Catherine Lapsley first began working on her In My Life series a decade ago. The paintings, which follow a strict grid system infused with splashes of bold colour, began as an exploration of the contrast between structure and movement.
Earlier this week Catherine began work on Kinesis, a project curated by BNG Trustee Mitchell Klink, which will see one of her signature paintings take over all three walls of the BNG Project Space to turn it into an immersive installation.
We caught up with the artist as she began painting the undercoat directly onto the walls of the gallery, to discuss how the project came about, the challenges that it brings and what she hopes people will take from it when it is completed.
BNG:Upswell (above), the painting which forms the starting point for Kinesis, is part of an going series. Can you please tell us about it?
CL: I have been working on this series since 2013. I wanted to see what I could develop within a very strict grid system. I was experimenting with how you could use that as your starting point yet still create something that is going to have life and movement within it.
CL: No, I don’t think it will ever be finished because now I’m creating movement in them by doing things with the actual grid itself and I’m experimenting with how that works.
BNG:Kinesis will see one of your paintings expand to encompass all three walls of the BNG Project Space into an immersive installation. How did this project come about?
CL: Mitchel Klink (BNG Trustee) approached me with the idea and I thought it was very interesting. I liked the immersive idea – although it’s not quite at the level of David Hockney’s Bigger & Closer! I also liked idea of doing it by taking just one painting and expanding it and seeing where that leads.
BNG: How did you settle on Upswell as the starting point?
CL: I felt that there was more that I could do more with it. It had more of a guttural feeling. Also, when I look at it, I think of the deep ocean and that made sense as there Andrew Stevenson’s wonderful whale exhibition in the Watlington Gallery.
BNG: What do you hope that people will take away from it by being an entire room as opposed to a 2D piece?
CL: I hope that people get a feeling of being enveloped in something which is very structured, yet fluid, and that they see that as possibly representing the ocean, despite the fact that it isn’t actually anything like it because it’s very grid based. I hope that it makes people think about how you can take something as simple as a line, or a basic shape, and create something different from it. I hope that it evokes an emotion.
BNG: The physical making of it is quite a complex problem to solve. What is the plan?
CL: We started off thinking that maybe it would be a projected image rather than an actual painting, which would reproduce it exactly. Now, the painting has morphed into being the starting point, and I’ll create from there. It’s an exercise in how you can take something and extrapolate it. The fun part will be once we start doing the walls and we can have the lines doing what I want.
BNG: You’re going to be drawing directly onto the wall. Will you start with a grid?
CL: Yes. This is the base colour and then I’ll draw a grid with tape and paint the squares/ shapes. The fun part will be when I take the tape off and it’s all revealed!
BNG: Yes! We’re setting up a camera so we will catch that all on film. When the project is completed, we plan to display a timelapse of the installation so people can see the process.
CL: Mitchell also came up with the idea of incorporating six canvases onto the walls, which we are embedding into the artwork. We can save them when the installation comes down so there will be something left afterwards. It also gives it another dimension, which is interesting. We’ll have to wait and see what people think of it!
Kinesis will be on display in the BNG Project Space through to September. The installation will take approximatelythree weeks to complete. Visitors are encouraged to come and view the work in progress.
Andrew Stevenson first began researching humpback whales almost two decades ago after he and his then two-year-old daughter Elsa spotted a whale breaching off Grape Bay, close to their home. She asked him why the whale had jumped out of the water. That simple question – one of the many whys thrown at parents daily – to which the stay-at-home father did not yet know the answer, was to alter the course of his life.
Not only did Stevenson maintain his promise to his daughter to find out why, but his fact-finding would lead to the production of a feature-length documentary on the subject, Where the Whales Sing (2010). The film, narrated by Elsa, then aged six, went on to win the Charman Prize at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art in 2010 – the only film to ever do so – and Best Emerging Underwater Filmmaker at the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit in California. A second documentary, The Secret Lives of Humpbacks, followed in 2019, winning Best Ocean Film at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York.
As Elsa observes in Where the Whales Sing, “The more we began to know, the more we didn’t know.” That quest for knowledge continues to drive Stevenson to this day. He has since identified over 2000 whales – identifiable by the black and white pigmentation on the underside of their tails (known as fluke IDs) which, much like human fingerprints, are unique. This has led to the discovery of unexpected migration patterns and an understanding of their behaviour in the mid-Atlantic, into which little research had been done previously.
Entirely self-taught, Stevenson has since co-authored several scientific papers and is today a leading expert in the field, lecturing globally on the behavior of humpbacks in Bermuda’s waters. “Down south they are preoccupied with mating, and up north they are preoccupied with feeding, but here they’re doing all kinds of other things,” he says. “You can really see the social complexity of their lives. And the more we know, the more questions we have.”
The photographs in this exhibition are the result of a two-day encounter with the same pair of whales (a male and female) taken at Challenger Bank, a seamount 15 miles off the south-west of Bermuda, in March 2015. The photographs are shot in black and white, allowing us to see the whales, who have monochromatic vision, as they see the world around them. Stevenson was feet from them when taking the photographs.
Each encounter, which took place on two successive days, lasted over two hours, with him swimming alone alongside the mammals who, at 45 feet long and weighing over 40 tonnes, dwarf him. Despite the whales’ imposing presence, Stevenson remains calm in the water. “The way I get these images is by being totally passive,” he explains. “The boat is stationary, the engine off. I never dive down into their territory. I never swim after them. I stay at the surface. It’s always entirely on their terms.”
Just as a calf stays close to its mother, Stevenson never strays from the boat. “I’m always beside the boat and that is a point of reference for them. If they know where the boat is, they know where I am. It makes them feel safe. In some strange way, I think that they view the boat as my protector.” It is usually the females who approach him, learning to trust him as, like their own offspring, they see that he stays close to his ‘mother’.
The most notable exception is the first whale he ever swam with, a large, elder male who Stevenson encountered while swimming with a pod of dolphins whilst researching his first film. After initially trying (and failing) to intimidate him, the male whale relaxed and swam with him for several hours, coming up beneath him and dancing around him. Later, a second male approached and the two began fighting. Stevenson got out of the water as the situation became increasingly fraught, before the whales eventually swam off separately.
Electrified by the experience, he got back into the water, only to have the first whale reappear at his side. At one point the whale lay a foot beneath him, listening to his heartbeat. “It was definitely interspecies communication,” says Stevenson of this intimate one-on-one experience. “It’s something that I have experienced multiple times since then, but this was the most intense and this was unique.”
The second, more aggressive male has since been seen many times – in fact it is the whale that Stevenson has seen the most often off Bermuda – but that first whale, identifiable not only by his Fluke ID but also by a big scar on the right-hand side of his face, remains elusive. Andrew Stevenson’s lifelong quest is to one day find him again. It is the driving force that sees him out on the water for up to 14 hours a day every day between mid-December and mid-May, in the hope of one day being reunited with the creature that began it all.
Please note that Andrew Stevenson has a research permit issued by the Government of Bermuda which grants him permission to swim with the humpbacks and observe their behaviour up close in the water. The public is strongly advised not to swim with whales under the Guidelines for Whale Watching in Bermuda, published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A Bermuda painting was the focus of a recent episode of BBC One’s popular TV series The Repair Shop, watched by over 3 million viewers in the UK. The painting, which depicted a Bermuda house painted in the 1950s, was brought to the attention of presenter Jay Blades and art conservator Lucia Scalisi by Patricia Dangor, daughter of Sir Edward Trenton ‘E.T.’ Richards, and his granddaughter Rokeya Wilson.
The TV programme focused on their family history – the house in question being the Warwick home that Sir Edward built for his wife Madree – and his ground-breaking role as Bermuda’s first Black premier. Not apparent was the fact that the work was painted by Charles Lloyd Tucker (Bermudian, 1913-1971), one of Bermuda’s most celebrated artmakers and the island’s first professionally trained Black artist.
Researchers from the BBC approached the Bermuda National Gallery about the potential restoration of the painting a year ago. BNG’s Chairman, Gary Phillips, OBE, JP – a long time collector of Lloyd Tucker’s work – put them in touch with the artist’s family, who granted the permission required to restore the painting.
We caught up with Gary Phillips, who was a student of Charles Lloyd Tucker, to discuss his memories of the Berkeley Institute’s first art teacher, the importance of collecting and how his favourite painting by the artist always keeps him grounded. We also spoke to Charles Lloyd Tucker’s daughter, Sarah Tucker Jackson, to find out what the restoration of the painting meant to her.
BNG: Could you please tell us about the painting and your role in the restoration process of the artwork for The Repair Shop?
GP: The BNG received a telephone call directly from The Repair Shop seeking direction on how to reach the family of artist Charles Lloyd Tucker as they required consent to revive a painting. I immediately got in touch with Mr. Tucker‘s daughter, Sarah Tucker Jackson, and we together completed the necessary documentation to allow the restoration to move forward. When shown the image of the work, we recognized it immediately as the homestead of Sir Edward Richards whose life and work earned him the high honour of National Hero.
BNG: Charles Lloyd Tucker painted the artwork featured on The Repair Shop in the 1950s, shortly after he returned from England where he had been studying at Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting in London. This was also around the time that he joined The Berkeley Institute as their first art teacher. You were later a student of his at the school. What are your memories of him and his influence on the school?
GP: Before Charles Lloyd Tucker, I don’t think I or anyone else in our class had ever seen or met anyone else who was truly larger than life. He was a walking canvas. He was as colourful and precise in his language as he was in his attire and required that you pause in awe as he passed through what we called ‘the hallowed halls’ of our alma mater. But oh what hands! We all marveled that such enormous hands could produce such delicate strokes.
BNG: You first purchased a work by Charles Lloyd Tucker in 1971, shortly after his death. Neighbourhood depicts Curving Avenue in Middletown, the neighbourhood in which you grew up – and the recent location for the BNG 5K Run for The Arts. Could you please tell us about the work and its significance?
GP: Indeed about three months after Mr. Tucker’s sudden passing, my wife and I plucked up enough courage to call his widow Theresa to ask if we could view the collection at their home. I had known Mr. Tucker outside of The Berkeley as he had conducted summer camp art classes at what was then Ports Island for the AME Church Sunday school children. I still have the rather crude cedar ladle I made under his tutelage. He was encouraging but most of all, he was overly kind. I was definitely not the best art student. I decided from those early days that as I was not a creator, I could be an appreciator and a purchaser.
But getting back to visiting with Mrs. Tucker, when she saw how excited and moved I was upon recognizing my Neighbourhood, she agreed to sell it to me. My wife that same day selected a Barbados Market Scene.
BNG: You have now been collecting works by Lloyd Tucker for 5 decades. How has your collection grown over this time?
GP: Let’s just say that we have decided that our dining-room (which does not get too much natural light) would be a celebration to Charles Lloyd Tucker – I think we have about 15 there – which I was fortunate to have professionally hung. There are several others in the house, including under the bed.
BNG: Which is your most treasured piece and why?
GP: Neighbourhood is definitely my favourite, and most treasured, not just because it was my first acquisition but because it keeps me grounded, appreciative and immensely proud of my maternal West Indian roots – reminding me every day that “there was never a time that I did not know where I had come from, who I was and most importantly what was expected of me.”
BNG: Charles Lloyd Tucker witnessed great social and political change in Bermuda during his lifetime, which is often reflected in his work. Storm in a Teacup, which was exhibited at BNG in 2019, was a response to the 1959 Theatre Boycott, which led to the dismantling of segregation in Bermuda. How can artworks such as this help us to tell our stories?
GP: Art always tells a story. Sometimes it takes research to uncover and reveal the story, but it is always there. The context of Storm in a Teacup is powerful in so many ways, but I always see within it, the friendship of Charles Lloyd Tucker and Robert Barritt, whose juxtaposed work (which we have in the BNG collection) witnesses the defiant rapprochement of two men of different races at a time when Bermuda was institutionally divided.
BNG: Sarah, what was your experience of your father’s painting re-surfacing and being restored?
STJ: First and foremost, let me say that my brother Hans and I are always pleased to be reminded that our father, Charles Lloyd Tucker’s impact on the Bermuda art scene has endured now more than five decades after his death.
I would say that this speaks not only to him as an artist, but as a personality that touched so many lives across a wide spectrum, not only here in Bermuda, but overseas.
Although I do not know the painting of Wilton, the home of Sir Edward Richards, I was delighted to learn of the existence of the painting and that the family cared enough about it to seek my permission to have it restored.
Judging from what we have learned from The Repair Shop, BBC One’s televised programme, the restorer has done a brilliant job, I have only one regret: that I would very much have loved to have seen the before and after images side by side.
Artist and art educator Richard Sutton has been based in Bermuda for over ten years. When he first moved to the island from the United States, he was struck by how the art he saw exhibited in local galleries only reflected one aspect of the Bermuda he knew and did not tell “the whole story of the people that lived on the island”.
Having been confronted by systemic racism and “violence against Black bodies” for many years whilst living in NYC, he came face to face with gang violence shortly after moving to Bermuda when one of his students was directly affected by it. His early work explores this reality, whilst the series he is currently working on provides hope for where he wants to go.
As America comes to terms with the fate of Ralph Yarl and Richard prepares to teach a six-week charcoal drawing class at the Bermuda National Gallery, we caught up with him to discuss why the freedom to create openly and honestly has not always been there and how art can help us tell our stories if we are brave enough to tell them.
BNG: You are both an artist and an art educator. Does one affect the other and if so in what ways?
RS: I have been an artist and art educator for 24 years. It is only within the last 7 that have I juggled both consistently. Teaching during the day affects my art in several ways. The most obvious is that my energy level to create my own work is decreased. After a day of teaching, I usually push through to find mental and physical energy.
After working for 4-5 hours of painting, I hit my sweet spot and want to keep going. By that time, I usually have to stop painting and get rest for the next day. On average, with teaching and creating artwork, I can easily have a 13-hour workday. It also means that I have less time to consider what to do next, or to develop a concept for a painting. Lots of mental energy is given to guiding students on their work.
My schedule does not lend much opportunity for a balanced life. I have not been able to pour into friendships, or myself, as I desire because of the goals I have with my own artwork. All in all, I create less work because I am both educator and artist. But I am proud to say that I practice what I teach.
BNG: Your artistic practice is focused on large scale paintings which explore the realities of systemic racism and the violence facing many young Black men. You have, in the past, spoken about how as a high school teacher in NYC you came face to face with gang violence, which affected your students. Sadly, the same has been true of your experience in Bermuda. Can you please tell us about this?
RS: My earlier work stems from violence on a whole in the United States. In my first year of teaching in New York City, I learned of the unfortunate story of Amadou Diallo. This was the first time I learned of this type of police shooting. The incident with Abner Louima being mistreated by the police followed shortly. All echoed back to the song Strange Fruitthat I had learned about a few years earlier while at university. Then, September 11 happened. I had so many questions and distrust of what we were being told. It forced me to look at the idea of “America” and its history.
Throughout all of this, my students were telling me they were being stopped and frisked by the police on the way to or from school. Please understand that my students dressed in uniform exactly like they do here in Bermuda. They were stopped for being young and of African descent. The nature of the United States is a violent one. My earlier paintings have dealt with that violence on “Black bodies”.
When I arrived in Bermuda – paradise – I learned of the gang problem. That was 2014. Unfortunately, it got pretty close to me at some point. For three years, I visited the galleries and museums on island. I noticed that most of the work in Bermuda focused on the beauty of the beaches, birds, turtles, ships, cottages, etc. Not much told the whole story of the people that lived on the island. The people that built the cottages. I personally wanted to see work that challenged. I suppose that was my activist side manifesting from my earlier experiences as a young educator in NYC. My first painting seen in Bermuda was La Pieta which means The Pity. I wanted to tell of the story of the gang violence on island. I wanted to paint the image of a mother holding her son’s body as large as possible so that it would be hard to ignore. There is so much to discuss in art.
BNG: In what ways have experiences such as these shaped your artistic practice?
RS: These experiences have shaped my artistic practice in wanting to create work that helps to tell a story. In the visual arts world, it has only been recently that the opportunity to everyone’s story is accepted more readily. When I had my first show in Bermuda, I was told that images of black people do not sell. The freedom to create openly and honestly has not always been there. Langston Hughes wrote an article The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain in the early 1900s which echoed what I was told and seeing around me.
As for my views and my practice, I am now creating a series of hope and enlightenment as I have grown. The growth I have attained is from my own search for understanding of who I am and where I come from. It is an education that the system never afforded me. Although it is not part of my experiences, it provides hope for where I want to go.
BNG: How can art help us to tell our stories?
RS: Art can help us tell our stories by being brave enough to tell them. Not everyone is able to have the opportunity to tell these stories to help bridge any gaps in society. I believe a strong artwork provides opportunity to have discussion, deliberation, hopefully conversation. James Baldwin stated, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I believe that the power of art is to create the opportunity for all to face anything. Horace Pippen, Jean Michel Basquiat, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden found it necessary to have what they witnessed faced, remembered. I love that about art.
BNG: Your artistic influences are wide ranging – from Kara Walker, Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to the Old Masters. In what way do each of these inspire you and how do they come together in your work?
RS: Yes, I admire these artists and more. When I was a 20-year-old art student, I was told my work was reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s paintings. I had no idea who Hopper was and looked up his work. I believe it was his lighting, that the comparison was made. I was always drawn to strong contrast in artwork. Caravaggio is another favourite. I love that he used everyday people to tell his story, not to mention, his use of lighting is incredible.
At my tender years, I always wanted to paint like Renaissance or Baroque painters but tell my own stories. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera both told their own stories of personal experiences and championed the people. Rivera painted to teach the Mexican people their history. I really admire that. I saved Kara Walker for last. When I first discovered her work, I was in an airport, looking through a magazine. There was an article about The Sugar Baby (Sphinx). That led me to discover her silhouette art. I found her topics to be fearless. That encouraged me to paint what I wanted to paint. Her work encouraged me to say what I wanted to say as an artist. Additionally, Odd Nerdrum paintings of people defecating became my license to kill. I simply want to be able to create freely.
BNG: You will be teaching a six-week charcoal drawing class at BNG, beginning on May 3. What do you have planned for the programme?
RS: During the time I will spend with the class, I plan to teach them to not just shade, but see in a way that will allow them to more accurately render what they want, despite material. During the class, we will be focused on working with a charcoal drawing pencil.
Portrait painter, Harry Ahn, back in 1994 told me forget everything I know, and taught me to draw in an academic way. I will teach the students to draw in the same way I learned. The end product will have a similar finish as a painting.
BNG: You previously taught charcoal drawing as part of our Draw & Explore programme, and again at the City Arts Fest. What is it about the medium that you enjoy?
RS: I really enjoyed both experiences and I am excited to be teaching in this capacity. It was electrifying for both my model and me at the end of the City Arts Fest. Honestly, I absolutely enjoy drawing with charcoal or this particular drawing pencil. It is a material that is easy to handle and can create an end result that mimics the same technique as using oil paint. It is a great precursor to oil painting in my opinion. The end product is usually very strong because of the contrast and effect of the material.
BNG: What was your experience of the City Arts Fest?
RS: As mentioned before, I felt electrified. It was not just me that felt it. I saw it on the participants faces and several others shared that sentiment. My beautiful model, Zalika Millett was perfect. She sat till for 1.5 hrs. Absolutely still. I have never seen that before. She was dressed perfectly in African clothing. There was light Afro-beat music playing, and everyone was curious.
Many people stayed for most of the session which created a large crowd. Some had to maneuverer so others could have room to join. The skill set varied, but everyone was happy with their work. This is the reason I love to teach art. I love sharing my skillset with others. It was great working with adults. I have thought about it before, it is hard to say why the experience felt so electric.
BNG: How can we get more young people involved in the arts and why is it important to do so?
RS: It is important to get young people involved in art in order for them to understand that their voices are important to society. It is important for young people to be involved in the arts because understanding others work can possibly change the way they see the world, can change their perspectives on things. It is important for young people to get involved because they may have a career in it and have a future. It is important for them to be able to pass on the importance of it on to future generations.
If our schools, some educators, and some parents, only encourage the narrative of the importance of the 3 Rs – Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, then we have a society that is not creative, not innovative. Design as a component of the arts allows us to thrive and to solve problems. Creativity, problem solving, and innovation, are a fantastic breeding ground for development in the arts.
Charcoal Drawing with Richard Sutton will be held on Wednesday evenings, May 3 – June 7 from 5:30pm to 7pm. The six-week programme is $150 for BNG members, $200 for non-members. Click here to register.
Join artist Abi Box for a 2-hour monotype printing workshop on Saturday, March 18 from 2pm to 4pm, to accompany her exhibitionIdentical Days, on display in the BNG Project Space.
Enjoy a private artist-led tour of the exhibition after the gallery closes to the public and then learn to make your own monotype, a process in which a unique print is pulled by hand from paint applied directly onto a Plexiglass plate.
Abi likens the effect of painting on Plexiglass to painting on canvas. “It is a flexible, forgiving way of creating a picture. No mark is fixed, and the paint can be pushed and moved around,” she says. “It allows me to indulge in the grittiness and unpredictability of paint.”
The cost of the workshop is $60 for BNG members and $75 for non-members. Materials will be provided. Limited to 10 spaces.
“I’m interested in the fundamentals of painting — the process of it all, the countless ways in which paint as a material can be used, all the ways that a mark can be made,” says Abi Box. In this exhibition, the British artist, who has been based in Bermuda for five years, explores the possibilities of monotype printing, in which a unique print is pulled by hand from paint applied directly onto a Plexiglass plate.
Box likens the effect of painting on Plexiglass to painting on canvas. “It is a flexible, forgiving way of creating a picture. No mark is fixed, and the paint can be pushed and moved around,” she says. “It allows me to indulge in the grittiness and unpredictability of paint.” Box works in watercolour, which pools and fragments on the surface, creating a sense of abstraction in the printed image. Painting, for her, is a means of exploration. “It is important to me when painting not to copy from observation, but to react.”
Inspired by the glare of sunlight bouncing off the water and Bermuda’s white roofs, the works in this series capture the impression left by the blinding midday sun — the way that it bleaches the colours around it or frames a cluster of palm trees. “When you’re on the pink sand it’s so overwhelmingly drenched in brightness, you can barely see colour because of it. Everything’s bleached,” she says. “In other pieces, I focused on the chaotic wrangle of foliage at the water’s edge, which advocates for fluidity between shapes and crowded compositions full of pattern and ambiguity.”
Abi Box first experimented with monotype printing on an artist residency in the Peruvian rainforest in 2016. What she didn’t realise at the time is that the prints need to be made within the first few days of the plates being painted. As a result, she was left with a series of painted glass plates which, although too dry to print from, were beautiful objects in and of themselves. Intrigued, she coated them in resin and turned them into a series of stained-glass panels. These small, intimate pieces caught the attention of a collector, who then commissioned her to make a scaled-up version — a light box installation, now on permanent display at Simmons Contemporary in London.
While pregnant with her first child, Box returned to the monotype medium as a way of avoiding the paint fumes of her usual work on canvas. Later, restricted to short windows of time in which to paint with a newborn, the process of making prints suited these short bursts. This series was completed amidst the identical days of new motherhood and with the impending arrival of her second child.
Using bold, gestural brushstrokes, the works capture the view of Ely’s Harbour from Box’s Somerset studio, along with nearby banana groves and small coves that she has discovered along the island’s shoreline. The works veer between sparsity and density, which creates a woven, textural result infused with the very essence of Bermuda.
Identical Days by Abi Box is on display in the BNG Project Space through to May.
Meet the Artist
We are hosting an Artist’s Reception for Abi Box on Thursday, February 16th 5pm – 6.30pm exclusively for BNG members. Join us for a drink and explore the gallery after it has closed to the public. This is an exciting opportunity to meet the artist and learn more about her unique approach.
Invitations have already been sent out directly to members. If you have not received an invitation, your membership may have lapsed. Please note that this is renewal season and that 2022/23 memberships expire on March 31.
Take out or renew your membership today to be added to the guestlist for the event. All memberships will be valid through to March 2024.
Swapping a successful freelance photographic career for a role as a foreign correspondent for the US government, in 1967 Richard Clive Saunders (Bermudian, 1922-1987) became International Editor for Topic, a magazine published by the United States Information Agency (USIA), now the Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs bureaus within the US State Department. Topic ran from 1965 to 1994 and covered art, international politics and emerging technologies. As part of a commitment to cultural exchange, the magazine was printed in both English and French and was aimed at audiences in Africa, often focusing on Americans with family ties to the continent such as Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr, and a young Barack Obama.
Saunders stayed in this role until his retirement in 1986, during which time his photographs appeared in almost every issue of Topic. Over 20 years, he took close to50 trips to Africa, visiting more than 30 countries, moving seamlessly between photographing heads of state and documenting rural life across the continent. “I never took pictures of what people thought Africa was about,” he said. “I was there to record what I saw when I saw it […] I never felt strange in Africa. It was always like going home.” In 1973, the USIA held an exhibition of Saunders’ work in Africa, which showcased 59 of his best photographs. The exhibition opened at the US Information Service Lincoln Library in Kumasi, Ghana, and toured the continent for two years, displayed in libraries, galleries and cultural centres the length and breadth of Africa.
“I was a witness to everything,” Saunders told Bermuda’s The Royal Gazette shortly after his retirement in 1986. “Whatever I saw, I was a part of — I didn’t try to change it, didn’t attempt to change it. I simply tried to document it. “In those days Africa was just beginning to develop,” he explained. “When I first went in, it can’t have been more than ten years after the first independent African nation had come into being. It was an exciting period — you could actually see the changes occurring from one month to the next.” During his lifetime, Saunders was awarded many honours for his contributions to photography, including the International Black Photographer’s Award (1982) and the United States Information Services Honour Award (1986). Of his chosen path, Saunders said: “It’s been a way of life for me that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
“Photojournalism has been a very rewarding and fascinating career for me. As I look at my friends who are lawyers, or doctors, I think how bored they must be. For me there is always a different room, a different sunrise, different people with different ideas — and always a new experience tomorrow.” Richard Saunders died in 1987 at the age of 65, just days before receiving the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council. The award was presented posthumously to his wife, Emily Saunders.
After his death, Saunders was acknowledged by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York for his contributions to both photography and civil rights. Gordon Parks, who described Saunders as one of his dearest friends, told The Mid Ocean News, “He was a first-rate person as well as a very fine photographer.” The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington expressed interest in collecting Saunders’ photographs and bid for his work but his wife, who was the executor of his estate, decided that they should go to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, which is where he had wanted them to go. However, as a project of the USIA, there was a Congressional ban on the domestic distribution of Topic, and it became clear that an act of congress would be required to release his photographs taken for the magazine.
In 1988, Congressman Rangel wrote to Charles Wick, then director of USIA, about the best way to preserve Saunders’ archive. A congressional waiver was sought and secured, and legislation was introduced to move his work from the USIA to the Schomburg Center, which is now a custodian of 20 years of photographs taken by Saunders for Topic. His wife donated 30 of his photographs to the Bermuda National Gallery’s permanent collection, from which A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders is drawn.
A Personal Perspective: Photographs by Richard Saunders is on display in the Ondaatje Wing through to February.
We would like to extend a big thank you to Meredith Andrews, who has generously donated $30,000 raised from the sale of limited-edition prints produced to accompany Flotsam & Jetsam: The Cost of Modern Living, to Bermuda National Gallery and Keep Bermuda Beautiful (KBB).
The exhibition, which recently closed, examined the impact of plastics on our oceans. The opportunity to use art to shine a light on important issues of our time, such as this, is a critical role that the BNG plays in the community. We were thrilled to receive support from BIOS with the purchase of two prints for their Bermuda Inshore Investigation Laboratory.
The works produced for the exhibition, which were made from plastics collected along Bermuda’s shoreline, won Silver in the Association of Photographers’ Open Awards (AOP), one of the most prestigious awards in the photographic calendar.
The public’s incredible response to the show has, so far, raised $30,000 for BNG and KBB, with each organisation receiving a donation of $15,000. We would like to thank Meredith for her generosity, Zurich Bermuda for sponsoring the exhibition and Colourlab Bermuda and Frameworks for their support.
You can help raise more funding for the two charities by purchasing a limited-edition print or series of your own at bng.bm/shop.
BNG: Thank you for your generosity in opening up Nancy’s archives, and your own, for this exhibition. What has working on it been like for you?
CH: Sharing my mother’s archive with the Bermuda National Gallery for this exhibition has been a journey of discovery. I’ve gained an understanding and deep appreciation for her long career as a pioneering artist, designer, collector and founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NWMA) in Washington DC.
As a child in the 1950s I didn’t understand that Nancy was an exceptional artist. She was simply my mother, who every day went to her studio to make things. As an adult, I have a great admiration for her pioneering use of new materials in the 1950s, her work as a designer of fiberglass screens and chairs in the 1960s and her talent as a painter, particularly in regard to her selection of subject matter and use of colour. I’ve also come to appreciate her insightful eye and talents as a collector and the important role that she played as a founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
In looking through my own archives and sending images to Eve (Godet Thomas, Director of Programming and Engagement) and Peter (Lapsley, Executive Director), as they crafted the exhibition, my understanding of the common threads that they saw between my mother’s work and my own broadened and I have been happily surprised.
It has been a privilege working on the exhibition with the BNG team.
BNG: Nancy was making artwork at a time when there were very few visible women artists. What do you think drove her to create and to continually innovate?
CH: I don’t think that my mother thought of herself as a trailblazer. She was simply driven by her own internal creative forces. Her energetic, open, curious, and creative temperament prompted her in all aspects of her life, including her artwork.
BNG: Nancy was a founding member of the National Museum for Women in the Arts, which was the first museum dedicated solely to the work of female artists. She also assembled an important collection of works by women silversmiths (which is now in the permanent collection of the NWMA) along with a collection of botanical illustrations by female artists. Were you aware of how much she championed female artists when you were a child?
CH: As a child I was not at all aware that Nancy was a champion of women artists. By the 1970s, with the dawn of the feminist movement there was more of an awareness of the disparities between men and women, in art and in life. She may have had this in mind when she decided to focus solely on woman silversmiths to collect. There was also the fact, at that time, works by female silversmiths sold at auction were lower in price, even as they were as good or better than comparable work by male silversmiths
BNG: Did her advocacy for the feminist movement shape your own career path in any way?
CH: As far as I know, she didn’t adopt a feminist political position. She generally didn’t take on controversy and succeeded without taking a political position.
However, her determination to take on challenges and to be self-sufficient was a good example to me and informed my belief that I had to be able to support myself. This belief prompted my career choice to study architecture. It was important that this was in a field that was close to, and would contribute to, my interest in art. It was important that one interest should inform the other.
BNG: One thing that stood out when researching the exhibition is the fact that both you and Nancy share a dedicated daily studio practice. This can be a very difficult thing for an artist to establish and to sustain. Is this something that has always been important to you?
CH: My mother always had a working studio in our house. As a child, I loved being in her studio and watching her as she worked with resin making screens. I would often go into her studio and make something even if she wasn’t in there, I loved her studio space. It was filled with materials and possibilities.
My studio is an important place for me because it is like an open sketch book. It is filled with works in progress, materials and coloured papers juxtaposed. Like a sketch book, these studio materials in random juxtapositions suggest ideas for new works. I have always had a studio in every place I have lived.
BNG: How do you maintain momentum when it comes to making artwork part of your daily routine?
CH: The momentum of practicing art making daily varies for me. I’m most happy when I am focused and, in the studio, working on a project. I don’t always maintain momentum but to help sustain momentum the first thing that I do in the morning is to look in the studio to see if there is something that surprises me or suggests a way forward. Usually there is something that catches my eye, and the momentum can be maintained.
BNG:Both you and Nancy cross the boundaries between fine art and design – Nancy with her decorative screens and the production of a set of fiberglass furniture in the early 1960s, and you with your architectural work in NYC and, more recently, large installations for several Bermuda Biennials. How and why do you move between one discipline and the other? Does one inform the other and vice versa?
CH: I move between design and fine art because I enjoy both disciplines. I love the process of seeing how a drawing on paper can transform an idea into a built project. For me, fine art and design inform one another in many ways and especially with their reliance on drawing. The drawing methods used in preparing for a design project are applicable to the production of an art installation. Both require an idea or program to start, sketches, measured design drawings and details to describe how to build the idea.
BNG: Why do think this transition was also important to Nancy?
CH: I don’t think my mother saw any distinction between her design work and her fine art practice. I think that she just went full steam ahead in everything she did and especially in her creative work.
BNG: Has the exhibition changed your view of Nancy’s work, or indeed your own, in any way?
CH: I was delighted to come to understand my mother’s body of work as a whole for the first time and to discover the commonalities between our work. My body of work is not complete, and I have drawn inspiration from this exhibition that will further inform my own work.
I would like to extend my gratitude and sincere thanks to BNG and particularly Eve and Peter for their insightful conception of and stunning presentation of the exhibition.
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings closes on May 21.
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings will be closing on Saturday, May 21. The exhibition looks at the work of a mother and daughter, whose lives and studio practices intertwined, and who each forged a unique path as women and as interdisciplinary artists.
The exhibition grew from an interview that we did with Christina to mark Mother’s Day exactly one year ago.