Renowned Mississippi pianist Bruce Levingston pays homage to celebrated Mississippi artist Marie Hull in his new book, “Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull.”
A lifelong cultural ambassador in the state of Mississippi, Hull is one of the most influential Southern artists of the 20th century. Levingston, artist-in-residence at the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, has assembled a comprehensive journey through Hull’s nine-decade career with thoughtful analysis and beautiful reproductions of her work.
Levingston will sign and read from “Bright Fields” at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 6) at Square Books in Oxford.
Levingston, an acclaimed concert pianist and recording artist from Cleveland, Mississippi, who now makes his home in both Oxford and New York City, was first drawn to the brilliant colors and exotic birds in Hull’s paintings as a child. Both Hull and Levingston were introduced to the arts at an early age. Hull, a trained pianist, received a degree in music from Belhaven College before leaving Mississippi to explore her love of painting. Like Hull, Levingston studied painting, but it was his passion for music that took him around the world in pursuit of his career. Both artists returned to Mississippi.
Upon Levingston’s return, he rediscovered Hull’s work and realized the significance of her paintings in American art. Her work and shared passion for the arts led him to a deeper exploration of Hull’s life and work.
“She led her life in such an unconventional way, not just for a woman of her era, but of any time,” Levingston said. “She completely lived for art and continually sought to learn and grow as much as possible. She let nothing get in the way of her never-ending search for quality, in her art and in her life.”
Levingston lives his life similarly in dedication to advance the arts through performance and education. Besides his own performances, he is the creator of Premiere Commission Inc., a nonprofit music foundation that promotes the commissions and premieres of emerging and established artists. Through his position at UM, he serves an ambassador to bring the arts to his home state and to introduce Mississippi’s talent to the world.
Levingston says that exposing Mississippi students to the arts is essential to helping them grow and realize their dreams.
“Hull deeply believed that a real education in the arts and creative activities was one of the most important things a society could give to its young people, and so do I,” Levingston said. “In her day, Hull was perhaps Mississippi’s single greatest advocate for arts education, and her work has inspired me in what I try to do for students, not only at the University of Mississippi but also for students around the state.”
While photographing the Hull paintings, Levingston was asked to curate an exhibition of Hull’s work at the Mississippi Museum of Art. The collection of close to 150 works assembled from private donors and several museums, including the UM Museum, opened Sept. 26 and runs through Jan. 10, 2016. Many pieces in the exhibition have never been displayed publicly.
“Through this exhibition and monograph, Mr. Levingston has creatively rekindled the common regard that many have for Ms. Hull’s work,” said Philip Jackson, distinguished painter and UM associate professor of art.
“He has brought to light the most astonishing collection of Hull’s works that commemorate her achievements and remind us that this was the work of a national treasure. Levingston’s true appreciation for this superb artist is inspiring as it is one great Mississippian honoring another.”
Levingston’s book release and exhibition coincide fittingly with the 125th anniversary of Hull’s birth on Sept. 28, a day that the Mississippi House of Representatives has declared Marie Hull Day in honor of her life’s work and contributions to the advancement of the arts in Mississippi.
For more information on “Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull,” visit http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1848. For more information on the exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art, visit msmuseumart.org.