Christina Hutchings and Nancy Valentine
In Illusion and Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape, two artworks – Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore – sit side by side, united in their distillation of the Bermuda landscape into a study of shape, colour and form.
Despite being created over 60 years apart and in very different mediums – the first in oils in 1950 and the latter in 2014 in mixed media collage – the synergy between the two is evident; connected by a shared focus on the sharp lines of our local vernacular architecture and the brilliant white of the Bermuda roofline, each punctuated with a distinct sliver of the aqua that laps our shores.
Look closer, however, and you will see that the connection runs deeper. They are painted by a mother, Nancy Valentine, and daughter, Christina Hutchings; both former Bermuda Biennial artists and each a pioneering creative in her own right.
As we approach Mother’s Day, we sat down with Christina to discuss her artwork and her late mother’s, the synergies between the two that have only revealed themselves in retrospect and the ties that bond them – both artistic and familial.
BNG: This is the second time that you and Nancy have been exhibited together at the Bermuda National Gallery. The first was in The Power of Art held in 2017 to celebrate 25 years of BNG. However, this is the first time that your artworks have been displayed side by side. Were you aware of the synergies between Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore before they were selected for the exhibition?
CH: I had not thought about a synergy between my mother’s work and my work. Sometimes, quite the opposite because of her general preference for representation, and mine for abstraction. I delivered Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore to the gallery on different days and I had never seen them adjacent to each other.
I always loved the painting Quarry in Warwick because of its rectilinear geometry and spareness, which is something that I have an affinity towards in my own work. When Mitchell was selecting work for Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape I suggested Quarry in Warwick because I thought that the painting would work well with his ideas for a show about illusion and abstraction. Quarry in Warwick it is a composition of shapes and forms.
In formal terms, Quarry in Warwick moves back and forth between abstraction and illusion. I also thought the subject matter, a Bermuda stone quarry, was an unusual subject for a Bermuda landscape painting.
BNG: Did you know that the two artworks would be displayed together?
CH: I wasn’t aware that the two works would be displayed together. When I saw the two pieces in tandem at the exhibition opening, I was startled to see their similarities; particularly the central geometric shapes in both compositions that happen to be complementary colors, one orange and one turquoise.
I felt happily surprised by the similarities of our aesthetics. I had not realized this synergy existed and it is re-assuring to feel that it does.
BNG: Quarry in Warwick is an early example of Nancy’s work. It was painted in the 1950s, shortly after she travelled from Bermuda to New York to study at the Arts Student’s League, alma mater of many of the Abstract Expressionists as well as pioneering artists such as Eva Hesse. Could you please tell us a bit about it?
CH: Quarry in Warwick is one of my favorite paintings by my mother. It was painted in the 1950s. I am sure that she would have been aware of the Abstract Expressionists’s experimentation and the innovations in art that were being championed by art critics and the popular press in the late 1940s and 1950s – Jackson Pollock was profiled in Life Magazine in August 1949. Many of these artists had studied at and later taught at The Art Students League.
The League offered individual studios taught by artists who had complete autonomy in their studio classes. I am certain my mother would have sensed and absorbed a variety of ideas being taught the studios when she was there. I imagine that my mother saw Bermuda through a different lens.
In the 1950s the Bermuda landscape was rural. I recall a quarry in Warwick. The hill was high and a large portion of the side of the hill had been sheared into high, glaring white angular blocks and precipitous cliffs. This was the dramatic landscape subject matter that my mother noticed.
BNG: Nancy was a very innovative artist. Not only did she continue to paint after her marriage, which was unusual at the time, but she experimented with oil paint and collage and a number of different materials such as polyester resin and fiberglass. What are your memories of your mother working on her art when you were little?
CH: As a child, I wasn’t aware it was unusual to have a mother who was an innovative artist, who during the day, would go to her studio and make things. It was simply what she did. My childhood memories are the centered around her art studio in the house. In the years of her work with fiberglass and resin, there was always a prevalent scent of the resin in the house.
More significant is the memory of visiting my mother in her studio, her invitation to join in the activity and her love and enjoyment of working on her art. She encouraged my creativity from a very young age and always welcomed me into her studio while she was working. She would share her materials and teach me how to work with resin, fiberglass, plaster and all sorts of painting materials. Being in the studio with her was my favorite thing to do.
BNG: Your own artistic practice focuses on mixed-media work. Do you think that Nancy influenced you in this way?
CH: Yes, I am sure my mother has influenced me in many ways. We share the desire to develop an idea. My mother’s openness to working in a variety of media and her flexibility to switch between them was underpinned by her drive to develop an idea by using the medium that best allowed this expression.
I think my work across a variety of media stems more from study and my work in architecture coupled with my interest in the development of abstraction. I have spent a lot of time in the galleries at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, particularly the galleries with the collections of Cezanne’s paintings and moving forward to the contemporary galleries, which has influenced my practice.
BNG: In what ways did your mother encourage you to pursue your own path as an artist and architect?
CH: My mother encouraged me by sharing her studio and allowing me to work in there with her when I was a child. Making things was something that I always loved to do. She supported my decisions to study both art and architecture.
She also had the belief that in life and in art, the element of commerce was essential. For my first solo show she asked if I had invited anyone. I had not thought of this and she rallied, by creating a mailing list of people to invite. Because of her promotion, the opening was a success.
In the 1960s she designed fiberglass screens and furniture. The Bermuda Government commissioned her to create a screen as wedding gift for HRH Princess Margaret in 1960. I was quite young, but I do remember feeling proud of my mother that she had made a beautiful and original gift that expressed Bermuda’s natural beauty.
BNG: Nancy was a big supporter of female artists and makers and owned several important collections, including works by English and Irish Women Silversmiths of the 17th through 19th centuries and Women Botanical Illustrators of the 18th and 19th centuries, both of which have been exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. She was very involved with the museum, first as a founding member and later both sitting on and chairing the advisory board. Could you please tell us about this?
CH: Nancy’s involvement with the National Museum of Women in the Arts is parallel with her collecting and her Collection of English and Irish Women Silversmiths. I will quote here from the essay that she wrote for Women Silversmiths 1685-1845, a symposium presented by Christie’s in association with NWMA in 1990:
“My story is similar in some ways to that of Wilhelmina Holladay, who established the museum itself. Independently and in our different fields we found beautiful objects by women artists and artisans. We became curious, looked for more information, and started to collect.”
As the collection developed over five years, my mother wanted to share it. She wrote: “I viewed the collection not as a lavish display of individual objects but as an expression of how women lived and worked in the 17th and 18th and 19th centuries.”
Nancy loaned parts of the Collection to the Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia, The President’s House at Mt. Holyoke College. She also wrote a two-part article for Silver Magazine detailing Women Silversmiths of the 18thand 19th Centuries (1985).
As the profile of the collection developed, Wilhelmina Holladay and my mother met and began to discuss the possibility of the collection being housed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The new museum was just about to be inaugurated. This was the beginning of Nancy’s dedicated and rewarding involvement with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which went on to span over 30 years.