For many people, the beginning of November marks the start of a slow descent into the long tunnel of winter. For the dozen or so residents of the No Boundaries International Art Colony, however, it is an idyll—two weeks of uninterrupted creative time amid the natural splendor of Bald Head Island.
The fruits of their labor are now on display at CFCC’s Wilma W. Daniels Gallery. A closing reception will take place Friday December 27; though, the works will remain on view through January 10.
No Boundaries was founded in 1998 by Wilmington artists Pam Toll, Gayle Tustin and Dick Roberts. Taking place annually over the first two weeks of November, the residency provides artists reprieve from business and distractions of everyday life. It also offers free ground transport, food and accommodation in three historic beach cottages known as Captain Charlie’s Station.
In 2019 the colony hosted 13 artists from an applicant pool of almost 40. That may seem a high acceptance rate, but for many artists with day jobs, it can be difficult to get time off. There’s also a matter of expectations: selected artists are expected to produce two pieces during their time on Bald Head—a dictum that No Boundaries president Scott Relan says is a turn-off to some applicants. Those willing to take the challenge are still rewarded tenfold.
This year’s residents included several locals, as well as artists from as far as Turkey, Spain and Japan. Many attendees return year after year, and some are referred by the colony’s alumni. One artist, Dorry Spikes of Wales in the U.K., found the colony on Instagram. Despite their differences, the artists are bound by a common desire: to channel inspiration into meaningful art.
Many of the pieces on display at Wilma W. Daniels Gallery were obviously inspired by the colony’s natural surroundings. Some depict Captain Charlie’s Station in a way that’s instantly recognizable. Others take a more abstract approach. Turkish artist Hande Akalin was initially hesitant to paint the landscape, but eventually relented after a deer visited her while she was working. She painted the scene in her trademark Eastern European style in “The Island.”
Others take inspiration from the artists themselves. After learning of a mysterious murder on the island, Spanish artist Iñigo Navarro Davila painted his fellow residents in a series of macabre tableaus, staged to look like scenes from a horror film. Former No Boundaries intern and UNCW alum Barbara Anne Thomas painted her companions at dinner, using a ghosting technique inspired by an Avett Brothers music video. Several residents chose to incorporate into their own work Yvette Molina’s “Coy Wolf”—a large, wearable animal head constructed from cardboard boxes (see Davila’s “I Will Eat You All With My Paper Teeth” below).
In addition to providing time for art, No Boundaries encourages artists to socialize. Each night, the residents are treated to a meal prepared by local chefs and friends of the colony. During these dinners, artists can unwind and share ideas—even work together on a collaborative painting. Other events are more spontaneous.
One night, Molina organized an impromptu processional, in which costume-clad residents marched from the cabins to the beach. The parade was captured in a video playing at the exhibit. Relan says, despite the oft-serious nature of proceedings, “ad-libbed activities end up being what the colony is really about.”
Artists who attend No Boundaries tend to view it as a personal Arcadia. Thomas expresses her gratitude for “time to breathe, time to think, time to be social, time to be curious, time to paint, time to reflect.” Gayle Tustin says, even after 20 years, attending the colony is “an awe-inspiring experience.” Spikes calls it “magical medicine.”
Perhaps no testimony is more affecting, though, than that of Davila. At first, he worried he’d made a mistake leaving his family in Spain. After spending two weeks with the other residents at No Boundaries, he could hardly bring himself to leave.
“There were great affinities and friendships and understanding that even now surprise me,” Davila writes. “I consider my stay there a gift.”