Testing Boundaries

In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings

The genesis for this exhibition arose from a pairing of works in Illusion and Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape, held at BNG in 2021. There, two artworks – Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore – sat side by side, united in their distillation of the Bermuda landscape into a study of shape, colour and form. Despite being created over 60 years apart and in very different mediums – the first in oils in 1950 and the latter, a mixed-media collage, in 2014 – the synergy between the two was evident.

A closer examination revealed that the connection ran far deeper. The works were painted by a mother, Nancy Valentine (American/Bermudian, 1925-2019), and daughter, Christina Hutchings (Bermudian, born 1953), both former Bermuda Biennial artists and each a pioneering creative in her own right.

Testing Boundaries looks at the work of these two Bermudians, whose lives and studio practices are intertwined, and who each forged a unique path as women and as interdisciplinary artists.

On seeing her work and her mother’s work hung together for the first time, Hutchings says, “I felt happily surprised by the similarities of our aesthetics. I had not realized this synergy existed, and it is reassuring to feel that it does.”

At first glance, their bodies of work feel disparate — Hutchings’ is shaped by structure, whilst Valentine’s, in contrast, contains an inherent softness — yet both are led by their materials and framed by an instinctive eye for colour and composition. Prolific in their output — the result of dedicated studio practices central to both artists — the two women also share a progressive and lifelong desire to innovate and ideate.

Nancy Valentine

Nancy Valentine was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1925. She 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) at a time when there were very few women in tertiary education and little recognition of work being created by women artists.

The Art Students League, 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 as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, two of Valentine’s contemporaries at the school.

“The Art Students League of New York provided an opportunity for my mother to experience a wide range of artistic styles,” Christina Hutchings explains. “I am sure that she would have been aware of the experimentation and innovation that was occurring in art and design in the 1950s. She would have embraced the spirit of the time and place. As a result, I imagine my mother saw Bermuda through a different lens.”

Valentine moved to Bermuda in 1950, where she continued to make work which would span the fields of art and design, and exhibited extensively across Bermuda and the U.S. Her practice was wide ranging, experimental and, in many ways, ahead of its time. 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.”

She continued to innovate and experiment throughout her lifetime, producing artwork until she passed away in 2019. An advocate for female artists, Valentine was a collector of works by both women silversmiths of the 17th through 19th centuries and women botanical illustrators of the 18th and 19th centuries. She was a founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington D.C., which now houses her silver collection, and Chair of the NMWA Advisory Board from 1995 to 2000.

Christina Hutchings

Christina Hutchings was born in Bermuda in 1952. She attended Warwick Academy before leaving the island to complete her education. After graduating 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).

Hutchings then moved to New York — a city which, like for her mother before her, would go on to play a central role in the development of her artistic practice — to work as a colourist for a fabric design company in the garment district. After receiving a Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia (1983), Hutchings spent 25 years working as an architect and designer 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.

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 a 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.”

In 2008 Hutchings returned to Bermuda to focus on her art, which has come to be characterised by clean lines and a grid-like structure, with a focus on material, repetition and fragmentation.

Exhibition generously supported by the Christian Humann Foundation.

February – May 2021

Visit Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings in our virtual tour: