For the past 17 years, No Boundaries International Art Colony has beckoned artists from across the globe to the tranquil shores of Bald Head Island. Once gathered, the local, regional, national, and international artists experience two weeks of uninterrupted artistic focus (if you don’t count the day I visited).
The view from the artist residences at Captain Charlie’s Station is an optical punch in the gut. The three historic beach cottages (generously provided by Bald Head Limited and The Mitchell family) are nestled along Bald Head’s dune ridge. They offer panoramic views of the Cape Fear River, Frying Pan Shoals and the Atlantic Ocean. Both the stunning location and collaborative environment of the colony grant every visitor an opportunity to thrive.
“For two weeks [the artists] are surrounded by like-minded people,” Beth Crookham, vice president of the No Boundaries board of directors, says. “They may approach life and art differently, but they are all on a similar path. I think the opportunity to spend two weeks without explaining that is pretty amazing and liberating.”
Each year about a quarter of the group is made up of colony alumni—an intentional move by board members—to foster repetition and representation. The balance of new and old keeps the colony feeling both fresh and familiar.
“It’s a great opportunity to share and grow, so we don’t get stuck in our own ways,” Gayle Tustin, No Boundaries co-founder and board member, reveals. “And we like to have a mix of artists, so it’s never a planar group by any means.”
The 2014 cycle includes six visiting artists from Argentina, Cuba, Spain, New Mexico, Colorado, Nashville, and Massachusetts. The remaining six local artists complete the group. Mediums run the gamut between painters, sculptors, mixed-media artists, printmakers, a filmmaker, and singer-songwriter. By the third day, the motley crew of creators already has carved out work spaces for themselves—some in bedrooms, others perched on porches with easels. Many explore the maritime forest and beach for materials and inspiration.
Barcelona, Spain, resident Khalid El Bekay is on the third cottage’s deck, painting torn-book pages and arranging them on a canvas. It is his first time utilizing paper with English words in his work.
Originally from Kildares, Ireland, poet, musician and painter Karl Mullen has been eyeing his new spot on the middle cottage’s back porch since his stay last year. A dozen figure paintings already blanket his table.
Local artist Topher Alexander studies a pair of his woodcuts nearby. Both are inspired by the cottage interior, which is rumored to be haunted.
Jennifer Page, another local printmaker and owner of Cape Fear Press in Carolina Beach, spends much of her time crouched among the low-lying shrubs shooting a small live oak with a homemade pinhole camera. The 8-by-10-inch wood box contains a tin aperture cut from a Pabst Blue Ribbon can. It captures images to be processed through photogravure, an early form of photography wherein copper plates were coated with light-sensitive gelatin tissue, exposed to a film positive and then etched. The downstairs lavatory of her cabin has been transformed into a darkroom. The phrase, “I’ll be out in six minutes,” takes on a whole new meaning.
No Boundaries president Michelle Connolly orbits the entire property, utilizing every available space for painting and 3D creature-making. Her art’s presence stretches from the back porch, to the boardwalk and to the storage building at the front of the complex. This is her seventh “proper” time with the colony. Although the multi-faceted art maven is set to move back to Australia next month, she plans to stay on as remote president throughout 2015. She’ll visit the colony one last time next November. “You get quite attached to it,” Connolly says. “It’s personal. It’s something I really believe in.”
This year No Boundaries has partnered with Cape Fear Community College to extend their community reach. The day before departure, artists and board members met at CFCC’s downtown campus to speak to students and interested parties about their art and the colony. Additionally, a gala exhibition, showcasing artist works from the island, will be held exclusively at the Wilma W. Daniels Gallery on the evening of November 22. The pieces will be displayed until January 16. This is the first time the exhibition will be held somewhere other than Acme Art Studio.
As the scope of No Boundaries continues to evolve, the belief in free expression and cross-cultural dialogue will remain as constant as the horizon line visible from Captain Charlie’s Station. Like the colony’s name suggests, all who visit leave knowing the infinite possibilities of their own artistic endeavors.
No Boundaries Exhibition Gala
Artwork by: Topher Alexander, Michelle Connolly, Khalid El Bekay, Gabriel Kelly, Karl Mullen, Jennifer Page, Lázaro Salista, Laurinda Stockwell, Alejandro Teves, Pam Toll, Gayle Tustin, Michael Van Hout
Sat., November 22, 6 p.m.
Hangs through Jan. 16
Tues. – Thurs., noon – 5 p.m.
Wilma W. Daniels Gallery, CFCC
200 Hanover St.