Ole Miss alumni and faculty featured in Jackson art exhibit

Posted on Mar 3 2017 - 8:01am by Olivia Morgan
"Spine" by Jaime Erin Johnson. (Courtesy: Jaime Erin Johnson)

“Spine” by Jaime Erin Johnson. (Courtesy: Jaime Erin Johnson)

In the deep Mississippi woods, Jaime Erin Johnson lifts her camera to her eye and adjusts the focus for a haunting portrait. In a two-story workshop behind his home, Rod Moorhead digs his nails into wet clay to release a figure within and weaves its organic forms with neon and steel. All the while in his studio, Philip R. Jackson is carefully ticking his brush across canvas, stroking the oils just right to bring something still to life.

All three artists, working and living in Oxford, have perfected their methods and are featured in this year’s “Mississippi Invitational” at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

Johnson said the exhibition shows how Oxford is a great place for artists to live and work.

“I have received support from this community, and it’s what brought me back to Ole Miss,” she explained.

Her most recent work, titled “Untamed,” is a series of portraits of a feral woman that incorporates the raw Mississippi wilderness and collected bones. Four works from this collection, “Bone Dress,” “Spine,” “First Glance of Feral Woman” and “Ribs,” were selected by the Mississippi Invitational jury to appear in the exhibition.

“Ribs,” which depicts a woman with upturned eyes clutching the titular bones to her chest, draws on many of Johnson’s inspirations, such as nature and the people and places that surround her.

“I tend to collect natural objects found walking,” she said. “Whether I have a plan for what to do with the object or not, I will ponder and consider the creative possibilities and make it a challenge on how I can make a photograph that conveys an idea using inspiration from nature.”

She creates the color-drained effects through cyanotype printing, which is slower than digital photography and involves staining the photos with tea for more than 24 hours.

She used this technique on a portrait titled “She Rests in Flowers,” which, though not featured in the invitational, will serve as the cover art for the upcoming book, “The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded,” by local author and University of Mississippi Master of Fine Arts student Molly McCully Brown.

Johnson studied for her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Imaging Arts from 2006 to 2011 in the Ole Miss Art Department. She enrolled through the support of the Lonnie Smith Memorial scholarship, initially studying graphic design, but found she naturally transitioned into photography, a passion she had enjoyed since the age of 16.

“Invaluable instruction in the art department showed me that through hard work, dedication and creative vision, this passion could be solidified into a career,” she said.

She would go on to earn her MFA in photography from Louisiana Tech University in 2014, and for the past two years she has been the one providing the instruction to Ole Miss art students.

"Cherries" is a painting by Philip Jackson, and it's a part of his "Transitory Reflections" series. (Courtesy: http://www.p-jackson.com)

“Cherries” is a painting by Philip Jackson, and it’s a part of his “Transitory Reflections” series. (Courtesy: http://www.p-jackson.com)

Also working in the Ole Miss Art Department is Philip Jackson, the head of the painting department on campus.  The 39-year-old is a 10-year native of Oxford and was the youngest artist to receive a major exhibition and become the Martha and Merritt DeJong Memorial artist-in-residence in Evansville, Indiana.

His three pieces featured are titled “Tangerine and Apples,” “Eggshells and Pear” and “Apples and Cherries” and are part of a larger collection he calls “Transitory Spaces.” These paintings feature vivid photorealistic objects subjected to often ethereal lighting.

“In my still life paintings, I capture the landscape through the history of the object created by its environment. By removing the object from its ecological setting and placing it in a space absent of time, its natural purpose is redefined,” Jackson said in a Huffington Post article.

The works of this painter, father and minister have garnered him the 2016 Jane Crater Hiatt Artist Fellowship, which provides an artist featured in the invitational with $15,000 for supplies, research and travel. He plans to use the money for a residency in Ireland.

Even though he was not raised in Oxford, he said the selection of multiple north Mississippi artists in this year’s invitational was “a wonderful reflection on the diversity and strength of our artistic community.”

Another featured member of that community is Rod Moorhead, an artist who has erected many a stake on the landscape of the university. The 69-year-old lifelong Oxford resident created two of the most iconic statues on campus, ‘Concerto,’ which stands guard over the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, and the James Meredith statue.

He started out as an Ole Miss student studying English and math but took most of his electives in art. The last class he enrolled in at Ole Miss, pottery, was the one that stuck with him the most.  For the next 15 years, Moorhead would work as a production potter to support his writing aspirations, but he finally decided – after a class with Willie Morris – that his art deserved his passion and focus.

Moorhead goes to work in his backyard studio, sometimes constructing an outdoor lean-to to work on larger projects.

“My commute is about 35 seconds,” he joked.

It’s a two-story building. The upstairs is mostly storage, but the downstairs is where his hands hit the clay in a space he said was “designed for the workflow of pottery.”

This is where he created the two pieces featured in the invitational, “96 Women” and “Lord Elgin’s Octave.”

The inspiration for “96 Women” came from the steel structuring in which the clay figurines are set.

“Somehow the contrast between (the grid) all these organic figures that float at the top caught me,” he said.

Moorhead took about a day to create each of the 96 female figures, putting in around three months of work total.

“Elgin’s Octave” was spawned from a larger commission piece that Moorhead created for the Butler Snow office in Nashville, Tennessee, called “Elgin’s Piano.”

"Elgin's Piano" is a sculpture by Rod Moorhead. It spawned the idea for "Elgin's Octave," a piece featured in the Mississippi Museum of Art's invitational. (Courtesy: Rod Moorhead)

“Elgin’s Piano” is a sculpture by Rod Moorhead. It spawned the idea for “Lord Elgin’s Octave,” a piece featured in the Mississippi Museum of Art’s invitational. (Courtesy: Rod Moorhead)

Using computer modeling, Moorhead was able to replicate figures in clay from the facade of the Parthenon in Nashville and interweave those pieces with some of Nashville’s signature neon lighting.

“I thought, ‘Oh well, it’s Nashville, it’s glittery, it’s neon,’ and suddenly I saw this piece,” he said.

Often on larger pieces like “Elgin’s Piano,” which took around three months to create, Moorhead uses computer generated 3-D modeling so he can take the picture from his head to a computer diagram and then work the details into clay. He was able to use this technique again in the construction of the slightly smaller “Elgin’s Octave,” which took about a month and a half to complete.

“There’s stuff that you think is going to work that doesn’t work,” he said. ” I actually like those moments because you’ve got to think about ‘How am I going to make this work?'”

Moorhead said he enjoys embracing new technology with his art and is currently playing with 3-D computer modeling and a technique similar to electroplating called electrotyping. He’s been working with computer modeling for around 20 years and has appreciated advances in the last few years with 3-D printing, which allows him to take his ideas from the screen and bring them into sculpture.

“Art has always been driven by technology,” he explained. “In the renaissance, a lot of the artists were scientists. This integration of art and science is historically pretty natural.”

Moorhead’s, Jackson’s and Johnson’s works are on display in the Donna and Jim Barksdale Galleries for Changing Exhibitions in the Mississippi Museum of Art and will be available to view until March 12.