Jumping the gun can pay dividends. Like when I wandered into the Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) (4850 Museum Drive) and bumped into an overlooked creative genius.
Fred Marchman wasn’t there in body — the 75-year-old passed away suddenly in April 2016 — but his extraordinary vision and talent was. It’s in a retrospective show on MMoA’s first floor, which opens officially in July. Most of it is in place now, though.
Curator Stan Hackney has done a wonderful job with the survey of Marchman’s mediums and interests. It’s eclectic in method and vision. Some pieces showed a style and eye I would have never associated with his later, more familiar artwork.
Marchman labeled himself a Southern Pop artist and his frequent themes — UFOs, belles, the Confederacy and TV — are obvious in the show. His unassuming nature belied the nearly seditious whimsy and creative tempest that bubbled up into sculpture, paintings, poetry, comics and even his realistic wooden waterfowl decoys.
As a testimony to Marchman’s below-the-radar popularity, many pieces are on loan from the collections of area artists, in addition to those from his family and MMoA itself. His was a singular expression in Mobile.
“For him, creativity was like breathing, blinking, heart beating — a reflex operation,” Marchman’s cousin William Coleman Mills told Lagniappe in July 2017. “He created art for its own sake, whether he expected to sell it or for anyone else to see it.”
While going through Marchman’s estate, Mills said they opened kitchen cabinets and discovered paintings on the backside of the cabinet doors. Family estimated he created hundreds of works a year.
The show is part of a larger Mobile Bay theme unveiled at MMoA in July. Joining it will be “Lee Hoffman: A Legacy” and “Southern Masters: Casey Downing Jr., Bruce Larsen and Nall.”
Marchman’s show bears an inherent reflection on how we let clear talent like his pass so unheralded during the artist’s lifetime. Part of that is obvious in that Marchman wasn’t naturally a self-promoter. His bailiwick was execution.
“I always felt like he was in the wrong market, that if Fred had representation in New York or L.A. or even in Santa Fe where I paint, he would have been tremendously successful financially. The vast majority of it is brilliant … the social commentary and the way he looked at Southern pop culture,” Mills said.
I found reflection of a more literal, less metaphorical sort just beyond the Marchman show, in the Art Theater Gallery of MMoA’s Education Wing. That’s where Bob H. Miller has set up an exhibit sparkling with imaginative ingenuity.
The South Dakota artist’s “REFLECTORAMA” adorns the walls of the darkened room where viewers are instructed to carry complementary flashlights at eye level to harness the full effect. Quell the jibes about black light posters and Pink Floyd albums; there’s more here than a callback to the 1970s.
Miller has crafted elaborate graphic abstracts from a wide palette of 3M Scotchlite Reflective vinyl painstakingly carved with X-Acto knives. The result is beguiling and beyond expectation.
MMoA Director Deborah Velders was familiar with Miller’s work from time she spent in the American West. She contacted him about the show in hopes it would appeal to a wide variety of ages.
In recent conversation, Velders explained surveys filled with wishes for exhibits geared toward younger visitors. It was the impetus behind the upstairs exhibit “For Children: The Elements of Art and Design” set to run through December 2019.
Miller will be at the museum for an artist talk and reception on June 13, 6-8 p.m. that is open to public. There’s a nominal suggested donation. He’s also in town for a teacher workshop the following Saturday, but it’s sold out.
The aforementioned Marchman and his Mobile brethren shows will open to the public on July 12.
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