Each year, Grammy-nominated musician Luther Dickinson assembles a cast of professional musicians from across the region and country to pay homage to Anderson’s coastal magnum opus, the 3,000 square-foot murals in the Ocean Springs Community Center. The music they perform is arranged by Dickinson, who first conceived of the concert series after having an experience with Walter Anderson’s murals. “...The phenomenon of hearing art or seeing music, I’ve never had that experience before except in this room,” says Dickinson of the Community Center. “Anderson’s murals come alive for me as orchestral score to an imagined animation.”
Dickinson’s 2021 performance, presented by Hancock Whitney, will move outside of the Community Center and into the streets of Washington Avenue in front of the Museum. The murals, which are an immersive experience for museum visitors, will be animated and projected onto the exterior surfaces of the Museum and Community Center. This inversion is what Dickinson calls “Fantasia in reverse,” where the musical score is set to the motion of the artworks.
“The Community Center murals help us appreciate our natural landscapes and understand the history behind the multicultural American experiment,” said Julian Rankin, Director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. “Luther Dickinson’s performance echoes Anderson’s hope for increased creativity and collaboration across the generations, a collaboration than seeks greater harmony with the environment and with our fellows.”
The Community Center murals, adjoined to the main galleries of the Museum, were painted by Anderson in 1951 as a gift to his hometown of Ocean Springs. Part of the collection of the City of Ocean Springs, they chronicle the dynamism and rhythms of the Southern landscape in an orchestral arrangement of flora and fauna – from battling stags and soaring eagles to benevolent alligators and diving pelicans.
Seven mural panels on the north side of the room, which Anderson dubbed the “seven climates,” are each associated with a celestial body and Roman god. This ancient history is juxtaposed against the founding of Ocean Springs by French colonists, depicted on adjacent southern-facing walls through the 1699 landing of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and musicians of the native Biloxi Tribe performing ceremonial instrumentation.
Tennessee-born and Nashville-based musician Luther Dickinson is the son of the late producer and musician Jim Dickinson, whose own long list of collaborators included Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Kris Kristofferson, and Bob Dylan. Luther Dickinson was heavily influenced by the intergenerational Southern musical tradition; his relationship with the hill country blues families of Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough inspired him to found the Grammy-nominated band, the North Mississippi Allstars, with his brother Cody in 1996. Since then, Dickinson has toured internationally, including a stint as a guitarist with The Black Crowes. He continues to tour with the North Mississippi Allstars and as a member of the Southern Soul Assembly.
After discovering the murals of Walter Anderson in 2014 at the urging of his mother, Dickinson conceived of a musical interpretation that combined his own original compositions and arrangements with improvisatory collaboration his extended family of Southern players. “It’s a family thing. It’s a community thing,” says Dickinson, whose focus on intergenerational creativity reflects the Museum’s own relationship with the family of Walter Anderson, including the four siblings who survived their father after the artist’s death in 1965. Leif Anderson, a classically-trained dancer, is a regular performer at Dickinson’s “Seven Climates” concerts.
As an artist, Walter Anderson found transcendence in nature, particularly on long ascetic stints on the Gulf Coast barrier islands, to which he rowed his skiff through a dozen miles of often treacherous waters. His process of art making fused with his philosophy for living. Namely, that realizing a relationship to nature’s beauty, improvisation, and resilience could unlock humanity’s capacity to embrace its own. “Nature does not like to be anticipated . . . but loves to surprise,” Anderson writes. “In fact, [it] seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.”
Anderson’s artistic style, which employs motifs found throughout global cultures, such as spirals and repeating pattern, point the viewer back to larger notions of interconnection across time and place. The artist also intended his work to be multi-sensory and experiential; Anderson once observed that, “the arrangements of pine trees suggested music – vertical notes strung on the horizontal lines of road and horizon.” These are the ideas that Dickinson engages as he interprets the murals musically.
“The balance of man and nature and the balance of color and the balance of rhythm and the balance of weather. That’s what this music is about,” says Dickinson.