Bay artist shares ‘Gulf of America’ with the world

‘It’s Not About the Birds’ by Herb Willey is on display at the MGCCC Jefferson Davis Fine Arts Gallery.
‘It’s Not About the Birds’ by Herb Willey is on display at the MGCCC Jefferson Davis Fine Arts Gallery. Courtesy Herb Willey

Bay St. Louis resident Herb Willey has devoted much of his life to traveling an artistic path. It’s one that has led to his present identity as an internationally known watercolorist.

The sights and sounds he absorbed while living along the Southern coast of America inspired the artwork for which he is best known. Those elements are being featured in an exhibit at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College-Jeff Davis campus through Oct. 26.

A Texas native, Willey moved with his family to Miami at the age of 5 and studied art in the public school system there.

While serving in the U.S. Naval Air Force, he attended the University of Hawaii as a part-time art student and continued his art education at the University of South Louisiana in Lafayette.

Willey used that background as staff artist and advertising designer at the Daily Iberian in Louisiana before becoming a self-employed advertising designer in New Orleans from 1965 to 2003.

His instruction in watercolor began with the New Orleans watercolorist Harrel Gray, and his work was on display with Gray’s at the Old Quarter Gallery in the French Quarter during the 1990s.

“He renewed my interest in fine art in general and encouraged me to paint with him,” he said of Gray.

With his background in advertising design, Willey’s watercolors leaned toward realism and an illustrative style.

“I like to take common, everyday scenes and pull a narrative painting from them, and maybe make the viewer take a second look at the art and feel the emotion I felt when painting it,” he said. “It is those times that make my effort worthwhile. The opportunity to convey emotion into graphics. When you have those moments in your work, it really is satisfying.”

Willey has been a full-time Mississippi resident since 2000 and moved to Bay St Louis in 2013. He has since focused on a series of paintings centered on activities along Beach Boulevard.

“The reality of living in a place that is basically uncluttered as far as people and crowds are concerned makes living in Bay St. Louis and other communities on our Coast a delight,” he said.

“I don’t think you can find another place on the Gulf Coast with as much access to the beaches and waterfronts plus the wildlife that inhabits it as along our precious 30 miles. I like to visit other areas but I love calling this home.”

He and his wife, Serena, have spent the last month driving the Coast in three states gathering material for upcoming art shows.

“I wanted to expand that to cover the entire Gulf Coast, concentrating on the same type subjects — people along the beach, seabirds, Coastal-related subjects mostly and include Alabama, Florida, Louisiana,” he said.

His exhibit at MGCCC is called “Gulf of America: The Prequel.”

“I wondered why and when someone referred to this body of water that covered so much of our coastline as the Gulf of Mexico. Why not the ‘Gulf of America’?” he said of the show’s theme. He explained that “prequel” in the title was used because the show actually is a sneak peek of an exhibit that is scheduled in December at the Mobile Art Council Gallery, followed by another showing scheduled for June and July 2018 at the Eastern Shore Art Center in Fairhope, Alabama.

The MGCCC exhibit will culminate with a reception at noon on Oct. 26 at the gallery. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The Jeff Davis campus is at 2226 Switzer Road, Gulfport. The art gallery is located in the fine arts building, building D. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.