Monday, January 30, 2017
MMM Revealed! William Eggleston (Part II)
While William Eggleston is most famous for his photography, he is also an avid watercolorist. Many people are surprised to discover Eggleston's overlooked passion, but it's not hard to imagine a world where his paintings are lauded instead of his photographs. They have been a near constant part of his artistic oeuvre since he was four years-old, and he came into contact with mentors, like abstract expressionist painter Tom Young, who might have encouraged him to pursue his longstanding talent instead of photography. Photography, like many great things, happened by happenstance.
Eggleston began experimenting with photography in earnest when a friend at Vanderbilt gave him his first Leica camera. Bill and his camera drifted from Vanderbilt to Delta State and finally settled at the University of Mississippi. During his time at the university, he was inspired by the mastery and innovation on display in Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment and Walker Evans's American Photographs. Besides being infatuated with the images, he realized the deep artistic possibilities of photography and focused on creating a portfolio that reflected his new understanding. Tom Young, then a visiting professor at the university, challenged Eggleston to take photos of things that Eggleston hated. This had a profound effect on the young artist and helped him develop his so-called "democratic" eye.
Eggleston continued to shoot and black and white until the mid-1960's when he began experimenting with color. Many people claim that had Eggleston not befriended William Christenberry, another famous Southern photographer, when the latter moved to Memphis (as suggested by Walker Evans) in the 1960's, Eggleston might still be shooting in black and white. Looking at his watercolors, however, suggests a love and appreciation for color that would have eventually broken through into his photography despite the artistic inertia of the time.
Andra Eggleston, Willliam Eggleston's daughter, appreciates that the watercolors aren't a more prominent feature of her father's work. The lack of recognition allows them to be special in their own right, and she has been fascinated by her father's watercolors since she was young. After a joint creation session in 2011, she was inspired to start Electa Eggleston, a design company that turns her father's watercolors into prints. She's used the patterns on pillows, wallpaper, and even bowties!
Eggleston is one of the world's most famous and well-regarded photographers. His willingness to break boundaries and explore the limits of his craft have led him to create exquisite and mysterious pieces that continue to resonate today. His hidden-not-so-hidden talent, however, offers us a new perspective on his work and allows us to reconsider elements of his style outside of the nature versus nurture dichotomy. Official biographies place nurture at the forefront. Cartier-Bresson, Evans, Young, Christenberry, his Southern upbringing, Eggleston's development is chronicled in relation to other things and their affect on his style, but looking at his watercolors, they show an artist that has always been innately gifted with an extraordinary gaze. Art is not created in a vacuum and his predecessors and contemporaries undoubtedly influenced the artist, but his watercolors leave us to reconsider what degree of influence they had.
The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston has been extend through February 18th. While the watercolor is not on display at this time, please come and celebrate the life and legacy of Mississippi's most famous photographer. Below is a list of public programming held in conjunction with the exhibit:
February 9th, 7pm, Lecture with Anne Wilkes Tucker, Curator Emerita of Houston Museum of Fine Art entitled William Eggleston: Not Southern? at the Museum.
February 14th, 6pm, Film Screening of William Eggleston in the Real World with director Michael Almereyda at the Lyric Theatre
Eggleston was previously featured in another MMM in 2016, go to Part I to learn and see more about this famous Mississippi artist.