A Commitment to Abstraction
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 the Tyler 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.
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings is on display through to June.