AUG 21, 2021 - FEB 14, 2021
Bearing Witness explores themes of death, mourning, and rebirth through the lenses of art and the Southern land. The exhibition features more than 60 works exploring death and memory by Southern artists, primarily Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965) and renowned Mississippi painter Jason Bouldin (b. 1966). These artists, one living, one passed, both found inspiration in the concept termed nature morte or “dead nature.” Works by Anderson will be positioned in dialogue with Bouldin’s contemporary remembrances, which include still lifes of decayed arrangements and intimate portraits of birds, a mouse, a rabbit, and other creatures.
The exhibition is further contextualized by work from the collection of the University of Mississippi Museum, including a 1930s photograph of a child’s grave by Walker Evans, a carved wood coffin and figure by self-taught artist Sulton Rogers, visions of the world beyond by painter Theora Hamblett, and items of material culture such as a mourning fan and bonnet, and 18th century hair pendants. All are in conversation with Walter Anderson’s own depictions of nature – including those of the animals he loved and lost during ascetic stints on Horn Island – spurring dialogue about the ways, historical and timeless, through which Southern peoples make sense of life and death. For Bouldin and Anderson, art making is a testament; remembrance of something deeply felt and truly seen.
In his Horn Island Logs, Anderson writes, “I walked as far as the black post and on the way home stopped to do a watercolor of a very dead gallinule – poor Harlequin had danced his last dance and I stopped to do honor to his remains.”
Jason Bouldin and His Inspiration
Bouldin is a well-known portrait painter in the state of Mississippi. His works are collected widely and he has painted portraits that hang in courthouses and universities throughout the United States and abroad. Bouldin is also an accomplished landscape and still life painter. The collection of work displayed in this exhibition is from Bouldin’s personal work featuring poignant paintings of still lifes and dead creatures. Bouldin views this collection as a celebration of life through the depiction of dead creatures. He cites a popular hymn that has inspired this particular body of work:
"My life goes on in endless song
Above earth´s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?"
Did You Know?
Walter Anderson is known today for his jewel-toned watercolors of the flora and fauna of the Gulf South. He famously spent the majority of the last fifteen years of his life exploring the barrier island, Horn Island, devoid of human habitation. On the island, Anderson drew, painted, and wrote about the natural world and infinite variety of life that he found there. During this time, Anderson also studied and created drawings and paintings of dead creatures on the island, recording their occurrences in his Horn Island Logs. By depicting their broken bodies, Anderson was celebrating the beauty of nature and also honoring the life of the dead creature.