Colony Artists 2010
Ana Alvarez Ribalaygua
Carmon Pombo
Dirce Maria Körbes
Leon Patchett
Manuel "Manolo" Sáenz-Messía
Arrow Ross
Bonnie England
Colleen Ringrose
Gayle Tustin*
Harry Taylor
Loulie Scharf
Michael Van Hout
Michelle Connolly
Ned Irvine
Pamela Toll*
Sammie Nicely
Sandy Lee
Scott Queen
(UNCW student intern)
Shannon Bourne
Shawn Best
*NBI Co-founder/Co-Director
Circadian Rhythm

By Marimar McNaughton

By instinct, birds of a feather congregate in flocks to fly south for the winter. Their appearance in the sky is a signal that painters and printmakers, sculptors and photographers—invited for the meter of their talent as well as the sparkle of their personality—will soon head south from Wilmington, North Carolina, to congregate, create and collaborate during No Boundaries International Artist Colony on Bald Head Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

With a truckload of art supplies and unpainted canvasses, they begin the journey away from the city, first by car, then by ferry. Arriving by golf cart, they decamp at Captain Charlie’s Station, an enclave of three two-story cabins and one of the island’s historic outposts on Bald Head’s remote southeast beach.

The silence is permeable by the distant drone of a prop plane, the squeak of sea gulls, a screen door slamming; yet it is neither the bass thrum of small waves crashing onshore, nor the lonesome whine of the crickets rubbing their hind legs together all day and into the night, but the music of bare feet on polyurethane — yards of polyurethane stretched across front porches, decks and walkways that catch the drips, the wax, and the wood shavings — that blankets Captain Charlie’s with the sound of artists at work.

At the north end of the No Boundaries’ campus is Captain Charlie’s No. 1, the communal gathering place for mealtimes and late night reveries. In the shadow of the cottage, No Boundaries’ co-founder, Pam Toll, stands in the dunes above a makeshift easel made from polyurethane stretched across the weathered boardwalk held in place with blue painter’s tape.

A few paces away on an elevated deck, Scottish sculptor Leon Patchett eyes a cleaned branch impaled in a wooden stump. He is regarding the positive and negative space between the two limbs and how to fill the middle of the frame with his collection of native twigs and branches.

Native tree branches had also worked their way into Pam’s mixed media drawing.

“Brushing with some limbs… it’s the way nature works its slow steady hand,” she explains. “The first night I was here I walked down the beach. That branch over there was all tangled up with nylon thread and the fisherman’s stuff and I started drawing on the sand. Leon by accident threw this roll of paper in the truck; maybe he thought he was going to use it. I’m so glad he did.”

The crackle of polyurethane signals the arrival of Wilmington artist Sandy Lee. He is en route to brew a batch of iced tea and pauses to admire Pam’s work.

“It may not be done but I love it,” Sandy says.

At Captain Charlie’s No. 2, Colleen Ringrose has set up her encaustic studio in the station’s shed. Her dark curls are tied back with a bandana and wearing an old-fashioned kitchen apron that she might have borrowed from Aunt Bea. By offering encaustic instruction to her fellow artists, the Cape Fear Community College faculty member has cross-pollinated the colony like a bumblebee.

Scott Queen, a University of North Carolina Wilmington student and the colony’s intern, sits on the boardwalk beside Colleen’s studio. He cradles a thick cedar wood base on which he has created an encaustic painting, now barely visible under layers of creamy white wax studded with tiny shells plucked from the beach. A Camel cigarette burns between his fingers.

Over his shoulder, Atlanta-based outsider artist Sammie Nicely occupies the decked platform adjacent to Colleen’s studio. Sammie is smitten with the beeswax and colored pigment medium. He layers encaustic to a piece of distressed wood that he will use to create a base for found-object masks. Inspired by the African idiom, the mask, Sammie says, helps the African man ascend to a spiritual plane.

Arrow Ross, seated downwind from Scott, is taking a saw to a piece of driftwood. Sporting his trademark rainbow suspenders worn over a denim shirt, the braces hold up his khaki trousers. Arrow, head bent beneath a tangle of snowy white curls, works out the kinks of a two-dimensional puzzle.

“I normally don’t like puzzles, but here I am,” says the Scandinavian photographer. Arrow is a 12-year veteran of No Boundaries. For the last 11 years he has documented colony life with his photos. This year, he says he is doing his own thing.

At the southernmost edge of the campus, inside Captain Charlie’s No 3, the furniture, pushed from the center of the rooms to the perimeter, is draped in polyurethane. There are four studios on the ground floor. Inside the kitchen, Arrow has hung his driftwood self-portrait.

The dining room has been reserved for Brazilian painter Dirce Körbes. She is painting on recycled surgical caps. Using a brush, she affixes the gauzy textile to canvas. The result is like a ghostly apparition. She calls them drifters and their shadows are as delicate as a spider’s web, or peeling skin. Embellished with charcoal, pencil and paint her figures are ethereal, haunting almost.

Speaking some English, Dirce communicates fluently with Spanish painter Carmon Pombo, who shares the living room studio with No Boundaries co-founder Gayle Tustin. Gayle is taking a rough piece of sandpaper to one of her paintings.

Typically working from collage on canvas, she layers her pieces with paint, paper, glue, pencil, graphite and charcoal. On this trip to No Boundaries she has brought her own supplies and some navigational charts that represent 25 years of sailing the East Coast. One chart of the waters surrounding Bald Head Island is now part of her composition.

“It just kind of made sense,” she says.

Unlike some of her colleagues, she prefers working indoors.

“Out there is too bright. I can’t see. I lose my color sense,” she says, yet the color of the nearby seascape permeates her palette.

“I get plenty of light in here. How great to just walk through the door, go sit out there, take a bicycle ride.”

A bicycle ride away, in an off-campus studio located near the island’s village, housemate Ana Alvarez Ribalaygua is building an ode to No Boundaries.

“The big idea is to make a big photo and follow the photo until it’s finished,” she says.

By extending the conventional edge of the frame, she adds sculptural elements to her digital photos printed on canvas. One is Captain Charlie’s shot at night.

Ana is building shadow boxes that she will place behind the cottage windows illustrated with backlit photographic vignettes.

“The idea is to make little insiders—little rooms of the house, no?”

One of the shadow box figures is fellow artist Loulie Scharf.

“Here I put Loulie because she’s really pretty and she looks like Claudine, the ghost. I say, ‘please go to the stair where the ghost really comes.’”

It is apparently common knowledge that the cottage Ana shares with Gayle, Arrow, Carmon, Dirce and Sammy is haunted.

“The other day I was in my bed and the door opened and I said, ‘Who is there?’ and I got up and closed it, and ‘swish,’ it opens again. Supposedly she is in my room where I live,” Ana says.

A week later, when the 2010 No Boundaries International Art Colony exhibit is hung at Acme Art Studio on Wilmington’s North Fifth Street and opened to the public, it is Ana’s illuminated nocturnal photo of Captain Charlie’s that welcomes visitors who peer like voyeurs into the photo’s windows.

In the lamplight of the shadow box is the apparition of Loulie, starring as Claudine, with her long blonde hair cascading around her shoulders and draped in a flowing white nightgown.

Deep within the Acme warehouse maze, photographer Steve Brimm, who sailed into No Boundaries stood near his contribution: the quintessential documentary image of the 2010 colonists assembled in a circle in the sand.

Brimm’s camera, attached to a parachute kite, captured the artists assembled in a circle. From this bird’s eye viewpoint, their figures cast long shadows across the beach strand, like the sand fence pickets that buffer the dunes.

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