Amongst the sweeping panoramas on display in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape, Jason Bereswill’s Grape Bay Lawn stands out like a beacon, the magnitude of the 66 x 50 inch oil painting capturing the attention of visitors, drawn in by its rich photorealist detail.
Whilst the painting will come down in January when the show closes, Jason has generously donated the work to the Bermuda National Gallery and it will now be housed in our permanent collection, to be used for education and exhibition purposes, and to be enjoyed by visitors to the gallery for years to come.
After completing an MFA at the New York Academy of Art in 2005, Jason secured a place on an artist residency programme at the Eden Rock hotel in St Barths. It was to be the beginning of a fascination with islands for the American artist, whose work is rooted in travel and the exploration of foreign landscapes and takes in the rock formations and dense foliage of St Barths, alongside studies of Bermuda’s sweeping South Shore and the tree-lined trails of the Adirondacks.
His interest in the intricacies of the natural world is evident in Jason’s portfolio of Bermuda works. Rocky and vast sheets of limestone dominate Horseshoe Bay, while refractions of sunlight dance on the waters below the dark caverns at Admiralty House. By contrast, Grape Bay Lawn draws the eye to the manicured gardens of Paget onto which dense palm groves creep at the edges, a reminder of the power of mother nature and our futile attempts to tame her.
We caught up with the artist to discuss the pull that Bermuda has on him and how, whilst grounded in his studio in New Jersey, his paintings of the island provide a window to our shores.
BNG: When did you first visit Bermuda and what brought you here?
JB: I first came to Bermuda in September 2017 with my wife during our 5th wedding anniversary. We were invited by friends who live on the island, who I had met in St Barths. They’ve been great supporters of my work, and thought if I came to Bermuda I might be inspired enough to want to paint the landscape in depth. They were certainly right about that.
BNG: How many times have you visited Bermuda and what keeps bringing you back?
JB: At this point I’ve been five times. I had planned to return in 2020, but then 2020 happened and everyone’s plans went out the window. I do have a strong desire to come back. Aside from the stunning views and the particular quality of Bermuda light, I tend to develop an obsessive mindset about the areas that I visit to paint. On my first trip, maybe the first two, I went all over the island to see it in a broader scope. My friends were a great help in steering me to hidden, forgotten, and hard to reach views. The island can be a tricky place to explore, but I needed to get a sense of how the parts relate to each other, and see those parts at different times of day in different light- so it was a lot of moving around those first trips.
The more I return, I find myself revisiting the same couple of places. And I think I’m starting to define what my paintings of the island can be. It’s hard to not be there developing that. It’s even harder being in my studio in New Jersey in the grey winter light right now looking at two large inviting paintings of the Horseshoe Bay, Middle Beach, Hidden Beach stretch. A friend commented recently that those paintings are a window to Bermuda, but I kind of wish they were a door.
BNG: Your work is rooted in the details to be found in the landscape. What is it about the landscape in Bermuda that intrigues you?
JB: Most of my paintings are centered around rocks and beach / water. So it’s understandable that the majority of the work I’ve made on Bermuda focuses around the staccato beaches beside Horseshoe Bay. It’s one of those places in the world that makes me feel most alive. I feel in tune with something greater than myself there. Hard to pinpoint, but since it’s primarily geological I guess it’s tapping into something of the origins of the Earth? But perhaps what surprised me most when painting in Bermuda was the juxtaposition of the Casuarina or Cedar trees or maybe the Juniper against the Palm varieties. Those combinations are a mix of texture that’s great fun to paint, the wispy vs hard-edged, and I suppose they embody my ideal of a windswept exotic paradise.
BNG: I understand that you paint a number of studies on location, which you then work from in your studio, along with a number of photographic studies. Could you please talk us through you process?
JB: I paint many studies from life on location; 3-4 paintings a day when I’m on island. I also take lots of photo reference at the same time, but there’s really nothing that replaces the experience and truth of those plein air paintings. They inform the larger studio paintings through their color and light, and act as a kind of time capsule for stepping back into the experience of being in the landscape. It’s that sense of being there that a lot of my work is trying to tap into.
My early exhibitions involved me physically painting in the gallery space while the show was open to the public, with large canvases inkjet printed with blown up images of my plein air paintings and photo reference up to the size that they would actually be if you were standing where I was when I painted them from life. Then, over the course of the show, I loosely painted the canvases as though I was painting from life. The whole idea of those shows was to paint in public the way I do in the field, and to temporarily transport the viewer from the gallery out onto location with me. The printed canvases acted as surrogate experiences for encountering me painting on the beach. If you see me painting en plein air, you get to see the view I’m painting and my painting of it at the same time. The print collapses the experience into one object, both view and paint. That’s often how I work with my reference in the studio too. It brings me a little closer to being on site again.
BNG: Could you please tell us about Grape Bay Lawn?
JB: The study for Grape Bay Lawn was painted early in the morning on a beach-front property in Grape Bay that friends were moving out of when I arrived on my first visit to Bermuda. I went for a look before sun up, expecting to want to paint the sun rising above the ocean horizon. Instead, I was enamored by the greens revealed by the blast of first light across their lawn. It’s a more private space than other places I’ve painted in Bermuda, with a glimpse of the house through the trees. I was thinking about their time living in that house, enjoying that lawn, and the view behind me, as they were leaving to begin a new experience in another part of the island.
See Jason Bereswill’s work in Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape, on display at BNG through to January.