Colony Artists 2008
The Netherlands
Ghana, Africa
Antonio Manfredi
Arrow Ross
Dick Roberts*
Gayle Tustin*
Gerlinde Pistner
Hetty van der Linden
Janette K. Hopper
Juliana Neves Hoffmann
Lauren Brown
Lone Seeberg
Loulie Scharf
Manuel “Manolo” Oyonarte
Manuel “Manolo” Sáenz-Messia
Pamela Toll*
Peter Thompson
Sergej Andreevski
Terry Chipp
*NBI Co-founder/Co-Director
Tenets of the Painting Tribe
by Isabel Heblich

At No Boundaries biennial International Artist’s Colony, we abandon not only global borders but cultural identities; we creatively cross-pollinate. For two November weeks on Bald Head Island, we form our own tribe, one whose image-language speaks to all others. We believe in painting the future until it gets here.

The 2008 colony was the Year of the Painters.

A motley tribe of eighteen members from twelve countries descended on the island with only art materials, intentions, and diverse groceries, a little something from home.

I visit in the early days of the colony, finding what feels like a shipwrecked crew who, abandoning their quest, make a home of this island. (This, I find out, is not far from the actual history of Bald Head Island)

Everybody’s hair takes a slight curl. Even the island itself perked up in readiness; its namesake – the southwest end protrudes like a bald head or a bare canvas beckoning “paint me.”

The supply shed at Captain Charlie’s overflowed like an arsenal stocked for art pirates. Crates of paint, flats of canvases, rows of pastels, resemble belts of multicolored ammunition. This treasure room doubles as the studio of Pamela Toll and Nii Narku. On the first day, breaking the symphony of wooshing brush sounds, Pam turned to me and declared, “This year the painting is ferocious.”
And so it was.


The 2008 colony was also the year for collaboration.

All of the artists collaborated on paintings through Dutch Non-Profit Organization “Paint a Future” and in that spirit, many artists teamed up with each other or with the island itself.

Artist and founder of “Paint a Future,” Hetty Van der Linden, (Netherlands), doled out the paintings of indigent Brazilian children on scraps of brown butcher paper first thing. The artists then realized complete works inspired from these paper prayers. Hetty asks the children to ‘’paint their future.” By envisioning their dream of a better future, they generate it. The sale of the collaborated works, spun from their drawn dream, generate money to be donated back to the children’s communities via: a school, shoes, hearing aids or a soccer field, depending on the dream.

In view of this equation, the power of art cannot be undermined!

I noticed that many NBI artists pasted their brown paper wish onto their first canvas and completed this painting before beginning their own work, rooting the colony in gratitude.

They painted The Future.

For a child, and maybe for everyone, the panacea for all human ails is a home. Painter and plastics seamstress Gerlinde Pistner (Germany) provided this cure for the child’s unexplained elf standing, alert, in crayon on the brown paper square. Pistner had been painting her imagined, expressive forests for fifteen years: immersive, fat brushstrokes of color in crystalline, prism-like growth structures. The pair seemed destined; an environment without a figure, an elf without a home.

A child’s abstract flag adds another dimension to the pure pigment pleasure of Dick Roberts’ (USA) work. Roberts cut the square into a circle and pasted it inside a canvas of a hypnotic, medium yellow. Here rests the foreign circle like a planet, a planet with eternal sun and no enemies. A swath of red encircles the orb like a warm hug while a white dash, like a star, balances this bright universe.

Painter and architect Manolo Oyonarte (Spain) mirrored a child’s depiction of a house with a happy chimney smoking into a one-cloud cerulean sky signed “Emanuelle 8 anos.” Another house, black and windowless topped with one black cloud in a bone-colored sky is signed “Oyonarte 51 years.” Counterparts hope and loneliness, the two houses make for a moving and humorous self-appraisal. When I asked, “What happened between 8 and 51?” Oyonarte replied, “Women.”

Gayle Tustin (USA) painted “Happiness and a Barbie,” an abstract, feminine fashion parade. The child’s paper figures emerge in a white and peach mist. Chalk thought-scrawls caress the forming faces. The child had asked only for a Barbie. Tustin added the happiness, a synthesis she illustrated fluidly, divinely. A Nefertiti spirit inhabited these strips and Tustin’s other colony paintings by way of stoic, female busts and backbones, a lovely resurrection.

Other artists incorporated an image of the actual child from the photograph they were each given. Pam Toll (USA) paints hers in a way the girl may never have imagined herself. Joyous, rosy-faced, and in rich clothes decorated with mirrored sequins, she dances with both dog and cat. Completing Toll’s harmonious animal circle is a colored bird rising from the girl’s illegible paint daubs. This patch holds the magic of this painting like an amulet.

To me this piece is an illustrated metaphor of the life-creation process that is making art. This phoenix in sparrow’s clothing rises from nothing and becomes something brilliant.

Such is the spirit of No Boundaries.

Between nothing and something there are no boundaries.
There is air.
Nothing is an identity, a quantity; a zero portion with a closed ‘o’ boundary
like a cell membrane. Intact. Boundaries on all fronts.
Once nothing becomes something, it has newborn boundaries to separate it from
all the other somethings and maintain.
But during the interval, the process, mid-reaction, mid-combustion; there is only infinite possibility.

The Present

“Artists tend to use what is around them,” Dutch painter Lone Seeberg told me, with a wink. That includes each other.

Chalk-blue eyes peer out between the folds of a make-shift burka from an American flag; they are Seeberg’s. The photograph, by Antonio Manfredi (Italy), is an ultra-sharp close up. The flag’s cheap plastic weave, a texture made visible by Manfredi’s lens, reveals the third character in the drama: China. Hyper-aggressive, silly, and fallible appear the broad stripes and bright stars when seen in this brilliant aesthetic and political context.

A visual conversation by Serge Andreevski (Macedonia) and Nii Narku (Ghana) is captured on canvas; it intertwines two contrary very masculine paint styles. Thick spontaneous strokes, applied directly from the tube, race to form two facing figures. They are Andreveki’s wild ropes of color. Narku’s grounded style of block-like patches of color, softened by a vertical rain, counterbalances the squirms of pure paint. This meeting of the minds illustrates what is on the surface and the process of the piece’s own formation. There is strength in compromise.

“Pilar only expresses herself through dance,” jokes Loulie Scharf (USA) of the French painter. Pilar did gain notoriety on the dance floor, but Scharf was the one watching, observing joy in physical form and working paper silhouettes of dancers onto a bold black and red canvas back at her studio.

The Island

When your identity is not bound by the traditions of your surroundings, who do you become? In what do you see yourself: the sea, the sand, inside the nurse’s dark pocket?

Looking out ahead, as if down an open road, or perhaps glancing back for that last look, the one that contains everything, is the work of Juliana Neves Hoffman (Brazil). Like a disappearing scythe, her distressed beach scenes curve into the horizon. We have only an instant. The worn texture, bare in parts, evokes the cirrus dust clouds of a stampede. Somehow both future and past, her landscapes personify the momentary nature of memory, and the uncertainty and magnetism of what is just out of sight.

Pursuing his fascination for “persistence and decay,” painter Terry Chipp (England) found these favorites incarnate in the transient island. Chip maps an aging, zig-zagging fence, staggering back and forth like drunken tracks through the dunes. He lovingly renders the persistent split posts bleached by sun. Nearby patches of blue and yellow grass empty into bare white canvas like spilled salt.

Landscape painter Janette Hopper (USA) captures her experience of the island as brimming and vital. Hopper’s panoramic triptych of a Bald Head sunset reaches from cool dark to grayscale to rich, warm tones as the night wraps the island. Like an inner landscape, human emotion is projected like the dappled sun atop the sand and water. Sometimes the sea is on your side.

We want to be disarmed, dismantled and reassembled
with a better, higher use for our parts.
That is why we come here;
to float out to sea and swim to the shores of a new abandon,
to peel off our personas like wet clothes,
let our old ideas re-shape in the wind,
seduced by the ambient island noise.

The Unknown

d) all of the above
e) none of the above

For some artists the literal influences of colony life are either both small and numerous or without a trace. This leg of their journey is part of a larger one being lassoed full circle.

Take the view of fields seen from an airplane, dye them colors, stitch ‘em together, make a map of your childhood thought process. Lone Seeberg (Denmark) is a seamstress of ideas. Line drawings — a cup, a scrawl of text, an unidentified tangle -- appear and disappear in her world’s color counties. These patchwork planes bobble up to the surface and make ripple the drawn monkey girl heroine. She is Seeberg’s “Alice.” Seeberg’s is a new breed of intellectual pop art tugging at the skirts of the social sciences. It is the Frankenstein of painting, deeply human, deeply relevant and girlish.

Pilar (France) expands and flattens the view of her worlds by using 3-D elements and sequential photography. On the level of touch we are drawn to the scratchy and singed wooden surface. Pilar then descends through multiple doorways into a photographic super-reality, the bottom layer. Her visual tunneling springs us back to the surface as soon as we arrive. It’s as is she threads a needle with a brick. She collapses so many environments and associations beneath shallow wood windows. How is there space? She creates disbelief in a certain eye, all the better when she, like a sword swallower, pulls us back out again

In each mono-print or painting, Manolo Messia (Spain) creates interlocking, angular forms. Some boundaries exist without choice and we, like Messia’s forms, must grow around them, despite them, because of them. Would these shapes be so expressive had they not been interlocked, bound to each other? A master of relating forms and surface quality, Messia’s shapes bare the varying tensions of a gentle snag to a split atom.

A voyeur in rainbow suspenders, NBI photographer Arrow Ross (Denmark, USA) documented the happenings of the colony with a theatrical and quizzical eye. Ross is interested only in sincere action, in the photo his subjects give by accident. His portraits of NBI artists capture everything exciting and exotic about being an artist, being an individual, and being a free person. His vision only adds to the truth, refilling the creative fuel tank by documenting the risks every artist was taking and so, making it real. Ross is the farthest link in the chain of art imitating life imitating art imitating infinity.

Ad Infinitum

The tribe disperses at the end of the colony.

They surrender their brushes like wooden swords and return home changed. Having dissolved the boundaries and combined covalently with art, the island, and each other, they are transformed. Released from ferocity, they carry on in openness, until the next beautiful coup on Bald Head.