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Photography, Paintings by Oxford Artist in Abbeville this Friday

Oxford-based photographer Milly West and Tupelo-based painter Sylvain Chamberlain will host a collaborative exhibit in Abbeville, Mississippi, at the old Ruth and Jimmie’s restaurant building, opening on Friday, November 15th. The exhibit, which runs through the weekend, will feature West’s work from her upcoming book, Cuba for Keeps, along with recent and vintage Southern images.

Photo by photographer Milly West of Oxford
Blue Houses, Clarksdale, photo by Milly West of Oxford

It is from this latter collection by West, photos of the Mississippi Delta, that West and Chamberlain chose images for his interpretation on canvas. The titles—Cotton, Delta Blues, Chow’s Chinese Grocery, and Mississippi Buckeye, among others, only tell part of the story. Taken on Highway 6 West of Batesville, in Clarksdale, and on Highway 1, and south to Rosedale, the scenes are familiar and, at least for West, a part of her life.

Originally from Montreal, Canada, Sylvain Chamberlain moved, at age 10, to Vancouver, British Columbia, and in 1969 immigrated to Southern California.  In 1999, he moved to Cincinnati and in 2000 to Tupelo, Mississippi. His portraits are currently featured at the Gum Tree Museum in Tupelo.

So how did this Oxford, Mississippi, photographer meet this Canadian born, California transplanted painter? West first saw Chamberlain’s work in a Tupelo gallery and sought him out. “I saw this amazing painting of a big yellow train on Main Street in downtown Tupelo,” she said, “and immediately thought of my friends in Oxford who had a connection to Tupelo. They were buying a new house and I just felt as if this painting would fit, not as a decorator would choose something, but just good art finding a good home.”

Chamberlain was inspired by West and her eye for art. Her work has been featured in numerous magazines, The Chicago Sun Times (with images of Bluesman Son Thomas), The New York Times (with a portrait of writer Barry Hannah), among other newspapers and more notably is in major collections including the Cocoran Gallery in Washington, The Ogden in New Orleans, The Mississippi Museum of Art, and The Brooks Museum in Memphis. Aside from having shown her own work in galleries and Museums, West co-founded and managed Southside Gallery on the Oxford Square until she sold it in 2002.

Delta Blues, painting by Sylvain Chamberlain of Tupelo

“This type of collaboration is something I have thought about for a long time,” said West. “And seeing the photos and paintings together shows how a photographer controls her image by her composition or the position from which she stands—nothing can be added. The painter, however, has freedom to interpret that image. This is exactly what Sylvain has done. And it is wonderful.”

In addition to the collaborative landscapes and townscapes of Clarksdale and Rosedale, there is at least one painting inspired by one of West’s Cuba images. The show is clearly a tale of projects. “I know artists go through periods of reflection and find undeniable inspiration and excitement with each new project,” said West. “It can be a simple day in the Delta or months of work in a particular area.” West’s Clarksdale and Cuba work covered many years of her returning to the same place.

Sylvain is a man who studies faces and the interactions among people. One image in the show shows three people on a bench, each in their own worlds—young people with ear buds and a middle-aged woman looking uncomfortably the other way. Several very large paintings will be shown along with the collaborative paintings inspired by West’s photography.

Selected photos from Cuba which will be shown in Abbeville, were published earlier this year in South by Southeast photo magazine, and are a sampling of what will be shown in her upcoming exhibit in Oakland, California, on December 6th.  At her daughter Jasmine Moorhead’s gallery, Krowswork, West will present a larger selection and her new book, Cuba for Keeps, 56 pages of color photos and a narrative about her travels to Cuba to collect art. “I had hoped to have the book published and printed in time for the Abbeville show,” she said, “but looks like only the cover will be there. These things take more time than most people can imagine.”

The joint show of photos and paintings by West and Chamberlain will open Friday afternoon, November 15th from 4-9 PM, and continue on Saturday (game day) from 10-6 and Sunday, 10-4. Abbeville is nine miles north of Oxford on Highway 7 and the building housing the show is in downtown Abbeville, one mile east of Highway 7. (Turn right coming from Oxford just past Dollar General.) For more information call 662.380.6875.

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