Art Review: Sun, sand, wild life in MCA 'Horn Island' exhibit

Jeff Muncy, 'David and Goliath,' acrylic.

Jeff Muncy, "David and Goliath," acrylic.

"Horn Island 28," the latest edition of the annual exhibition at Memphis College of Art, does not reveal the somberness and angst that pervaded some previous shows, including Horn Island 26" in 2010, following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.

This year's visual record of the college-sponsored jaunt to Horn Island, an isolated spit of sand just off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, seems all sun and sand and wild life — talking about animals, not students — chatting and sketching around campfires and just having a fine adventure in nature and making the best of the primitive arrangements and mosquitoes.

Leanne Hicks, "A Fever That Worships Its Own Fever — Nature," oil, acrylic and collage.

Leanne Hicks, "A Fever That Worships Its Own Fever — Nature," oil, acrylic and collage.

This is a large show, offering over 100 objects. And while it's not a competition, and one understands the impulse to include all participants, some editing would have made "Horn Island 28" a more compelling effort; no one needs to have four or five pieces in the exhibition. The size precludes mentioning every artist, but the show delivers a fairly high level of accomplishment anyway.

Demanding attention, however, is a handful of painters, photographers and printmakers whose work enlivens the exhibition.

Among the painters are Jeff Muncy and Leanne Hicks, Muncy for his insight into the relationships between animal species and his meticulous approach to depicting those relationships; and Hicks for her ambition (not yet quite matched by her achievement), her exuberant sense of color and form and her risk-taking wit.

There are beautiful photographs by Katie Whitfield, whose elegant prints are altered by water to an impressionistic state that resembles small seascapes by James Abbot MacNeil Whistler. In the same category is Adèle Winn's exquisite miniature, "Three Clouds, Three Dunes," a lovely exploration of the 19th century gum bichromate technique of printing photographs. James Carey offers stark, almost ceremonial black and white landscapes that seem eerily backlit.

Also working in unusual mediums are Fidencio Martinez and Evan Hoffmann. Martinez's cut paper depictions of fish and sea-wrack are miracles of intricacy and wonders of patience. Hoffmann's works with screen print and rust — yes, rust — on handmade paper to produce beguiling and ambiguous landscapes.

I don't often note faculty members in Horn Island reviews; that would make the thing into a sort of pro-am tournament. Still, two sculptures by Bill Price, assistant professor of fine arts at MCA, working, I assume, with at least partly "found" materials — steel, wrought iron, stone — are stunning in their ingenuity and simplicity, their sense of serene poise and slight discomfiting unbalance. "Beacon" is particularly fine.

“Horn Island 28”

Rust Hall Main Gallery, Memphis College of Art, 1930 Poplar in Overton Park, through Sept 28. In the Alumni Gallery, Joey Slaughter, “I meant to get back to you, but I had a lot going on,” through Sept. 30. There will be a reception for both exhibitions Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m. Call 901-272-5100.

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