Abi from abi-box.com describing her time in Bermuda, observations, and a bit about the work it inspired.
My visit to Bermuda was in hurricane season. Hurricane Joaquin was due to skim by imminently, however, the big news at the time seemed to be that there was a lone pelican visiting the island. I was excited to be in Bermuda to paint the scenery, I am an artist and paint semi abstract landscapes. Through, on day one this was mildly eclipsed by my excitement on being told that, if I wanted to get about the island then I would need to hire a scooter. I had never ridden one before and although I was less thrilled about my obvious hire helmet, it was probably very brilliant that it meant my inexperience could be spotted a mile off. After I had completed a twenty minute crash course and had mastered a figure of eight without denting any parked vehicles, I set off to spend two weeks zipping up and down looking for handsome trees to paint.
In my studio in London I mostly paint large paintings, I tend to enjoy painting pieces which are at least over my head in height, more the better if a step ladder is required. This is not possible to do when driving around on two wheels. My studio ..brushes, paints, canvas.. needed to fit into my backpack and so in Bermuda I worked on a much smaller scale and chose to experiment with using, not canvas but thin sheets of acrylic which, while being sturdy while being fairly lightweight making them a practical surface to work on while on the move. Potentially.
I also chose to use watercolours in place of my usual oil paints, as oils would have taken too long to dry. In terms of the overall intention of painting being to cover a surface in paint, watercolours on acrylic are somewhat counter productive. It is difficult to get the watercolours to stick and instead the pigments loosely pool, persistently fighting definition. However, it was the lack of control that I took a shining too, my ability to accurately observe and describe was constantly interrupted, resulting in the small paintings being interestingly detached from reality. Impressions, full of subtleties and nuances that are just as much about the paint as the subject matter.
I spent the majority of my time in Bermuda looking for areas off the beaten track, places overgrown and seemingly abandoned, somewhere to loose myself in. Driving in from the airport I gazed out of the windows looking, even on the roads the tarmac is, more often than not, sandwiched between two walls of lush dark green.
Of everywhere I went I ended up spending most of my time at Southlands. Clearly once extravagantly kept, it is landscaped into three tiers of botanical gardens but has since become wild and overgrown and is now a National Park and Nature Reserve. Standing looking in through the stone gates, which are all overgrown with creepers, the view is a world away from any UK woodland; Bermudan Palmetto in place of English Bracken. It is not clear where one gigantic tree ends and another begins, as they are all woven together with curtains of hanging roots and vines. Deeper inside the disorder completely takes over, a maze of different trails lay within a mess of tangled branches and leaves. Every once and a while a path would open out on to a more ordered clearing, a hint of what it might once have looked like back when it was kept. I spent whole days sat amidst the ants and mosquitoes, creeping round through all of the overgrown paths, like it was the school summer holidays and I wasn’t expected back until tea time.
When I found a good spot to paint in I had a somewhat ridiculous set up, my paints would all be set out inside a mote of water so that the ants could not get to them and I worked sitting on an upside down paper bin, one which I had borrowed from the apartment we were staying in and that would fit into the basket on the scooter.
It is worth the hassle to be able to work in situ. Observing becomes multi sensory, surrounded by the sounds, feeling the heat and the rain in the air, the light is different filtered through the leaves, and everything that you are capturing and translating into two dimensions is playing out in front of you in three, while moving in the breeze.
At the beginning of 2015 I did a residency in Switzerland where the weather was crisp and it snowed a lot and I was surrounded by the swiss alps and forests. My work was affected by all of this and from that point on I began to collect landscapes and environments, places and experiences.
I came to Bermuda in October and found myself enticed by the wildlife, the big waxy leaves, the ones that are often wet and glistening from the intermittent rain showers, and the bright lime green colour that the paper thin leaves go when lit up from behind like stained glass by sunlight. I was able to briefly visit the Everglades, where I took a hover boat through the marshlands full of long grasses and reeds. And very recently I took an opportunity I had to spend ten days in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, a trip which took being in the middle of no where very seriously. It took two flights and a seven hour boat ride to get to the lodge I was staying at.. many insects, not many people, and extremely humid.
Place to place, the different flora like brushstrokes, fluctuate wildly in ‘style’ and these regional nuances have begun to inspire my own vocabulary of mark making. Drawing and painting are much to do with looking, absorbing, noticing; in each location I try to be a sponge for everything around me, especially to try and take the memory of it back with me to my studio in London.
I didn’t spend the whole time hanging out by myself. On the evenings I would meet Tom in Hamilton and he could look forward to stories about how good I thought I was at riding my scooter now, as well as the daily ant bite count. One weekend our friend Robin took us out on his boat and showed us around all the places he grew up around Somerset, and fed us both a fish sandwich. And I spoke to plenty of strangers; I had a good conversation about abstract vs figurative art with a guy called Marlin, who also told me that he painted lighthouses, you definitely need a step ladder for that.
Back at home I have continued with a few more small scale, oil on board pieces; I have found now that I enjoyed moving between the two scales and that actually it encourages me to construct better compositions. And I have also started to work on a few larger, oil on canvas pieces; working from photographs and memories, expanding the vocabulary I have built up across a bigger surface. I love painting Bermudian scenery, each piece reminds me of a different place I sat painting, hidden away from whichever bit of the side of the road I had pulled up at to go exploring.