Our People, Our Places, Our Stories: The African Collection
We will be opening two new exhibitions at the beginning of February. In celebration of our 30th anniversary year, we will be revisiting one of the Bermuda National Gallery’s inaugural collections inOur People, Our Places, Our Stories: The African Collection, which will be displayed in the Humann and Young Galleries.
Part of of BNG’s permanent collection, the African Collection was purchased by the people of Bermuda in 1996 and brings together 40 works representing 22 peoples from 12 countries in Sub-Saharan West Africa, ranging from ritual sculpture to masks and functional objects.
Alongside this, we will be presenting a small selection of striking works by French documentary photographer and film director Catherine de Clippel (above and below) focusing on the architecture and ritual practices of West Africa.
Testing Boundaries: In the Studio withNancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings
Opening in the Upper Mezzanine Gallery, Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings looks at a diverse range of artworks created by a mother, Nancy Valentine (American/Bermudian, 1925-2019, above left), and daughter, Christina Hutchings(Bermudian, born 1953, above right), both former Bermuda Biennial artists and each a pioneering creative in her own right.
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 (below, bottom image) and Modern House on North Shore (below, top image) – 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.
Testing Boundaries looks at the work of these two Bermudians, whose lives and studio practices are intertwined, and who each forged a unique path both as women and as interdisciplinary artists.
Our People, Our Places, Our Stories: The African Collection and Testing Boundaries: In the Studio with Nancy Valentine and Christina Hutchings will be on display from February through to June.
Despite being created over 60 years apart and in very different mediums – the first in oils in 1950 and the latter in 2014 in mixed media collage – the synergy between the two is evident; connected by a shared focus on the sharp lines of our local vernacular architecture and the brilliant white of the Bermuda roofline, each punctuated with a distinct sliver of the aqua that laps our shores.
Look closer, however, and you will see that the connection runs deeper. They are painted by a mother, Nancy Valentine, and daughter, Christina Hutchings; both former Bermuda Biennial artists and each a pioneering creative in her own right.
As we approach Mother’s Day, we sat down with Christina to discuss her artwork and her late mother’s, the synergies between the two that have only revealed themselves in retrospect and the ties that bond them – both artistic and familial.
BNG: This is the second time that you and Nancy have been exhibited together at the Bermuda National Gallery. The first was in The Power of Art held in 2017 to celebrate 25 years of BNG. However, this is the first time that your artworks have been displayed side by side. Were you aware of the synergies between Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore before they were selected for the exhibition?
CH: I had not thought about a synergy between my mother’s work and my work. Sometimes, quite the opposite because of her general preference for representation, and mine for abstraction. I delivered Quarry in Warwick and Modern House on North Shore to the gallery on different days and I had never seen them adjacent to each other.
I always loved the painting Quarry in Warwick because of its rectilinear geometry and spareness, which is something that I have an affinity towards in my own work. When Mitchell was selecting work for Illusion & Abstraction: Capturing the Landscape I suggested Quarry in Warwick because I thought that the painting would work well with his ideas for a show about illusion and abstraction. Quarry in Warwick it is a composition of shapes and forms.
In formal terms, Quarryin Warwick moves back and forth between abstraction and illusion. I also thought the subject matter, a Bermuda stone quarry, was an unusual subject for a Bermuda landscape painting.
BNG: Did you know that the two artworks would be displayed together?
CH: I wasn’t aware that the two works would be displayed together. When I saw the two pieces in tandem at the exhibition opening, I was startled to see their similarities; particularly the central geometric shapes in both compositions that happen to be complementary colors, one orange and one turquoise.
I felt happily surprised by the similarities of our aesthetics. I had not realized this synergy existed and it is re-assuring to feel that it does.
BNG: Quarry in Warwick is an early example of Nancy’s work. It was painted in the 1950s, shortly after she travelled from Bermuda to New York to study at the Arts Student’s League, alma mater of many of the Abstract Expressionists as well as pioneering artists such as Eva Hesse. Could you please tell us a bit about it?
CH:Quarry in Warwick is one of my favorite paintings by my mother. It was painted in the 1950s. I am sure that she would have been aware of the Abstract Expressionists’s experimentation and the innovations in art that were being championed by art critics and the popular press in the late 1940s and 1950s – Jackson Pollock was profiled in Life Magazine in August 1949. Many of these artists had studied at and later taught at The Art Students League.
The League offered individual studios taught by artists who had complete autonomy in their studio classes. I am certain my mother would have sensed and absorbed a variety of ideas being taught the studios when she was there. I imagine that my mother saw Bermuda through a different lens.
In the 1950s the Bermuda landscape was rural. I recall a quarry in Warwick. The hill was high and a large portion of the side of the hill had been sheared into high, glaring white angular blocks and precipitous cliffs. This was the dramatic landscape subject matter that my mother noticed.
BNG: Nancy was a very innovative artist. Not only did she continue to paint after her marriage, which was unusual at the time, but she experimented with oil paint and collage and a number of different materials such as polyester resin and fiberglass. What are your memories of your mother working on her art when you were little?
CH: As a child, I wasn’t aware it was unusual to have a mother who was an innovative artist, who during the day, would go to her studio and make things. It was simply what she did. My childhood memories are the centered around her art studio in the house. In the years of her work with fiberglass and resin, there was always a prevalent scent of the resin in the house.
More significant is the memory of visiting my mother in her studio, her invitation to join in the activity and her love and enjoyment of working on her art. She encouraged my creativity from a very young age and always welcomed me into her studio while she was working. She would share her materials and teach me how to work with resin, fiberglass, plaster and all sorts of painting materials. Being in the studio with her was my favorite thing to do.
BNG: Your own artistic practice focuses on mixed-media work. Do you think that Nancy influenced you in this way?
CH: Yes, I am sure my mother has influenced me in many ways. We share the desire to develop an idea. My mother’s openness to working in a variety of media and her flexibility to switch between them was underpinned by her drive to develop an idea by using the medium that best allowed this expression.
I think my work across a variety of media stems more from study and my work in architecture coupled with my interest in the development of abstraction. I have spent a lot of time in the galleries at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, particularly the galleries with the collections of Cezanne’s paintings and moving forward to the contemporary galleries, which has influenced my practice.
BNG: In what ways did your mother encourage you to pursue your own path as an artist and architect?
CH: My mother encouraged me by sharing her studio and allowing me to work in there with her when I was a child. Making things was something that I always loved to do. She supported my decisions to study both art and architecture.
She also had the belief that in life and in art, the element of commerce was essential. For my first solo show she asked if I had invited anyone. I had not thought of this and she rallied, by creating a mailing list of people to invite. Because of her promotion, the opening was a success.
In the 1960s she designed fiberglass screens and furniture. The Bermuda Government commissioned her to create a screen as wedding gift for HRH Princess Margaret in 1960. I was quite young, but I do remember feeling proud of my mother that she had made a beautiful and original gift that expressed Bermuda’s natural beauty.
BNG: Nancy was a big supporter of female artists and makers and owned several important collections, including works by English and Irish Women Silversmiths of the 17th through 19th centuries and Women Botanical Illustrators of the 18th and 19th centuries, both of which have been exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. She was very involved with the museum, first as a founding member and later both sitting on and chairing the advisory board. Could you please tell us about this?
CH: Nancy’s involvement with the National Museum of Women in the Arts is parallel with her collecting and her Collection of English and Irish Women Silversmiths. I will quote here from the essay that she wrote for Women Silversmiths 1685-1845, a symposium presented by Christie’s in association with NWMA in 1990:
“My story is similar in some ways to that of Wilhelmina Holladay, who established the museum itself. Independently and in our different fields we found beautiful objects by women artists and artisans. We became curious, looked for more information, and started to collect.”
As the collection developed over five years, my mother wanted to share it. She wrote: “I viewed the collection not as a lavish display of individual objects but as an expression of how women lived and worked in the 17th and 18th and 19th centuries.”
Nancy loaned parts of the Collection to the Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia, The President’s House at Mt. Holyoke College. She also wrote a two-part article for Silver Magazine detailing Women Silversmiths of the 18thand 19th Centuries (1985).
As the profile of the collection developed, Wilhelmina Holladay and my mother met and began to discuss the possibility of the collection being housed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The new museum was just about to be inaugurated. This was the beginning of Nancy’s dedicated and rewarding involvement with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which went on to span over 30 years.
Step into the studio with Christina Hutchings. Located at home in Bermuda, it is a working space split into two rooms: the first centred around a large drawing table where she conceptualises the work and develops it through detailed drawings; the second for painting, where she completes the artwork, led by colour and material.
The artist gives us a behind the scenes tour, providing an intimate look at her materials and a unique insight into the process behind her striking mixed media artworks which span collage, painting, sculpture and installation.
BNG: How often do you work in your studio?
CH: I am in my studio every day. My work time varies, depending on the state the projects in progress. The most important task I do is to keep a watchful eye open for any delightful interactions between the materials around the studio.
BNG: What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
CH: A typical day in the studio starts first thing in the morning with a glancing check on how any ongoing projects look. If there are errands and supplies to get, I usually do those in the morning and early afternoon. I find that my most productive time in the studio begins around 4pm and runs late into the night. I sometimes read and sketch in sketch books rather than working on a project while I am in the studio.
BNG: How have you set up your studio and why?
CH: My studio spaces occupy two rooms. One room holds my drawing table and lots of architectural scales and triangles. This is where I do scale drawings, plan large pieces and work on smaller collages. This first room is also filled with nicely designed wooden boxes that contain old projects or are art projects in their own right. There are small canvases, objects, small pieces of wood and metal on the wall. These are accidental compositions; often, they will inspire new pieces.
The second room is more like a painter’s palette with painting supplies, hardware, tools, miscellaneous pieces of Plexiglas, metal, wood, and colourful things all around. With all the colourful things around, an accidental juxtaposition of something will catch my eye and inspire a new art work, always a happy occurrence.
BNG: How have you been spending lockdown? Has this been a particularly creative time for you?
CH: During the lockdown, I have worked on a drawing series titled Missing People – Public Spaces. These drawings are large and made with black and white gouache and acrylic paint on paper. What I have found interesting about the process is that the images of empty spaces have evolved organically out of the drawing and erasing process.
BNG: What are you working on at the moment?
CH: At the moment, I am working on three pieces: a plexiglass and metal collage for the new Bermuda airport; a drawing series called Missing People – Public Spaces and a large 6 ft x 12 ft. assembled collage on a wooden framework. The framework supports a grid of aluminium rods and various other shapes and materials. It is an experimental piece.
An instinctive eye for colour and composition combine with a meticulous attention to detail in the work of Bermudian artist Christina Hutchings.
A distinct discipline informs her fine art practice, gained from many years spent working as an architect in New York for cutting edge designers Peter Marino and Henry Smith-Miller.
Christina, who now focuses solely on her artwork, takes a studied approach to conceptualising and developing an idea through drawing whilst allowing herself to be led by an intuitive sense of discovery and experimentation.
It is a dichotomy apparent in her work, which ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation, all many layered and marked by sleek materials and striking colour combinations.
We spoke to Christina about her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork, the intersection of fine art and architecture and how, for her, one has always informed the other.
BNG: You studied both fine art and architecture and went on to work as an architect in New York for many years, all the while maintaining a fine art practice. Why was it important for you to dedicate yourself to both disciplines concurrently?
CH: It was important to me to dedicate myself to both architecture and art because of my interest in the ways these two creative disciplines influence each other. When I was younger and making career choices, I was not confident that my artwork would provide a way to support myself. This was a disappointing realization. As a practical person with the goal of supporting myself, and because I had a natural interest in architecture due to having a relative in the field, I chose to study architecture at graduate school. In my mind, this would build upon and enrich my undergraduate fine arts education and equip me with a way to earn a living.
In addition to the practical aspect of this decision, there was a more important factor. I knew architecture and art are intertwined creative disciplines, and it was important to me that I work at excellent, highly creative architecture and design firms to gain comprehensive and creative work experience in the architectural realm. Throughout, it was the artistic side of myself that I brought to the projects I worked on, and which allowed me to expand my skills and understanding while gaining the discipline that informs my work habits to this day.
BNG: Did your architectural projects inform your artistic practice and vice versa? In what ways?
CH: Yes. My artistic practice and architectural projects most certainly did influence each other, and have continued to do so in many ways. My working experience at firms of architects whose work I admired greatly, such as Henry Smith-Miller and Peter Marino Architects, gave me the formative experience of being part of a talented team. Our job was to take a concept and through drawing and building models, we would allow the concept to become a built space. We would draw and draw, making gorgeous sets of drawings: plans, elevations, sections, grids, details, selections of colours and materials to the extent that the idea of the project could become a built space. This process of drawing to develop and discover the idea is key to my art practice.
Further, while in Peter Marino’s office, when their art department was busy, I was delighted to be asked, on occasion, to paint gouache renderings of projects showing the finish materials, furniture with designated fabric, and renditions of the artwork the clients had purchased for the space.
However, as much as I enjoyed the creative, artistic side of working in architectural design, the advent of computer aided design and drawing in AutoCAD, and a declining reliance on hand drawing, began to make the architectural work less enjoyable. There was no longer a connection for me with the hand, intuition, and the sense of discovery through drawing. It was during this time of increasing change that I began to consider that I could take a chance to be an artist.
I want to share two examples that I think convey how I connected art and architecture from my earliest days in architecture.
The first, a landscape design drawing assignment completed in 1980, is an example of art influencing architecture. A Braque paper collage is the compositional inspiration for this landscape design project drawing.
The second example is a 2012 collage, titled Henry’s Office, which is inspired by memories of my work experience in Henry Smith-Miller’s office. The shapes making up the collage are references to a pivoting red wall in his office, a pale yellow colour often used in his projects, a nod to the modernist aesthetic which Henry’s office practiced and a piece of yellow trace similar to what we always used for sketching in in the office.
BNG:You returned to Bermuda in 2008 to concentrate on your fine art practice. Does your background in architecture continue to be a big influence for you?
CH: My decision to commit fully to my fine arts practice took a long time to arrive at. The decision evolved and ultimately won out over the practicalities of making a living as an architectural designer. My decision to return to Bermuda to live coincided, happily, with that decision. My background in architecture has been, and will always be, a major influence in my work.
I have come to believe that one of the most significant influences of my architectural background is the realization that the concept and its development through drawing are the two most important commonalities between art and architecture. The concept determines the form, and drawings are the visual diagrams of the concept. For my art practice, the concept could be something like the title of the work, and drawing is how I develop the concept.
Another important way that my background in architecture has influenced my artwork is that I have recently started making large installations and collages. These installations require plans, elevations, detail and sectional drawings in order to figure out how they will be assembled. The starting point always begins with drawing grid lines, thinking about centre lines and systems of proportion. In all of my art projects, considerations of space, colour, materials, composition, and references to art and architectural history are part of my process.
Collages, and sometimes paintings, feature details made with hardware materials which are considered for their aesthetic value as much as their functional value.
BNG: Your work ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation. A single piece will often incorporate several of these elements. How do you decide which materials to work with and why when working on a specific project?
CH: I use different materials – either for structural reasons, if a project is large, or for metaphorical purposes – to help tell the story, or idea, behind the piece. For example:
In the Biennial 2016, with the theme being It’s About Now: Memories of The Present, I made a large piece called Double Take.
In this piece, I use the 12-ft fluorescent light, which is centred and situated vertically between the two almost identical anchors, to represent the instant that an object we look at (one anchor) becomes a memory of that anchor, (the second anchor).
BNG: Your pieces are very thoughtful and meticulously planned. How to you approach and then develop a concept? Taking your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as an example.
CH: The theme for the 2020 Biennial is Let Me Tell You Something. After considering the theme, I titled my piece FAST TALK. The concept for this is the speed of our words when we tell each other something using our digital devices. Our words travel at lightning fast speeds in the vast networks of digital submarine communication cables below, and by satellites above, as they carry our telephone and internet traffic to and from Bermuda, and between continents, as we communicate with the rest of the world.
In formal terms, FAST TALK is a drawing and collage combination made with ink lines, layers of Plexiglas, metal rods, an aluminium angle and wood. I use ink and metal lines and a selection of transparent overlapping materials to help tell the story. These rods and ink lines represent the undersea cables and the data traffic within. The disc and white rod connected to it represent the satellites above transmitting our conversations.
BNG: You have exhibited extensively at the Bermuda National Gallery. How has your relationship with the BNG informed your artistic practice?
CH: The BNG in all aspects of its role as an art institution has been an important influence in my life, for which I am very grateful. The programming, the exhibitions and the art collection have had a life changing effect on me. I am honoured to have been a part of the gallery’s public programming and exhibitions, both as an audience member and as a participant.