Contemporary Discourse

Bacardi Biennial stimulates an aesthetic shift

in Bermuda

When a country’s fine art market is driven by tourist demand for decorative mementos and its art dealers are a dying species, how do fine art enthusiasts reset the wheels of evolution?  In Bermuda, the Bacardi Biennial of Contemporary Art is the agent of change patiently realigning an eager art scene.  “In some ways we’re at an interesting

Eggs from the installation “Accessibility” by Kathy Harriott.

intersection,” offers artist and art teacher Sharon Wilson.  “You could say Bermuda’s affluence [is] working against artists because space and rental restrictions make it difficult for galleries to sustain themselves because of the cost to rent a building.”  “There used to be commercial galleries, they’re all gone,” shares artist and activist Katherine Harriott.  “Art has changed here, there is more to it than [tourism],” suggests art critic Charles Zuill.  One of the biggest impacts on the development [of fine art scene] here has been the National Gallery and the Biennial exhibition.  It’s been a forum for debate.  In 2008 the Biennial exhibited 86 works relevant to the here and now by 41 artists.  The exhibit introduces new personal expression and attracts attention to the contemporary voice of the art scene in Bermuda, without claiming to be a survey of the totality of Bermudian artistic expression.

EXPERIMENTS WITH NATURE :: CHARLES ZUILL

“I spent twenty years doing gray scale paintings, I was getting weary of it.  About that time I was doing my dissertation at New York University and read The Elements of Drawing by John Ruskin (English 19th Century critic), he said he could make mud glow if he [could] gradate it.”  Zuill collected samples of mud and mixed them with an acrylic medium.  “I put it on a canvas with my hands and was able to gradate it from light to dark.  I got it to kind of glow.”  The surrounding spare canvas he doused with gold leaf.  “It’s a painting that many people respond to.  That’s how I got into using natural materials.”  That was in the late-80s.  Zuill, 73, grew up in Smith’s Parish and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in critical studies from NYU.  Zuill’s technique is based in experimenting by mixing sand or clay with watercolor, oil, water-based or spray paints.  “The best paintings are those I recycle,” admits Zuill who seldom discards things.  “I pulled out a [15-year-old] painting and covered it with blue wash.  I liked the ghost of the old painting underneath.  I raked lines threw it then took a mixture of white clay, water, soap and acrylic medium and blew bubbles over this blue ground.  For years I’ve played this game: what would happen if I did such and such, that was one of those examples.”

“I don’t consider my work abstract, I just think it is what it is…contemporary.”  –Charles Zuill  Photos: SeanDrakes.com

CHARGED TO REPRESENT :: SHARON WILSON

“It’s very difficult to have been a child of the ’50s because there was no imagery that reflected black people,” shares Wilson, 55, who instinctively started creating works “that looked like me.”  “I’ve always been a representational artist, I suppose part of me felt that was part of the healing to redress the absence of the imagery.”  Artists are charged with starting a dialogue, she believes.  “I was set-up to work in my bedroom (in 1976) and didn’t want to smell turpentine from oil paint and didn’t have the physical space for acrylic paint.  I happened across pastels, it suited my physical circumstance so I taught myself that medium.  Pastels and encaustics [painting that involves using wax and heat] are exceedingly pure and beautiful.”  Originally from Pembroke, Wilson earned a Master of Science and Art Education degree from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.  “Imagery [can] fill the place of the surrogate.  Children call me during Black History month, or whenever they have to study an artist, and say: “Ms. Wilson, remember that painting you painted of a grandpa and a little boy, If I had a grandpa…I wish I had a grandpa just like that.’  That’s incredible power.  I recognize there’s a deficiency [and] opportunity for art to do more than just satisfy me.  It also has a practical place.  It is a good feeling to be a daughter of the soil and able to bring imagery to black and white people who had not had the opportunity to see us in this particular way.”

“I hope the work will gain greater strength because harder and harder questions are being asked, but also because I’m not working in isolation.” –Sharon Wilson

EVERY WOMAN’S STORY :: KATHERINE HARRIOTT

Social justice is the overall theme of Harriott’s work, specifically, social justice for women.  “I have a huge sense of justice which is painful at times,” she admits.  While pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in psychology at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada she had to choose a niche to study: women, children, addiction.  “Women and domestic violence and sexual assault is what it came down to.”  Her mixed-media work titled “Accessibility” is about women, but also the larger problem of access for marginalized people.  “Access, who has it—who doesn’t—to education, food, water…to the basics of life.  Some have so much and some have nothing.  I am acutely aware about being in a privileged position as a white woman, that I have to be cautious and aware in how I speak to people.”  Originally from Paget, Harriott, 56, is a trained dressmaker who relishes rusty objects.  Wire, fabric, screen wire, eggs, nails and art wire are integrated into her sculptural installations.  “I’m inclined to sew almost anything.  What I like about working with screen wire is that it’s like fabric, but holds its shape.”  She is a devotee of the “What if?” principal.  “If I do this what happens…I love that idea, you’re not limited.”  The conversation Harriott provokes with her couture bridal gowns is a universal and personal dialogue—she was married 22 years.  “Marriage, I don’t think, is good for women—it’s a negative.  Psychological tests show married men are happiest, married women are the most depressed.”

“I left marriage when I went to university and started learning about the women’s movement, the psychology of women, sociology…that’s when my journey started.”  —Katherine Harriott   Artist pictured with her work titled “Law of the First Night”.

ENGINEERS PAINTED EXPOSURES :: ANTOINE HUNT

“The prints I’m doing now, that process came about because I’m homeless,” explains Hunt with a slight laugh.  “My darkroom space had been taken away from me so I was trying to find processes where I didn’t need a big, elaborate darkroom in order to complete it.  What I do is around simple forms and nature, mixing sculpture with photography and mixing photography with moving pictures and words, video and film.”  Hunt, 42, initially set out to explore black and white photography then became interested in original processes, which “led me into experimenting with different processes.”  Hunt’s blue prints came about from trying to find processes he can manage without a full darkroom.  “It entails having a negative the same size as the final print, exposing it to UV light or sunlight.  The processing is simply washing the print after exposure, [by] painting chemical onto PH neutral paper and drying it, each image takes 4 – 5 hours from beginning to end.”  He discovers subject material by observing natural landscapes and distilling simple forms that please the eye,  “My sculpture and photography follow one another, it’s about a simple shape that your eye follows and lingers.”  Growing up in Paget Hunt decided to be an artist, “then my parents and grandparents sat me down and said only rich white kids get to do that, you gotta be a plumber, a mason, an electrician.”  “I’m sure the same thing happens in the white family.”

“The end-product is called cyanoype, [some] would recognize the word blueprints from what architects use to print out their plans.” –Antoine Hunt

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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