It is hard to imagine how art could possibly capture the essence and beauty of Harbour Island, a tiny slice of heaven off North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. While sketching and photographing during a recent visit, I realized there are countless images and ideas that could be conveyed with drawing and painting. Abstractions could aim to capture the onslaught of brilliant light and color. The abundant foliage could make a limitless subject for botanical themed work. As a figurative artist, the temptation to capture the beauty and kindness of the people is irresistible.
But I can’t seem to escape the ideas mentioned in Part 1 (the previous blog entry) about the visual cues of time passing, and sometimes standing still, and of history, and of nature always altering, and reclaiming and continuing with or without us. So I’ll use images that prompt us to go back, to see the past, to wonder about our memories and the time before us. Perhaps in a strange combination, I can evoke the past while presenting figures who now have their turn at this magical place in the present.
One way to sort through the ideas and options is to seek inspiration in the work of others. Luckily, there is an fine art gallery nestled amongst the cottages and business in town. Upon entering the Princess Street Gallery, one quickly becomes aware of the talent – from both local and international artists – behind the poignant drawings and paintings. The work includes a variety of styles and subjects ranging from landscape to figurative. The overall impression when entering the space is much like the visual impression of the island – both the art and the island present breath-taking beauty, vivid color, creative patterns and vibrant people.
Though he was busy preparing for a customer meeting, owner Charles Carey gave me a few minutes of time to talk about his business. After growing up in Nassau and working in New York City, Carey relocated to Harbour Island and noticed “numerous artists on the island creating work with no where to show it.” With the grin of someone who loves his job, he explained that opening the gallery “was an experiment, really.” Nineteen years later, I’d say his experiment produced success for Carey, for the artists on his roster, and for collectors.
I was particularly drawn to two artists whose approaches, style, and subject matter seem to be opposite of each other, yet each artist captures a deep truth about island life. Native Bahamian and former house painter, Amos Ferguson uses repetition and bold shapes to create recognizable imagery in an abstracted environment full of color, texture and pattern. His work is immediately delightful, and on closer inspection, viewers notice a narrative or deeper meaning behind the deceptively simple figures. While the paintings can be perceived as child-like, don’t be fooled. The compositions are masterful and indicate a natural talent and gift.
I first saw the work of Stephen Scott Young in a private collection, the same collection that inspired me to study figure painting in grad school. So it was a meaningful treat to view several pieces displayed at Princess Street Gallery. His ability to perfectly execute anatomy, from expressive faces down to each carefully placed finger and toe, is unrivaled amongst watercolorists. But it is the choice he makes in the details, guiding our eyes and thoughts, that describes the mood, character and lives of the figures with brilliant clarity. He shows us the outside of each person as well as the individual spirit and circumstance which is perhaps one reason for his international success.
As I search for a way to present people, define space, and share the spirit of this place, I think of other artists and their methods. Those at Princess Street Gallery show me capturing the essence of Harbour Island is possible. The opportunity to spend time here, a place of lush growth, crystal clear water, and deeply kind people is a delight for anyone and a visual cornucopia for an artist. Creating meaningful art to represent such a magical place is a challenge for which I am deeply grateful and ready to face. Perhaps next entry, I’ll share a few pieces from current painting efforts. Until then, below are are few early sketches.
I hope you are having a lovely summer. Thank you for reading!