Friday, May 28, 2010

Walter Inglis Anderson: Artist and Naturalist

Pelicans, 1945
Gift of the Roger H Ogden Collection

After you have lived on the island for a while, there comes a time when you realize that the pelican holds everything for you. It has the song of the thrush, the form and understanding of man, the tenderness and gentleness of the dove, the mystery and dynamic quality of the nightjar, and the potential qualities of all life. In a word, you lose your heart to it. It becomes your child and the hope and future of the world depends upon it. –WIA, from Pelicans

Walter Inglis Anderson was born in 1903 in New Orleans. In 1918, the family purchased a large wooded tract of coastal property in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and in 1928, the Andersons opened Shearwater Pottery, which is still thriving as a family pottery in Ocean Springs today.

Frogs, Bugs and Flowers, 1945
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

Anderson attended Parson’s School of Design in 1922, then The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1924 through 1928. Returning to Ocean Springs in 1928, Anderson worked as a designer and decorator at Shearwater for the rest of his life.

Blue Geese and Ducks, 1955
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

In 1934, Ellsworth Woodward commissioned a large mural in the Ocean Springs Public School auditorium. A second mural was designed and accepted for the Mississippi Court House in Jackson, only to be rejected by a Washington bureaucrat. This disappointment, combined with the death of his father in 1937, led to a mental breakdown. From 1938-1940, Anderson was hospitalized in several mental institutions. He also escaped from several mental institutions, once famously lowering himself out of a window with bedsheets, and painting a mural with soap on his way down of birds taking flight.

Heron Over Pines, 1935

Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

1941 through 1945 was a highly productive period for Anderson. He moved into Oldfields, an estate from his wife’s family in Gautier, Mississippi. He wrote short stories and plays, translated and illustrated some of his favorite texts, and executed a large number of drawings, paintings and block prints. Some of the block prints were thirty feet in length, the largest ever produced by an American artist when they were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1949.

Life in the Ditch 1 (detail), 1945, 19" x 109"
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection
The idyllic life at Oldfields ended in 1945, when Anderson left his family and moved into a small cottage at Shearwater, where he executed a mural on all four walls and the ceiling. Inspired by Psalm 104, it depicts a single day on the gulf coast, with the interconnected order of the natural world evident from sunrise to dusk, a padlocked masterwork, discovered only after his death. From then until his death in 1965, he lived a reclusive life, working at the pottery and spending an increasing amount of time on his beloved Horn Island. He would take a rowboat from Shearwater to the island alone, and living in very primitive conditions, would attempt to capture the life of the island through extensive logs and watercolors. “Order is here,” he wrote, “but it needs realizing.” He filled over ninety journals with reflections on nature, feeling a special connection to the pelican colonies on Horn Island, which he understood as having an archetypal significance.

Blue Crab, 1960
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

In light of recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps it is time to revisit Anderson's naturalist philosophies and reverence of the region's ecosystems. Currently the Eugenie and Joseph Jones Family Gallery in the Ogden's Goldring Hall is filled with our Walter Anderson collection.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Purvis Young (February 4, 1943 – April 20, 2010)

Saint with Boat People, 1987
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

“One way of knowing your environment is understanding the history.”

Purvis Young was a self-taught expressionist painter from the Overtown section of Miami. In the late 1960s, Interstate 95 was built over and through the neighborhood of his birth, an historically black Caribbean neighborhood ironically called Overtown. A private and contemplative person, Young was drawn to a particularly isolated section of Overtown , an abandoned street called Good Bread Alley. It was here that, over the next three decades, Purvis Young would make his mark on the aesthetic and cultural history of the South.

Bearing the Funeral, 1990s

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

As a child, Young was introduced to drawing by an uncle, but the pursuit was quickly abandoned. In the early 1960s, while serving time for breaking and entering, his interest in art was reignited. Young was encouraged to develop his talent for drawing while incarcerated, and it was here that themes started to develop in his imagery: angels, buildings, funerals, horses, boats, locks and street life. These basic themes were repeated and expanded over the course of his career, creating a cohesive narrative.

Cityscape with Cars, 1987
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

In the early 1970s, inspired by the community murals appearing in New York and Detroit as a result of the Black Arts Movement, Young chose a role for himself in Overtown. Moving away from drawing, Purvis taught himself to paint, and began to cover the walls of Good Bread Alley with painting after painting of his Visionary images of Overtown, creating his own community mural. The art world began to pay attention. An eccentric millionaire who owned the Miami Museum of Modern Art, Bernard Davis, took notice of Young’s work. Until his death in 1973, Mr. Davis was Young’s patron. In 1999, the Rubell Family Collection in Miami purchased the entire contents of his studio, over three thousand works. The Overtown Mural could be seen from the newly built I-95, and tourist began to visit. Paintings were literally ripped from the walls, only to be quickly replaced by Young. Eventually, Good Bread Alley became a required stop for collectors on their way to Art Basel.

Three Hands to Heaven, 1987
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

The narrative of Purvis Young’s work follows not only a community history, but his own self-taught and sophisticated version of world history and the history of Western Art. Beginning with the prison library and moving into the public library and public television, Young educated himself by devouring every art book and documentary he could access. He readily acknowledged being influenced by Rembrandt, Gauguin, and Remington. In Souls Grown Deep, Will Arnett says: “The Art of Purvis Young is equal parts calligraphy, music and graffiti. Its basic themes bump, collide, and eventually unite to reveal the chaotic and cacophonous dance of birth, death, and all that transpires in between in the artist’s world.”

On April 20, 2010, after a long and debilitating fight with diabetes, Purvis Young died in Miami. His works are in major collections throughout the world, including: the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; American Folk Art Museum, New York; High Museum, Atlanta; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA, and many more. In 2006 Young was the subject of Purvis of Overtown, a feature-length documentary film by David Raccuglia and Shaun Conrad.

Currently, the Ogden Museum has three works by Purvis Young from the permanent collection on view on the fourth floor of Goldring Hall. The works were donated by the Roger Houston Ogden Collection.