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.
Flotsam and Jetsam: The Cost of Modern Living by Meredith Andrews has won in the 37th Association of Photographers’ (AOP) Open Awards. The exhibition, which was produced by the Bermuda National Gallery in collaboration with Keep Bermuda Beautiful, won Silver in the Project category, which was judged by Jenny Ricketts, Trustee, Martin Parr Foundation and Isabelle Von Ribbentrop, Executive Director, Prix Pictet.
“The featured projects came from an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a highly distinctive approach to the theme, at times challenging our understanding of what photography can be. The winner’s project was a reminder of current threatening situations that the whole world is facing.” said Isabelle Von Ribbentrop.
Meredith said: “I’m deeply honoured to have received a Silver prize for my series Flotsam & Jetsam in the 37th Association of Photographers (AOP) Open Awards. Being recognized by such a prestigious organization is a huge boost and a career high. The more this work and its pressing message is exposed to people the better. None of this would have been possible without the support of BNG and KBB.”
The exhibition is now closed, however a set of limited edition prints of Flotsam & Jetsam can be purchased from the gallery, priced $250 each. Limited edition archival print. Edition of 20. Numbered and signed by the artist. 16 x 20 in. Unframed.
Nancy Valentine (American/Bermudian, 1925-2019) studied at Pine Manor College and Northwestern University in the 1940s, before deepening her studies at The Art Students League of New York (1954, 1973). The school, renowned for its unrestrictive approach to artmaking, is the alma mater of many of the Abstract Expressionists, including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, as well as ground-breaking artists such Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, two of Valentine’s contemporaries at the school.
Valentine moved to Bermuda in 1950, where she continued to develop her art practice, at a time when there were very few visible women artists. Initially painting in oils and working in ceramics and enamel, she quickly moved to experimenting with plastics, intrigued by the adaptability and pliability of the synthetic material which transformed life in post-war America. She told the Bermuda Sun in 1969, “Ceramics and enamels, which I had been working in at the time, have been around for thousands of years. This was the first new art medium. I thought it was exciting. Anything you did in it was new; no one had used the stuff before, and that made it interesting to me.”
Youth On Fire (1955) is an early example of Valentine’s experimentation, containing a small epoxy resin butterfly overlaid on oil paint in the bottom left corner of the canvas. The work was exhibited in cities across the U.S. and Canada in the early 1960s as part of the travelling Bermuda Art Exhibition, sponsored by Eastern Airlines, at a time when very few artists, and certainly none in Bermuda, were working with such innovative materials. Reflecting on her work in plastics, she said to the Bermuda Sun, “Plastics have become an artform, which they weren’t considered to be when I first started, and this pleases me very much.”
In 1956 Valentine began making large-scale decorative screens, which displayed natural materials elegantly embedded in resin and framed in wood. National Geographic published an article on them in 1958 which led to features in House Beautiful magazine and the Chicago Sunday Tribune, and a commission in 1960 by the Bermuda government to make a pair of screens for Princess Margaret, a gift to her from the people of Bermuda to celebrate her marriage.
That same year, her screen won Third Prize in the third Annual Design Derby held in Miami, Florida. The expo, which was sponsored by the Designers and Decorators Guild, highlighted the works of both national and international designers, decorators, artists, and craftsmen. Valentine took this experimentation one step further later that year with the design of a set of modernist furniture made from fiberglass, a new medium which at the time was predominantly used in the manufacture of boats.
Nancy continued to make art up until her death in 2019. It is interesting to note that after a period working predominantly in oils and focused on landscapes in the 1980s and 90s, she continued to innovate, returning to plastics towards the end of her career. She told Bermuda National Galleryin 2002, “I have temporarily returned to polyester resin and fiberglass, the medium I developed in 1955 and worked in almost exclusively for 20 years. Plastics as an art form somehow seems appropriate for the 21st century.”
From The Archives
To celebrate Women’s History Month, The Bermudian have republished a feature about Nancy Valentine written by Pamela Hennell, and photographed by Frederick Hamilton, for their January 1958 issue.
The article is a stark reminder of how unusual it was for a woman to be working as an artist at the time and provides a fascinating insight into her process of working with resin and fiberglass.
Many friends of Nancy Hutchings are firmly convinced that she has two different and distinct personalities. One is the glamorously dressed Nancy who goes out with her husband in the evening. The other is the Nancy who, casually dressed in Bermuda shorts and shirt, makes beautiful panels of fibreglass and plastic in her workroom during the day.
Christina Hutchings was born in Bermuda. She attended Warwick Academy before leaving the island to complete her education. Having graduated with a BFA in painting from theTyler School of Art (1976), Hutchings completed an artist residency at the renowned Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1977).
It was at Skowhegan that Hutchings met Dutch artist and sculptor César Domela (1900-1992), who had been a key figure in the geometric abstraction movement in Europe in the 1920s alongside Piet Mondrian. Domela was a visiting artist at the residency, and she remembers lecture he gave in which he said he “could speak only to people who worked in an abstract manner.” Hutchings explains, “At the time I was startled by his peremptory declaration, and he did not visit my studio that summer because I was painting in a very representational way. However, in hindsight, his commitment to abstraction has been a huge help and it is something that has stayed with me.”
Hutchings continues, “Throughout my life it has been a struggle between representation – which is what I thought people wanted to see – and abstraction. I have always been more drawn to abstraction.” Referring to her early works, Walled Garden at Yellow House (1976) and Skowhegan Studio (1977), she adds, “I went back and forth between abstraction and representation for a long time. Those two works, and the Umbrian Landscapes (1987), are a combination of the two impulses. Years later after my time at Skowhegan, I would love the opportunity to speak with Domela about his abstract paintings. I now understand exactly what he meant.”
After the Skowhegan residency, Hutchings returned to New York to work as a colourist for a fabric design company in the garment district, before going to graduate school. After receiving a Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia (1983), she went on to work for cutting-edge architectural firms Henry Miller & Associates, Peter Marino + Associate Architects and Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP.
Throughout her time working as an architect, Hutchings maintained a fine art practice and completed further artist residencies at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts (1989), MacDowell (1991) and the Edward Albee Foundation (1991). She credits this time at the residencies, where she was able to concentrate solely on her art, undisturbed and in the company of other artists, as having had a lasting impact on her artistic career.
Hutchings’ work in recent series is characterised by clean lines and a grid-like structure, with a precise attention to material, repetition and fragmentation. “I’m not interested in the subject matter itself, but in an idea about the subject matter and in capturing it in a formal way,” she says. Hutchings returned to Bermuda in 2008 to commit fully to her art, and credits this as a turning point in her practice. “When I moved to Bermuda, finally I found that I didn’t have to search for the subject matter. It was there in feelings, in places, and in memories of places. I think of an island as a life-boat – being in isolation but being safe.”
Hutchings often uses materials (string, wire, cord) and found objects (a paper cup, a whistle, a ruler) both to create boundaries and to draw in three dimensions. “Collages, and sometimes paintings, feature details made with hardware materials which are considered for their aesthetic value as much as their functional value,” she explains. She told Numero Cinq in 2012, “When I begin a piece, I think of the piece as a painting and as an object…The frame defines a space in which to work and provides a boundary either to respect, or disregard with extensions and additions.”
Whilst allowing herself to be led by an intuitive sense of discovery in the studio, Hutchings attributes her time spent in New York, working as a designer and architect, to the studied way that she conceptualises and develops an idea. On taking an interdisciplinary approach to art making, she says, “I think my work across a variety of media stems from study, my work in architecture and my interest in the development of abstraction,” citing post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne as an influence.
Hutchings continues to experiment, exhibiting regularly in the Bermuda Biennial (’10, ’12, ’14, ’16, ’18, ’20), and spends most days in her studio at home in Bermuda. Her work spans painting, drawing, assemblage and sculpture – ranging from small, intimate works that draw the viewer in, to large scale installations which dominate a space.
Award winning Bermudian artist and photographer Meredith Andrews first began collecting ocean plastic when she moved back to the island seven years ago. An avid environmentalist, she would walk the beaches regularly and pick up plastic that she found washed up on the shoreline as she went. Certain items piqued her interest – her eye taken with the specific shade of purple on a toothbrush perhaps, or the unexpected joy at finding a child’s broken toy soldier – and soon a collection began.
Beachcombing became part of her routine but rather than look for shells, Meredith looks for plastics. Armed with large IKEA bags, she regularly walks along the South Shore, filling them with found objects as she goes. These are then split into two piles: waste, to be responsibly disposed of, and items to be kept. She estimates that on average, she keeps 20% of what shefinds.
The items that she chooses to keep are washed and laid to air dry, before being meticulously sorted – by object, colour, shape and texture – into an intricate storage system that she has set up at home for this very purpose. Hundreds, if not thousands, of items are stored in this way – everything from dolls’ heads to glow sticks (one of Bermuda’s most prolific polluters, which are used by commercial fishermen to light their nets as they trawl) – each one carefully collected, washed and stored until it reaches a critical mass and the moment strikes when, led by instinct or the lure of a particular item, she begins work on a collage, creating a flat lay, a composition framed by shape and colour which she then photographs from overhead.
“I let the materials lead me when it comes to starting a pattern” she says. Lighters, a constant source of pollution, are a favourite for the artist, who likens the way that the light shines through them to the effects of a stained-glass window. “I want people to look at the objects in a different way. I want them to see what I see” she explains.
Many years ago, when Meredith was completing an MA at Goldsmiths College in London, her tutor, Ian Jeffries, pointed out that she was in fact a collector, alluding to the fact that her portrait work often sat within parameters that created collections of people. She dismissed this observation at the time. Yet she now realizes that her work, which often features individual portraits grouped into themes, such as Mothers, exhibited at BNG in 2013, a photographic series of portraits focusing on single mothers, and Fathers, held at BNG later the same year, which focused on single fathers; does just that.
“I am a storyteller though pictures” she says. In reference to the similarities in approach to her portraiture and still life work – two seemingly disparate mediums – she says “With my portraits, I have always wanted to make a hero out of the everyman. Elevate the every-day. In the same way that with my patterns, I am taking objects which have been discarded and I am giving them a value again. I want to elevate the objects to make people realise that it is not just totally forgotten trash.”
Meredith smiles, remembering her other tutor at Goldsmiths, Nigel Perkins, who suggested, after seeing a photo essay that she had produced of items that has been crushed underfoot at a music festival, that for one of her projects, she go down to the Thames Estuary to collect and photograph all of the detritus on the shoreline. She laughed at the time, but it is, she now realizes, effectively, exactly what she does today along Bermuda’s coastline. We at BNG, and KBB, are all the more grateful for it.
As part of a fundraising programme, an edition of 20 fine art prints of each artwork, numbered and signed by the artist, are available to purchase. Priced at $250, proceeds will go towards KBB and BNG. Click here to shop.
Otto Trott’s vibrant depictions of life in Bermuda capture both the beauty of the local landscape and our island’s unique cultural traditions.
The artist can often be found painting en plein air or walking with a camera in hand, ready to photograph activities and events that he feels play an integral role in the patchwork of Bermuda’s cultural heritage – from the ritualistic dance of the Gombeys to the fishermen on the local dock – which he later works from in his studio.
Taking a meticulous approach, Otto paints in both watercolour and oils, returning to outdoor locations for up to a month to work on a single landscape. He credits his experience of painting en plein air with imbuing his paintings with a sense of colour and light, regardless of whether they were painted on location on in his studio.
The three-time Bermuda Biennial artist, who is currently working on a series depicting dilapidated historic homes facing demolition, will be hosting abehind the scenes tour of his studioexclusivelyforBNG Contributing Members on Saturday, September 18.
We caught up with Otto to discuss why there is always a story behind his pictures, how he documents his process and why he tries not to overthink, but to simply react when something catches his eye.
BNG: As a boy, you were taught art by Charles Lloyd Tucker at the Berkley Institute. In what ways did Lloyd Tucker’s teaching influence your trajectory as an artist?
OT: Charles Lloyd Tucker was an artist and teacher. He always had an easel with an oil painting in progress in the art room. We went to BSOA art exhibitions in City Hall. I learned the basics about drawing and painting from him. I did well enough and saw enough to want to be an artist, and the only job that I knew that involved art was being an art teacher.
I got my art O level GCE in the summer of 1970. Mr. Tucker died early in 1971 so he never saw me develop as an artist. I went to teachers’ college in England and then I taught for eight years at the Berkeley Institute, but I still wanted to develop as an artist. Desmond Fountain, the well-known Bermudian sculptor who was also once an art teacher, saw me developing. He suggested going to art school because I would learn a lot more quickly than trying to do it on my own. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art and got a BFA in painting.
BNG: As an artist, you paint both in the studio and outside ‘en plein air.’ How do these two approaches differ?
OT: There really is not much difference in the approach. If I could paint on location or from a model I would but it is not always practical. Art is primarily a solitary act, so it is fun to paint with other people in the Bermuda Plein Air Group sometimes. There are critiques at the end, so you give and get feedback.
BNG: Does one side of your practice influence the other in anyway?
OT: I did not have a studio and worked en plein air until 1991. I think my experience working en plein air gave me a sense of the colour and light that I should have in paintings. My idea of plein air is working outside until the painting is finished. I have spent a month going back to the same location doing detailed work.
For almost 30 years I had a gallery, so I started working in the studio because I was basically minding the shop. I did a contemporary realism class in art school, so I had lessons on using photographs and doing photo realism. I also had done some photography classes in art school. I learned to develop, so I knew the limitation of photography and knew how to compensate. Nowadays with digital photography, software like Lightroom and Photoshop, and computer screens it is possible to get detail in highlights and shadows that could not be seen in photo prints years ago.
BNG: You have exhibited in several Bermuda Biennials. These works – African Bermudian Dancers (2000 Bermuda Biennial), Here Come the Gombeys (2002 Bermuda Biennial) and Young Fishermen (2006 Bermuda Biennial) – capture uniquely Bermudian pursuits through portraiture. Bermuda culture is woven through many of your works in this way.
OT: I live in Bermuda, so this is where I paint. Andrew Wyeth painted in two locations over a long career, and I also like to capture things that are familiar. I started out thinking that I was painting everyday Bermudian life but although things may be happening somewhere everyday you don’t always see them. I photograph activities and events that I think are important parts of Bermuda culture. If I see that a building is to be demolished or a landscape changed, I will photograph it. I often go to the Opening of Parliament or the Peppercorn Ceremony to capture the pomp and colour.
BNG: Untitled (2005), currently on display in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape,is a detailed study in oil of the Bermuda flora. What is it about the local landscape that captivates you as an artist?
OT: I ride about or walk around and when something catches my attention, I photograph it or paint it. I try not to over think but just react. I do compose but often cannot figure why something caught my attention. I see artists who do big shapes, a centre of interest and small compositional sketches and simple finished pieces. I rarely do sketches and often do complicated paintings with patterns and textures. Recently I have been doing derelict buildings in watercolour and many of them have a story as well as being visually interesting.
BNG: Could you please tell us about your studio?
OT: I had a different studio for just under 30 years but moved into the present one about 3 years ago. It is a lot smaller than my last one. It is under my home in Hamilton Parish and it is set up as a working studio. I can set up an easel for oil painting or a watercolour. I often will also have a tripod set up to do a time lapse video of my painting.
BNG: What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
OT: Ideally, I would spend the day painting. On cool sunny days, I would probably be painting on location. Cold, windy, rainy winter days or hot, still, summer days will be in the studio. I will be out with my camera during spring and fall bird migration periods. I also will be out if there is a special event to photograph.
I used to listen to music, then audio books and even the bible. Now I watch and listen to a lot of art history on YouTube. Waldemar Januszczak, an English art critic and television documentary producer and presenter, and Erica Hirshler of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston are two of my favourites.
I try to document my work, so I will photograph it and post it on Facebook and Instagram. I sometimes make videos using time lapse or telling a story about the art.
OT: I have a mixture of about 30 old and new paintings hung in my studio. Members will be able to see some of my work that has featured in videos. I have watercolours that have not been exhibited. I occasionally do pen and ink drawings, so I may have some out on display. I even have trolleys of canvases that I may be able to roll out to my porch if the weather allows.
BNG: What are you currently working on?
OT: I recently have done watercolours of Wantley House and Watlington House, the old Ocean View Golf Club building, which has a Mary Prince connection. Both are derelict historic homes currently facing the prospect of demolition.
Click here to watch Wantley in Colour, a video by Otto Trott about his work capturing Wantley House, a historic building in North Hamilton which was once home to Samuel David Robinson, a prominent Black Bermudian businessman. In 1879 the property was the site of the first meeting of the founders of the Berkeley Institute, Bermuda’s first integrated secondary school.
Click here to watch Mary Prince Site: Watlington House Ocean View Golf Club, a video by Otto Trott exploring his work capturing the historic house where Mary Prince, an enslaved Bermudian woman who played a key role in the abolition of slavery across the British colonies, was prepared to be sold as a slave. The building was later used as the clubhouse for Ocean View Golf Club.
Otto Trott will be hosting a private tour of his studio exclusively for BNG Contributing Members on Saturday, September 18. Click here to register.
Mid-way through 2021, it is clear that Bermudian artist Gherdai Hassell is having an extraordinary year. In March, her first solo exhibition, I Am Because You Are, opened at the Bermuda National Gallery. The exhibition, which has been greeted with a rapturous response, led to her being named Visual Artist of the Year in the 2021 Best of Bermuda Awards.
This was swiftly followed by the purchase of two of her artworks for BNG’s permanent collection and a commission for an installation at the National Museum of Bermuda. All whilst completing her MFA at the China Academy of Fine Art remotely from Manchester, England, where she has been sheltering from the pandemic, having fled China several weeks after the initial outbreak in Wuhan.
We caught up with Gherdai as she prepares to join her first artist residency at the Chatauqua School in Upstate New York, to discuss how redefining success on her own terms led her to where she is today, the role that mentorship has played in helping her to find her own voice and the importance of “finding your why.”
BNG: In your artist talk at BNG you spoke about how art is something that you have enjoyed since you were a little girl, yet you originally took a more academic route before returning to art. Why do you think this is and how has your path changed since you made the decision to pursue art full time?
GH: I took a more academic route because I didn’t believe that a career in art was viable. Young people have a blueprint of what they’ve seen as possible based on what others have done. I didn’t know any artists, so I didn’t know that this was an actual career path. Further Bermuda’s economic environment favors careers that are finance, medicine and business. You can see that this is true just by looking at how many scholarships are available in these industries as opposed to the funding offered to young people for the arts. Once I did away with society’s idea of success, and redefined it for myself, my path drastically changed.
BNG: You were self-taught until starting your MFA at the China Academy of Art a couple of years ago. In what ways has the programme helped you to develop your practice?
GH: The programme has helped me to get more experience contextualizing and talking about my work. Masters programs in art are more geared toward this, as opposed to learning techniques which is how bachelor level programs are. So, to a degree I would still consider myself to be self-taught, because technique wise, I haven’t learned much more. But my program has helped me to discover and develop the why behind my work, which in my opinion, is far more vital than technique.
BNG: You are currently working as an artist full-time which requires a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline. How do you structure your time in the studio?
GH: I show up every day. Some days I go to the studio and don’t make anything. But I am tinkering. And thinking, even if I’m not making. I don’t have much of a structure, but my daily collage practice that I have implemented has propelled my practice in ways I didn’t realize was possible. It has increased my productivity, connecting of ideas, and pushes me through creative block.
BNG: Working with you on I Am Because You Are was a fascinating insight into your process. How do you develop your ideas and how do you know when a piece is complete?
GH: Pieces are complete by a feeling I receive. The work speaks to you, as you’re making it. If you listen, it tells you where to go, what it needs, and once it’s reached completion.
BNG: You held an Artist Talk at BNG earlier this year in which you mentioned that Instagram has been invaluable platform in terms of promoting your work. Indeed, it was thanks to Instagram that your work was included in the Wearable Art Gala which was a turning point in your career. What advice do you have for emerging artists in terms of how they can use the platform?
GH: I would encourage artists to take advantage of the visibility that Instagram provides. Before galleries were gate keepers, to select who and how artists could have a career. IG has leveled the playing field. I have received many of my opportunities through the connections I’ve made with people through Instagram.
BNG: You were awarded a grant from the Bermuda Arts Council towards the framing of your work for I Am Because You Are. There are many outlays, such as framing and materials, when it comes to producing artwork, not to mention all the hours that go into it. Grants such as this are key to making it happen. Do you have any advice for emerging artists as to how they can find and secure funding?
GH: I would say that artists should focus time on activities such as networking, applying for funding and searching for opportunities to get their work out there. Being an artist is about 60 percent making work and 40 percent the admin and business side of being an artist. Spend time getting the work out in to the world. There’s no point in spending all of this time making work that no one will see. Update your CV, prepare an artist statement and have a solid body of work that can be used in applications.
BNG: Artist in residence programmes, such as the Chatauqua Visual Arts Residency, which you will be attending later this year are also important as they provide both time and studio space to dedicate to your practice, as well as invaluable networking opportunities. How did you find out about the residency programme and what are you hoping to gain from it?
GH: I am always searching for opportunities. Some speak to me more than others, so I don’t apply for everything. I’m selective, but I apply for opportunities that resonate with me and I spend time preparing a good application. I am very excited to be a participant in the 2021 Chautauqua School residency program. The cohort is a talented and very diverse group. And I’m looking forward to being a part of the program.
BNG: Artists, especially today, are entrepreneurs. You already have several strands to your work – exhibiting in museum spaces such as BNG and selling original artworks via by a commercial gallery. You also have your own online store which sells limited edition prints alongside a range of merchandise – from colouring books to sweatshirts – inspired by your Alibi series. This allows someone to own a piece of your work from as little as $35 for a tee up to the purchase of an original artwork for three figures at the opposite end of the scale. Why is it important to you to have such a broad offering?
GH: I think that art should be accessible. Art is all around us, it’s culture, it’s music, it’s visual, it’s visceral. I think that everyone should have access to experiencing parts of my practice. It’s cool to have works that sell for thousands of dollars, but the work that people can readily experience resonates with me too. Because when I first started out, the barrier I faced was lack of access. Leveling the playing field is an important thing to consider for any business who wants to reach more diverse audiences. I’m considering many with my offerings.
BNG: You have several mentors who have helped you to develop your practice in different ways, including local artist Sharon Muhammad. Could you please tell us about how the mentor/mentee relationship works and why mentors are so important?
GH: Mentorship is one of the most important relationships to have, no matter the career path. The relationship allows you to talk though ideas and to develop your practice. The advice given aids you on you journey. It saves you time, provides your focus and foundation accountability. I find that mentorship relationships are always a two-way street. Your mentor can learn from you, just as much as you can learn from them. Consider what you also bring to the table, and what you can offer the relationship.
BNG: You opened your first solo show earlier this year and have just completed your MFA. What’s next?
GH: I am working on my second solo exhibition of the year, an installation that will be installed at the National Museum of Bermuda in Commissioner’s House in Dockyard next month. I am very excited to install the work.
BNG: Do you have any other advice for emerging artists hoping to follow in your footsteps?
GH: A career in art is possible. But it does require swift action, the making of good work, perseverance and vision. Find your why: why you’re making the work you’re making, get a mentor, keep making the work, apply for opportunities and get enough sleep. It’s good for your mental health, work-flow and skin!
Photographs by Brandon Morrison for Burnt House Productions.I Am Because You Are by Gherdai Hassell is on the Bermuda National Gallery through to the end of September.