HED:Unveiling blues musicians, color photos
By Christopher R.C. Bosen
Milly Moorhead does own Oxford’s popular Southside Gallery but that isn’t the only reason the photographer’s work is featured in the downtown venue’s newest exhibit.
Moorhead, who founded the gallery six years ago, has work in the permanent collections of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and Washington’s Corcoran Gallery and in 1996 received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters’ award for photography on the strength of her body of work.
“I started seriously in the early ’80s,” Moorhead said of her introduction to viewing the world through a camera lens. “I got into photography through my studies in journalism at Ole Miss.”
Some of Moorhead’s work from the early-’80s is included in her latest show alongside color photos taken as recently as last fall.
“I have a few (photos) in this show that have been seen here before,” Moorhead said of her first featured show at the gallery in three years, “But most of it is new to the gallery.”
Included in the exhibit are three self-portraits of the photographer and seven pieces which combine Moorhead’s vision with her own words.
“I don’t know where I got the idea,” Moorhead said of the seven photographs she covered with a sheet of clear acetate inscribed with her thoughts about the picture. “They are very personal photographs and this gives them sort of a diary effect.”
Another unique use of Moorhead’s images can be seen in the middle of the exhibit where a large antique door separates the photographer’s work from the blues-inspired work of Jay Kirgis, the other featured artist in the show.
“Stewart True and Gary Bridgman here at the gallery found an antique door and placed new glass panels in it,” Moorhead said. “Then they copied 12 of my photographs to transparencies and put them over the glass panels.”
Kirgis’ work, on the other side of Moorhead’s picture-laden door, celebrates not only the musicians who gave birth to the blues but also two of their instruments – the guitar and the diddly-bow.
“A diddly-bow is a one-stringed instrument that originated with the slaves,” Moorhead explained. “When they wanted to make music they would take the broken wire from the base of a worn-out broom, stretch it out and nail one end of it to the side of a building to create a rhythm instrument. Jay’s are made with pool cues for the handle and cigar boxes for the base.”
Kirgis, a California native, came to Oxford to pursue a master’s degree because of Ole Miss’ proximity to the Mississippi Delta and his beloved blues.
“It’s the home of the blues,” Kirgis said of the area. “While I’ve been here I’ve met and played with many of the area’s living and recently deceased bluesmen.”
The artist’s relationship with the aging blues masters inspired him to pay tribute to the men in a series of mixed-media creations.
“While still an undergraduate I began doing a series of monoprints of famous bluesmen,” Kirgis said. “Although they were finished pieces in themselves, they were cold portraits. Some of the qualities I wanted to express were dignity, strength, playfulness, underlying chaos, ambiguity, and sexual and racial tensions.”
Kirgis decided to surround the original prints of musicians such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Othar Turner, Eugene Powell, Lonnie Pitchford, Son House, and Jack Owens with found objects to create individual collages intended to capture the feel and spirit of the blues.
“I had this idea in mind of torn advertising posters on old building walls,” Kirgis said, “I wanted that to be a beginning point.”
All but one of the more than one-dozen large-format collages pays tribute to a blues musician Kirgis actually met.
“The one exception,” Kirgis said, “Son Thomas, although already deceased, has always been an inspiration to me.”
Along with the collages and diddly-bows, Kirgis has four hand-made guitars in the new exhibit which will remain on display through March 11.
“Everyone really seems to be enjoying this show,” Moorhead said of early response to the exhibit which opened on Valentine’s Day. “We here at the gallery are so blessed with good artists. They just seem to come out of the woodwork.”
What: Late-Winter Show featuring Jay Kirgis and photographer Milly Moorhead
When: Now thru March 11
Where: Southside Gallery, Oxford
Gallery Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
For more info: Call 234-9090, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.southsideoxford.com on the Internet