By DAVID SPRAYBERRY
Just last year, Mississippi lost one of its modern masters and most celebrated visual artists, Andrew Bucci (1922-2014). Over the course of eight decades, he produced a dazzling and timeless body of work while establishing a style that was purely his own. He left behind a treasure trove of artwork and art lovers around the state and country are rediscovering the legacy of Andrew Bucci.
Jack Kyle, Senior Director of Arts Development at Belhaven University, became interested in organizing an event for Bucci after meeting the artist last year during the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson. (Bucci’s painting, Figure in Green, was selected as the signature image for the 2014 IBC commemorative poster and program.)
“I was surprised to discover that although his works are in permanent collections of many major museums, he had never had an exhibition devoted exclusively to his work in Jackson,” Kyle said. “That’s when I conveyed to Mr. Bucci my interest in organizing an exhibition of his art at Belhaven University, and I also invited him to curate it. He enthusiastically accepted.”
Bucci had begun selecting works from his personal collection when he died on November 16, 2014 after a brief illness. Family members wanted the exhibition to proceed and continued preparations with Belhaven University.
Local artists, gallery owners and many people who love Bucci’s art rallied together to make the exhibition a reality. On May 29, 2015, Andrew Bucci: Rediscovered opened to the public. This is the first exhibition of the artist’s work since his death and the first show exclusively presenting his work in Jackson, Mississippi.
According to Kyle, the name of the exhibit was selected because, “It is a fresh introduction to his artistic talent and serves as a catalyst to reawaken the art world of Bucci’s importance as an artist.”
Paintings selected for this exhibition reflect a range of styles over a prolific career — from Matisse-inspired still-lifes and rare family portraits to dazzling modernist landscapes. The exhibition, located in Belhaven’s Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center, consists of 29 oil-on-canvas paintings, one major work on paper and six needlepoints. All of the works are from Bucci’s estate, and many are being displayed to the public for the first time.
“A look at Bucci’s work indicates that the artist was quite impressionable,” observed Erika S. Olinger, Owner of Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans. “Influences of Picasso, Braque, Matisse and others of the School of Paris are clearly visible.” Olinger has studied the works of Bucci and has a deep appreciation for his art. She adds, “The figure, color and landscape defined Bucci’s artistic career. As he matured in his style, these three often converged.”
Bright, vivid colors are the first thing that immediately catches the viewer’s eye at the exhibit. Olinger points out, “Bucci was enthralled with color and wanted to understand what it was about through practice and repetition. He used color to expand and push out his surfaces, as well as to contract and push inwards.”
His landscape paintings are another highlight of the show. Olinger believes that one of the most significant attributes of Bucci’s work is the emotional effect his paintings have on the viewer. “Joyous, uplifting, happy, healing… these are all words that have been used to describe Bucci’s landscapes.”
Andrew Bucci: Rediscovered is part of an initiative at Belhaven University to advance and support the arts called the Marie Hull Society for the Arts. The University has a notable focus on producing top artist and is one of only 33 universities in the U.S. accredited in all four of the major arts. Bucci was influenced early in his career by Marie Atkinson Hull, who was a 1909 Belhaven (College) University graduate and one of Mississippi’s foremost artists of the 20th century. Around 1940, Bucci began taking art lessons from Hull in her home on Belhaven Street in Jackson. Over the course of their lifetimes, they forged a mutually influential relationship that was reflected in their paintings and continues to be studied by art scholars and historians.
During his creative legacy, he received Mississippi’s most prestigious arts awards and honors. In 2009, he received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Mississippi Arts Commission, and in 2012 he received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Lifetime Achievement Award. His painting of a magnolia blossom appears on the 5-cent U.S. postage stamp issued in 1967 for the 150th anniversary of Mississippi statehood.
His love for art was evident to everyone one he met. His niece, Margaret Bucci, was an integral part of organizing the exhibition. She thoughtfully recounts her experience with her uncle, “Art was on his mind all of the time, not just in the pieces he created, but in his manner, his conversations, his relationships – everything ordered thoughtfully and respectfully, with the ultimate goal of having no goal other than making each moment as good as it could possibly be.”
Andrew Bucci: Rediscovered runs through August 29 at Belhaven University’s Bitsy Irby Visual Arts & Dance Center on the main Jackson campus. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and is closed on Sunday. Admission is free.
For more information, visit www.buccirediscovered.com or contact Jack Kyle, Senior Director of Arts Development & Chair, Arts Administration, Belhaven University, at 601.968.8937.