“I think it’s generally understood that there’s a bit of Mississippi in everything I do,” said renown artist and Mathiston native, William Dunlap.
Dunlap is one of several acclaimed Mississippi artists (past and present) whose work will be on display Sept. 1-29 at Mississippi State University’s Cullis Wade Depot Art Gallery as part of the “Narrative of the Land” travelling exhibit titled, “Art Across Mississippi: Twelve Exhibitions, Twelve Communities.” It is one of 12 exhibitions travelling across the state in celebration of Mississippi’s bicentennial. Located on the second floor of the University’s Welcome Center, “Narratives of the Land” features quintessential scenes of Mississippi landscapes created by artists Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-65), Ke Francis (1945-), William “Bill” Dunlap (1944-) and Eudora Welty (1909-2001).
Dunlap said he thinks the exhibition is a terrific way for the Mississippi Museum of Art to celebrate an extraordinary milestone.
“They have objects and works of art from every period and are showing and traveling them and that is a very, very good thing,” Dunlap said. “I am flattered to be so included and to be one of the museum’s featured artists.”
As for his own personal experience, growing up in Mathiston and attending any number of Mississippi Public schools, Dunlap said there was not a great deal of art taught in his time. “However one got the sense that art, writing, music, and all creative activities mattered greatly, and my generation indulged, whether sanction by educational institutions or not,” Dunlap said. “It is most gratifying to find those self-same institutions responding positively to art, both visual, written, and performing. It might have taken 200 years, but here we are.”
Dunlap is quick to say that the people of Mississippi have been very good and supportive of his work.
“Because it’s not enough just to make the art,” Dunlap said. “The artist has to make the audience for it as well.”
Belinda Stewart is a big fan of Dunlap’s work. She said she loves the color, the details and the depth of his paintings.
“Bill Dunlap loves Mississippi, his roots, and his family,” Stewart said. “I find something new in his paintings every time I look at one.”
Stewart said Dunlap obviously loves Mississippi, even though he lives in other places most of the time.
“He is wholeheartedly a Mississippian, wherever he is and everyone around him knows it,” Stewart said. “He has a million fascinating stories and a wonderful wit – and a graciousness that permeates throughout everything he does.”
The piece that has been selected to represent a purely “Mississippi” landscape for this special exhibit is Road Side-Summer Light, ca. 1996. mixed media on paper by William Dunlap (born 1944). Collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morris Strickland, 2001.037.
Elizabeth Abston, curator for the collection for the Mississippi Museum of Art, said she chose this piece to be included in Narratives of the Land because of Dunlap’s interest in the Southern landscape “as an allegory for how the South is perceived and how it has changed, or remained the same, throughout the years.”
“His adherence to a rather stark realism is upended in some places by little specks, grids, or scribbles, which break the ‘spell’ of the scene—inserting the artist’s hand, and thus the artist’s personal experience and memories, within the piece,” Abston said.
Abston describes the piece as a countryside landscape with farmhouses and barns beneath a bright blue sky. The fields recede into the distance and provide a picturesque, though rustic, view of Southern rural life.
“Though his landscapes are often filled with figures—most commonly hound dogs—this image is solely a landscape, bisected rather starkly across the bottom of the picture plane with the black asphalt of a two-lane road,” Abston said. “These roadways are often important features in Dunlap’s work, as they allude to ‘interstate culture’ and the growth of highway travel throughout the 20th century, which not only allowed for progress and innovation between smaller communities, but also allowed travelers to pass through these rural areas and view the less modern structures that dot the landscape.”
Abston said Dunlap’s piece is as much about these changes as it is about his memories of growing up in rural Mississippi.
“The lack of specificity as to the location he painted in Road Side—Summer Light is a nod to the merging of experiences he has had throughout the southern landscape, which has taken him from the Mississippi Delta to the hills of Virginia,” Abston said.
Abston said many of the pieces in Narratives of the Land go beyond a simple landscape.
“Some are florid and beautifully rendered, almost to the point of abstraction, and some reveal the troubled history that Mississippi continues to grapple with,” Abston said. “By offering a range of paintings and photographs that explore various aspects of the Mississippi landscape, viewers can begin to understand the complex nature of this state—simply by looking at the land surrounding us.”
All of the artists in this exhibition are either from Mississippi or spent significant time in the Magnolia state, so viewers can really grasp the importance of art and cultural exchange through this small selection from the permanent collection housed at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
“Some of Mississippi’s best-known artists are included, along with some newer artists, as a way to show a rounded selection of art depicting the state from about the 1930s to present day,” Abston said. “I think this show will be great to have in Starkville so that the student population can experience a broad scope of some of Mississippi’s greatest visual artists and hopefully begin to think about how the land is such an important part of our story.”
Opening reception for the exhibit will be at 5 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Cullis Wade Gallery. The exhibit will be available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and two hours prior to kickoff on Saturday home football games in September.
For more exhibit information, visit http://msmuseumart.org/index.php/bicentennial. Lori Neuenfeldt, the MSU art department’s gallery director, also may be contacted at 662-325-2973 or LNeuenfeldt@caad.msstate.edu.
Dunlap is also the author of Short Mean Fiction which feature sketches or his work and a lot of laughs!
This story was published in the August 31, 2017 edition of The Starkville Daily News.
This story was also published in the September 6, 2017 edition of The Webster Progress Times.