the caprices of the Ocean. Many people in Wilmington knew us on the streets and in the bars as old acquaintances: you could even hear someone ask, “How are things in Macedonia?”

Captain Charlie’s Cottages are full of new suitcases marked with stamps and stickers from airports all over the world: Lima, Montréal, Frankfurt, Sofia, Zurich, Skopje…new faces emerge at breakfast the following morning, with eyes dimmed from the long journey. We drink our coffee with a mild smile and obvious curiosity, as if we all set ourselves secret missions: to guess where this one might be coming from. Wayne McDowell from the USA; Maximo Laura from Peru; Gerlinde Pistner from Germany; Desislava Deneva from Bulgaria; Aleks Bartosik from Canada; Slavko Upevce from Macedonia… I can even get to know him better here. From now on we will all be painting together: in Eb and Flo’s on the marina, or in groups, scattered from there to the sand dunes in front of Captain Charlie’s Cottages. We will be in the same unpredictable and sometimes icy wind and we will be warmed by the same sun. At night there will be time, as Per Bille says, for everybody’s story. Now No Boundaries itself has a longer biography and a longer story. Will each of us tell it in his or her own way? Why not? I am sure that some short or long chronicle has already been made. I expect that we will read about many of the things we saw and did — things that slipped with the hours and our common days — in someone else’s diary, in another introduction, at another reunion on Bald Head Island, with The Ocean as a Witness.

Translated from Macedonian by Ognen Cemerski