A Year In Bermuda Art
The Bermuda National Gallery's Biennial exhibition of contemporary art, which finished in September, was selected by two professional curators from the U.S. The show included traditional, representational work, photography, sculpture, abstract paintings and one video piece. The Biennial was vehemently criticised in The Royal Gazette by Andrew Trimingham, who viewed the jurors as being "absolutely set against anything resembling a traditional concept of art".
A recent exhibition of landscapes by Jonah Jones and Chris Marson was lauded by Mr Trimingham as the "show of the year". While this show was a marketing success for Mr Jones, it was in some ways an artistic failure, and it shows how a critic's mis-use of his role can impede an artist's development.
Mr Trimingham expresses a strong preference for representational art, and is not comfortable with abstract art. There's nothing wrong with having preferences, but Mr Trimingham fails to accommodate the preferences of others. Arguing about the validity of abstract art is a bit like arguing whether women should be able to vote - these were battles fought over a century ago. It's not contemporary art that traditionalists are uncomfortable with, it's the freedom of expression. Creative people challenge the status quo, which can make uncomfortable conservative people who think birthright gives them authority.
The Jonah Jones and Chris Marson exhibition was intelligently marketed and sold well. Mr Trimingham's critical support of Jonah Jones and the banner "No previews due to great demand" created demand, and the atmosphere at the opening of the exhibition likened a frenzied art auction. But was it good work?
I was impressed with Jonah Jones' work in the Biennal. I was less impressed with the work in this show. In particular, the work painted in Bermuda compares unfavourably to those made in France.
I suspect that the artist's mind was not engaged with the Bermuda work. Mr Jones applies only elementary colour theory, juxtaposing complementary opposite colours, such as blue and orange, without doing the hard work required to integrate the separate parts. There is very little tertiary mixing of colour into grey, which is so important for contrast in bright, colourful paintings. In a typical work, "Evening Ferry", the attempt to mute colour in the foliage results in nondescript, muddy colouring, and the brushwork around the rooftops is mechanical and lacks impetus and energy.
Mr Jones constructs unchallenging chocolate box illustrations of boats and sunsets, and loses control of his colour; what are meant to be golden sunsets end up looking like golden showers. The paintings appear quickly executed and overall slap-dash. The boat hulls lack form, the paintings are blandly mid-tone, brushmarks are dragged across the canvas in long, tedious strokes. Its painting-by-numbers pieces that he knows will be well reviewed and will sell, but the artist is on auto-pilot.
In comparison, the works made in France are much more sophisticated, even heartfelt. We can see Jones' talent in these paintings. He's been challenged by new subject matter. He uses tertiary greys to construct delicately balanced colour. The brushwork is considered; the tonal range is deeper. The compositions encourage the eye to find passages into the picture plane. In short, we can see the artist thinking about the construction of the painting, and that makes for better work.
I have not space to write of Chris Marson's watercolours, other than to reflect that his smaller works are stronger than the larger. With some of the larger works, Mr Marson loses control of the foreground and consequently the images slip off the picture plane. On a whole his brushwork is controlled and considered, and generally his palette is balanced. In the more interesting works the artist fearlessly mixes his colours, using muted greys and earth tones to delicately allow the purer colours to gleam.
One of the challenges for an artist is to avoid falling into habitual, mechanical working methods. Artists who are serious about pushing their talent need to take note of what's happening in the world of art. Praise from partisan, provincial critics can lead to an artist producing parodies of their own work. Artistic integrity matters, and an artist should be wary of suspending professional development to conform to their own, or others', taste.