Art with heart: Local artist raises money for hurricane relief

Friday, September 9, 2005
Max Cordonnier explained his idea behind "Maggie Mermaids World," one of his art pieces he has donated to help raise money for hurricane victims.

Dr. Max Cordonnier doesn't crave the spotlight, he just wants to help.

In the wake of disaster, the retired professor is joining many other people in the nationwide effort to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The humble artist is a member of the Visual Arts Cooperative in Cape Girardeau, currently selling his mixed-media artwork to benefit the American Red Cross in the wake of Katrina.

"I favor the people who are kind of down and out in the world," said Cordonnier.

He's a retiree with grayish-white locks and goatee, a thoughtful and kind attitude, a love of literature and a somewhat new-found passion for creating the visual arts.

Cordonnier entered the art field relatively late in life after retiring from Southeast Missouri State University as an art professor. He's humble about his work, briefly describing pieces and then shrugging like he's slightly embarrassed for the attention.

Katrina isn't the first disaster Cordonnier has tried to help with. He's man of social conscience who also responded when the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in December. He and other artists raised about $750 from sales to benefit charities then, a figure he downplays as a small amount.

When the tsunami tragedy struck he was helped out by other artists like Vicki Outman, and Cordonnier plans to get more members of the cooperative on the bandwagon for Katrina.

"I've never organized anything on a big scale," said Cordonnier, "but I've done a little something."

Cordonnier was moved to do something by the images on TV of the water pouring into New Orleans. His initial reaction, he said, was shock.

"You just didn't expect it," he said.

He questioned why people were stranded on rooftops and in attics while the city filled with rising water around them. He wondered why aerial rescue wasn't immediately possible.

"It was that part of it that got me," said Cordonnier.

Cordonnier has several pieces for sale, ranging from $15 for small prints to $150 for the largest at the Jean A. Chapman Gallery in the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri. The artwork is unconventional, mixing several images and colors into one piece.

One example is "Van Gogh Deconstructed II," which contains such elements as a negative image of Van Gogh, a nebula, a space shuttle blasting off and a galaxy in a globe. He has an obsession with historic and religious figures and outer space.

Most of the work is done digitally, since Cordonnier likes to take well-known images and manipulate them, like the Mona Lisa.

But the artwork is secondary, the charity comes first, and other artists are ready to follow suit, Cordonnier said.

Rebecca Fulgham, director of the arts council, said the charitable actions speak well for local artists.

"It really shows the generosity of the artists in our community," said Fulgham. "It shows that artists can really use their talents to help in a disaster."

The relief efforts will go on for months, and so will the Visual Arts Cooperative's response. Cordonnier said the artists are ready to keep their work on display in the coming months, when disaster relief will continue to be in demand.

With any luck, they can raise even more than they did for the tsunami.

335-6611, extension 182

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