Voices of the Delta: Betsy Bradley

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Delta 59, Exhibitions, Image, Museum, Quote, Voices of the Delta

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Guest Juror Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, selected the 73 works that appear in the 59th Annual Delta Exhibition. Here’s her juror statement:

“I have a need of silence and of stars; /Too much is said too loudly; I am dazed.” Thus yearned the poet William Alexander Percy from New York when thinking of his Mississippi Delta home in 1919. His attraction to the busy-ness of the city was ultimately overridden by his deep longing for the natural power he knew among delta landscapes. As a native of the Mississippi Delta myself, I was struck, when examining the art made by those raised or working in states so deeply connected to the land, by the tension pulling artists between the natural and the latest technology, between simple quietness and frenetic energy, between romantic images of decay and hard-edged fascination with all things shiny and bright, between surface splendor and deep penetrations into the essence of objects and people. Such contrasts are authentic expressions, it seems to me, of people from a region of the country where so many yearn for the ways of the past, and so many fought at great sacrifice to move us forward, away from that same past.

Percy ends his great poem by pronouncing, “And then–the summer stars…I will go home.” Many of the artists in this exhibition examine the natural beauty of their homes with exciting new treatments: porcelain blades of grass, steel-cut leaves, and paintings out of wood. Yet others relish the cluttered details of lives consumed by the flotsam and jetsam of daily life, the clues to our values and our inner truths. And, as much as I found some artists savoring the details of their worlds, I was truly struck by others whose works evidenced a great unease, eerie expressions of a world slipping into an abyss, emanating tones of fear, anger, and anxiety. To expect otherwise, some of these artists would tell us, would be unrealistic, and an impossible task for the soothsayers and truth-tellers who must confront us with visions we often work very hard to avoid.

The courage of these artists, along with an insistence on finding beauty in both the most terrifying and most ordinary moments, gives me profound gratitude for the presence of artists in our lives, our communities, and our greater society. Indeed, learning of these artists working so expertly in the Delta increases my thankfulness that I call this region my home. The time I’ve spent with this art has been a privilege and will, I hope, offer similar responses from the exhibition’s visitors.

— Betsy Bradley

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