art

Do You See What I See?

Carrie Richardson, Woman With Basket on Head

By Neko Meicholas

(Images kindly provided by the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas/NAGB)

In all honesty I wish I could temporarily turn off the processing activity of my brain. Instead of seeing the ugly truth, I wish I could simply ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ like every other spectator, member and patron. 

I’ve recently viewed the exhibition “Traversing the Picturesque: For Sentimental Value” at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and, quite frankly, I had absolutely no desire to ‘ooh’, much less ‘ahh’. Honestly, as I moved through the exhibition I grew more and more offended.  

I wonder, when everyone else looks at those more than a half-century old works of art do, you see what I see?

Diane Pullinger, Umbrellas

Do you see Diane Pullinger’s offensive portrayals of locals as big lipped, big assed, smoking, slackers? In some instances, her figures seem so floppy and spineless as to be incapable of self support— figuratively and literally. Looking at her work, I am reminded of a group of fractious children? Was that her intention?

Diane Pullinger, Market Scene

In Rupert Conrad’s work, black Bahamians are featureless. They are nothing more than a part of the local colour, never mind the fact that they are depicted in seductive body postures, as in the painting “To The Beach.” In his piece “Straw Market”, locals seem to blend in with the fruit and vegetables they are selling, all becoming an indistinguishable mass. The faces are all featureless. Am I wrong for seeing it as an erasure of their humanity? Am I wrong for thinking that the artist did not hold them in high regard? Am I reading far too much into this artist’s work? Maybe he simply was a crappy artist and was looking for slipshod ways to produce his art.

Rupert Conrad, Too The Beach

Further, in Conrad’s “Market Scene”, he goes so far as to cover the woman’s eyes with her hat almost completely erasing her identity. Was this artistic license? Did he have difficulty rendering eyes or the other facial features? Was the artist simply taking short cuts, making his job easier or was she simply not important enough for him to make the effort to depict her as a woman with dreams, cares, worries, ambitions? I’m just asking. 

Why is it that in Steven Etnier’s 1960 “Nude” in oil, he sexualizes the subject but again shows her from the back, erasing her humanness. Was this some intentional act on his part? Was he just a lazy artist? Or, should I credit him with protecting his subject’s identity, respecting her wish not to be identified with the nudity?

I have seen some of these pieces before, why did I never notice what I am seeing now? Is it because they are now hung as a group? Why do I feel that the general view of “locals” was nothing more than a decorative element in a tropical landscape? Why has this all of sudden become so obvious? Why am I having such a visceral reaction?

Am I being overly harsh? Am I being too judgmental? I realize it was another time and the views were very, very different.  And, perhaps, it was a convention of the genre. 

Jean Mcnab, Market Scene

E J Read, Young Boys

I can start to relax a little with E J Read’s work. His figures have facial features. Some effort was made to give the subjects an identity and to even portray them with some humor and laughter as in the water colour in paper “Young Boys” and “Woman with Basket”. But E J Read is also guilty of having initially portrayed his subjects as nothing more than ornaments in the warm landscape.

In Jean Macnab’s “Nassau Market” the artist makes some effort to include facial features but still depicts the women as nothing but a collection of big nosed, big lipped, big breasted mammies. And what’s with the bearded white man standing off to the side observing them so sternly?

Carrie Richardson, while depicting only slight facial  features, at least gives the subject of the oil on canvas a posture of dignity. In “Woman With Basket on Head” the subject at least stands proudly, hands on hip in front of a simple high wall. I could be very wrong but there is an effort on the part of the artist to depict the subject humanely. Then again, was the wall too plain and did the artist simply decide to add the woman in order to add a “punctum”?

Estelle M. Kerr (“Portrait) and Nellie Wright (“Market Woman and Native Boy”) are the only two artists, who  seemed to have made any effort to put details in the facial features and accord their subjects more of the humanity, which was theirs by right.

I will forgive Frederic “King” Soldwell for the lack of any sort of identity in his painting “Divers” (1940) simply because it’s obviously meant to be no more than an expressionistic non judgmental piece. But that’s the thing about what looks really deceptively simple... it never really is, is it?

Frank Otis Small, probably my favourite, was another to give his subjects identifiable facial features in his acrylic painting “Young Boys”. They are given expression, gesture and humanity and depicted as the subject of the painting. But... the main character is depicted begging, with his hands extended towards the viewer. Need I comment on this?

As I said before, I have seen many of these paintings in other places and at other times, so it bewilders me why this time I am having such an instinctive reaction to them. There comes a time when you can’t avoid calling a spade a spade. In an age where bigotry has taken a new and more vicious turn, I can no longer view the “pretty” watercolors with rose-tinted glasses and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ like everybody else.

Antonius Roberts' Newest Sacred Space at the Cove, Atlantis, Paradise Island

By Neko Meicholas

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I am not interested in writing fancy, big-worded, pretentious, pleonastic art reviews—in short no bafflegab for me. I have neither the inclination, nor the desire and I would prefer to write about my gut reaction to an artist’s work.

I have just returned from an awesome experience. Everything seemed to align to make it wonderful. And to think, I had been tempted not to bother to attend, simply because I could barely muster the energy to stuff myself into stiff clothing. I’m so happy that I ignored my cave-dwelling, hermit’s personality and made the effort. I put on the clothes, got into the truck, drove over the bridge, etc, etc.

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We arrived early. We had half an hour before we were to be met. As we were at the Cove on Paradise Island, waiting in their beautiful surroundings would be absolutely no problem. What is more, today was the first day of Bahamian winter which meant that the temperature was simply perfect—not too hot, not too cold. So we sat in their breezeway and we spent the time watching…the carp? Koi? Fish!

By the time our greeter, who had walked past us twice, finally realized that we had arrived early and cautiously approached asking who we were, we had been waiting for nearly forty minutes. I had seen her both times and had a more than 1,000% correct inkling that she was the one meeting us, but I wanted to take some photos and I wanted to watch the fish and so I played truant, looking for an excuse to avoid being shut in by ceremony. No harm done…cheerfully, our greeter finally escorted us through the many walkways of the Cove, onto the waiting buggy and then out onto the beach at the wondrous Cove Point.

We were already perfectly calm from our visit with the fish but—the ocean, the setting sun, the Junkanoo drummers playing in front of the fire and the view, in the distance, of the sculptures in Antonius Roberts’ newest Sacred Space simply made for perfect tranquility.

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(L to R) Annette & Antonius Roberts with Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

(L to R) Annette & Antonius Roberts with Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

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We were in an extraordinary space. A foretaste of heaven maybe?

The big G’s natural resplendence, and the man-made glory He doubtless inspired was reaching out to touch our tired, slightly discouraged, and definitely overburdened souls. As we walked along the sand and finally stood in the centre of Antonius' seven praying women I took a deep breath and simply reveled in the moment, the art surrounding me and the perfection of my surroundings. Everything had worked together in perfect harmony.

The carved wooden women with their copper headdresses stood in still adoration and in contrast against a darkening sky, lending to its own mauve-tinged glory. The event introducing the bevy of sculptures to the group was brief. It opened with Jack and B’er Debbil—a fun session of storytelling by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas; a few words from the COO of Atlantis, Audrey Oswell and then the artist, Antonius Roberts paid a tribute to women—especially those who have contributed to his formation.

Cameras dangling, I stood on the side clicking away and simply standing quietly in and enjoying the moment. Was anyone else feeling what I was feeling?

As with all good things they end far too quickly. Personally, I would have happily spent another few hours in that glorious space that was filling me with such a wonderful sense of much needed peace.

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A Glorious Entry…

The Story of a Glorious Entry to Bahamian Art:
Neko Meicholas’ Grand Triptych Graces old St Francis Xavier Cathedral

 

By Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

 

Bahamian artist Neko Meicholas has created a grand triptych which adorns the older structure of the Roman Catholic St Francis Xavier Cathedral. The West Street church stands high on Nassau’s central ridge overlooking the capital’s harbour. Since the rededication, The Catholic faithful have had the opportunity to savour the work’s obvious merits.

The Meicholas canvases have joined an artistic phenomenon. The Bahamas has been volcanic in its production of art since the 1990s, a pyroclastic eruption, which has continued to flow and gain recognition and acclaim beyond our archipelago in the years 2000. Since 1992 I believe I have contributed in some small way to putting Bahamian art on the world map. I have written extensively on art for a quarter century—exhibition catalogue pieces, newspaper features and entries on Bahamian art for such major international publications as the Grove Dictionary of Art (formerly Macmillan).  I have extolled the works of many who are accorded the honorific “Master Artist”, and have written to encourage newcomers.

In contrast, I have written little about the art of my husband Neko Meicholas. I will deal with the reasons right up front. Neko has been occupied primarily with his Guanima Press, his labour of love, which is dedicated to growing a praiseworthy Bahamian literature. He designs all the books, he publishes and has done photography and wonderful covers for this output. A great example is the book on the Years of Favour: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Creation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nassau. It is true he has not publicly shown his paintings much, but has made private sales over the years.

I have done little to change that picture, feeling certain that there would be those pundits of art standing ready to cast doubt on the validity of my commentary with a “That’s her husband—What do you expect her to say?” Besides, don’t we know that the shoemaker’s family are always the last to get shoes? No matter. I will now try to correct an unfortunate omission, leaning on the history of my integrity in speaking and writing.

There is now a compelling reason to write about the art of Neko Meicholas. As evidence of a talent that deserves acknowledgement, three large, intimately related canvases now hang high on the wall at the back of the altar space in the exquisite setting of the chapel of the old St Francis Xavier. It is a fitting setting, as this structure is part of a phoenix-rising-from-ashes tale given physical reality.

The story began on 25 September 2009. Owing to an electrical fault, fire engulfed the rafters of the then 124-year-old church causing extensive damage. In what many have called a miracle (including this writer), the tabernacle was spared and the Eucharist inside was untouched. It was, perhaps, symbolic of what was to come. Archbishop Patrick Pinder, CMG, STD vowed immediately to restore that sacred space. Known to be meticulous in his dealings, Archbishop Pinder took his time assembling the builders, artisans and artists, who would contribute to the restoration and embellishment of the historic structure. Worthy of mention here is carpenter/cabinetmaker Dolph Sands of Eleuthera, whose beautiful woodwork can be seen gracing the facility.

Neko Meicholas, a “cradle” Catholic, was chosen for two very special tasks: 1) create a Christ Pantocrator painting that would serve as the altarpiece, and 2) painstaking restore the 14 Stations of the Cross, which had been extensively impacted by corrosive smoke. Meicholas had wet his feet extensively with the design and production of 50-plus pieces of ceramic art, which beautify the new Holy Family Catholic Church in the Marathon area of New Providence. He knew, however, that this new commission would represent a deep submersion into Christian iconography. The Archbishop specified that the painting was to feature the traditional elements of all Christ Pantocrator imaging.

The central constituent parts of the image are specified by the Pantocrator’s long and deeply imbedded history in the Church’s iconography. Christ, his head encircled by a halo is pictured half-length from the waist up, holding the Gospels in his left hand with his right hand making a gesture of teaching or of blessing. The book, held close to his body, is prominently marked by the Cross. Often, the name of Christ is written as IC XC, divided into two blocks by the figure.

His Grace could have chosen the easy route of factory-manufactured, decorative art, which lacks the personal engagement and spirit of the artist, but to an art lover’s gratitude, he didn’t.

With great trepidation, Neko Meicholas accepted the charge. Could he deliver work that was worthy of being permanently displayed behind the altar of St Francis Xavier? Without alerting his patron, Meicholas decided that he would need to create three paintings, if the emplacement was to have a dynamic visual impact. The two additional paintings would be Neko’s gift to the Church.

The emergent paintings are each 36”x 48” acrylic on linen covering the entire wall on which they are mounted. Beyond fulfilling the mandates of tradition as regards figuration, it can be seen immediately that the artist was very much spiritually engaged, in the manner of a Jacob wrestling with the angel, recognizing the supernatural, but determined to do so on his own terms. Those who leave behind their prejudices, and truly engage the triptych will see a personal iconography emerging from a surfeit of metaphor.

The Christ who is the central figure of the Meicholas rendition is not the polished, boardroom CEO, blue-eyed with golden hair flowing and coiffed who, for so long, dominated Christian art.  Here are the rough locks of a Middle-Eastern village carpenter. Here is a brown man, browner to reflect the Bahamian majority. Christ’s face is not one that will attract Hollywood contracts, but appropriately reflects the suffering appropriate to a “man of sorrows”, acquainted with grief and existential pain.

Bordering the side canvases are faces of believers turned towards Christ in adoration. Their expressions are reflective of the suffering endured by those who would keep faith in a world that tries to rebury a revolutionary whose Gospels are subversive of joys that rest stubbornly in the secular, egocentric and immediate. And, as truthful a depiction are the male and female figures in cameo, who turn away in rejection.

Nevertheless, though deeply immersed in Catholic doctrine, the triptych is not a long-faced revival meeting, but possessing all the fullness and sensuousness of colour, line and movement required by those who would rather not spend too much time in dark reflection. Meicholas has created canvases of incredible beauty, offering a Byzantine palette of golds, ochres, umber, a mixture redolent of a rich, aged red wine, but permitting Bahamian blues to break through.

Neko’s paintings took inspiration from the likes of the Austrian Gustav Klimt, and Bahamians Brent Malone and John Beadle, of whom Meicholas is an avowed admirer. We see the arabesques of lines and the richness of geometrics. The artist’s departures begin with Christ Pantocrator. Without contravening the basics of the traditional iconography, Meicholas imposes his own stamp, especially in the left turn from Christ manicured to one whose not-quite-white robe hints of an under-wash of the blood of his ultimate sacrifice.

Klimt, the symbolist, expressed his artistic credo when he said, "Whoever wants to know something about me - as an artist which alone is significant - they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want." For Neko Meicholas, the same holds true. It is on the two bracket paintings that he plays hide and seek. Here is a cornucopia of metaphor, taking the serious viewer on an intense journey of exploration to winkle them out. His angels hover in robes that reflect the ethereality to be expected of heavenly messengers, and take on living dynamism. It is through the endless superimposed swirls and the opaque white, porcelain birds that dive across the spaces that Meicholas renders the Holy Spirit, as if he himself wishes to imbibe its hallucinogenic, addictive vigour. What more I see, I will keep to myself. I know intimately the profound depths from which this triptych springs. Just know that it is a gift of great beauty, and I praise the giver for risking self-revelation, the acclaim or disparagement of those who will see the works, in order to endow us with this spiritual experience in a world that feels safer with superficiality.


I am never satisfied…

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I wonder if it is the curse of many artists to never be satisfied with anything you have done? I will draw and redraw and redraw and am still hardly ever satisfied with the end product.

And…

Why does it always seem to take forever to get anything completed when you are working with deadlines.

I have been working on the illustrations for LUSCA and Other Fantastic Tales for a very very very long time. Partly because I lacked the discipline and the focus to simply sit down and complete the task and then as crunch time approached I was redrawing everything because this fin did not look right or I needed more tentacle to show. As usual I have scrapped more drawings than actually ended up in the new book.

It puts a lot of pressure on you when you are trying to preserve the creatures of Bahamian folklore. It is no longer just about creating a drawing. It becomes a mission to preserve as accurately as possible a part of your heritage that is rapidly disappearing… Here’s to hoping that I have succeeded, in some small way, in saving a small bit of our heritage for generations to come.

ABOUT LUSCA
LUSCA is a creature from Bahamian folklore. Out of the depths of the sea, it has the head of a shark and the body of an octopus. In Patricia Glinton-Meicholas' story she is given the role of a protector/avenger. And although you are not supposed to play favourites LUSCA is one of mine…