Twenty Years Later…
A new exhibition opened at Popopstudios on Wednesday the 19th of December, 2012 at at 6:00pm. (See photos from the opening reception)
Related event: 20/20 Artist Talk – Monday January 21, 2013 at 6:30pm
When hindsight is always 20/20, it implies a longing for things to have taken place differently. But this isn’t the case with the rapid evolution of contemporary Bahamian art, which for the last 20 years has expanded the boundaries of how Bahamian artists define themselves and their practices.
Hoping to pay homage and expand this conversation, two contemporary abstract Bahamian artists, Toby Lunn and John Cox, reunite in the collaborative exhibition “20/20” opening next week at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts.
For the pair – who have known each other all of their lives – the exhibition is not so much a retrospective imbued with finality but rather another significant milestone in the conversation they’ve held with themselves and the wider art community since their first exhibition together in 1992 at the Bahamian Art Gallery in downtown Nassau.
At the time, with their understanding about art practices being shaped on a global scale through their studies abroad – Cox at Rhode Island School of Design and Lunn at Maryland Institute College of Art – the pair presented a wildly contemporary show ahead of their time.
With his use of unconventional materials in his sculptural constructions, Cox urged his viewers to take a second look at art in everyday life and landscapes – something that continues in the material choices as well as in the repetitive symbolism he uses in his work today.
“I remember being challenged by artists early on because people don’t generally understand the visual construction of their surroundings, but that was something I was always in tune to – all of living is art and design, and I think that’s where my fascination with materials and what I choose to use comes from,” says Cox.
“I think RISD was the best thing for me at the time,” he adds. “It was the right combination of being intimidated but also exhilarated. It boosted my confidence and taught me to see that there is no ceiling. All of the stuff from before, we questioned it, and we could do anything.”
Meanwhile, Lunn dissolved the human figure into abstractions, passionately applying paint and wood stains on canvas to explore the emotional undercurrents of everyday categorizations.
“A lot has changed in the way I look at art,” says Lunn. “I guess it was an organic solution for me. I got sick and tired of race and gender in portraits, all of our labels, and abstractions delved into the inner workings, the psyche, in a way I thought portraiture couldn’t – but of course that’s incorrect, and now years later I’m revisiting the figure from a different perspective alongside my abstract work.”
Besides displaying their current work 20 years later, the exhibition will also include first time collaborations between Cox and Lunn through diptychs and large canvases that evoke the spirit of the “Jammin” sessions of their mentors Jackson Burnside, Stan Burnside and John Beadle.
“With the collaborations, John and I have a synergy as friends, but there’s also a tension, and we are trying to use both in our work,” says Lunn. “It’s a collective experience. When you look at the work, you will see John’s hand and my hand. That’s the idea – you can feel the two energies.”
“Stan showed us that we could be successful and sophisticated artists, and Jackson encouraged people to stick to what they believe in,” he adds. “I’m grateful for that influence, for the courage in if you have something to say, find a way to say it. Because what are you going to do, paint someone else’s painting?”
“Art is about truly expressing yourself and this show is about being true – not necessarily to everything we have accomplished, but rather to our journey. This is a milestone I’m so excited to accomplish.”
Yet the pair recognizes that “20/20” is bigger than the two of them. Even though the two have shared spaces in exhibitions many times since then – at Caripelago, the Pro Gallery, Popopstudios, in Miami Beach and in Harlem – the 1992 exhibition and the imminent “20/20” act as parenthesis around a time when Bahamian art has changed in significant ways. With the growth of several art spaces and a National Art Gallery, globalization and mass communication, and the opportunity for younger artists to practice abroad, the understanding of what constitutes “Bahamian art” has greatly expanded into exciting territory, and both artists have a hand in that development.
Indeed in many ways, Lunn and Cox were very ahead of their time, yet with the invaluable guidance from great Bahamian artists before them – Jackson and Stan Burnside, John Beadle, Brent Malone, Kendal Hanna – the two have continued to shape the cultural landscape through mentorship of up-and-coming artists producing stunning work in today’s artistic climate.
“I feel very excited about what’s going on and very honored to have been a part of that,” says Cox. “I think when Toby and I did that show in 1992, that work in the context of that period of time was pretty out there, really on the periphery of what was going on. It was not a mainstream show. But I think if we were to do that show now, it would be quite mainstream.”
“I’m excited to think that Toby was at The College of The Bahamas twenty-something years ago with Stan Burnside putting wind in his sails, and nowadays Toby in his own way and me in my own way with my reaching at The College of The Bahamas put wind in the sails of young artists who are just killing it today,” he continues.
“If we compare what we did in 1992 with the successful work they did this year for Transforming Spaces in 2012, it’s unbelievable. I can’t even believe first of all that they would think to take such risks and then actually follow through.”
At one point, however, the pair – along with other notable contemporary peers like Heino Schmid – were making art with a similar kind of abandon at Popopstudios ICVA through collaborative exhibitions like “Love”, “Exit” and “Exhibit A” that placed contemporary art at the forefront of the Bahamian imagination. Though Popopstudios has grown and changed in many ways since its establishment, having “20/20” displayed in the space is an exciting and poignant homecoming for the duo.
“I think those first shows, collaborative shows, were collective and interactive experiences,” says Lunn. “I think even in the beginning though people didn’t buy a lot of work, they enjoyed the experience. There was a lot of breakthrough work happening and investigating and you could feel the love.”
“It’s an example about how things can develop from an organic collection of energy and creativity and focus,” adds Cox. “There was a rebellion happening, but not a deconstructive rebellion, more of a constructive rebellion – it’s like, you know what? I don’t really get that, and I respect what’s happened, but I’m doing it this way, and you can either come along for the ride or you can not.”
In creating that path off of the mainstream through their practices at Popopstudios, its creators unknowingly made one of the most significant contributions to advancing alternative visual art practices in The Bahamas through the last two decades. Yet Cox and Lunn know the conversation does not stop here, especially as the Bahamian art community continues to grow at a rapid pace with exciting new talent.
“I feel a little bit like it’s a community conversation and I feel like the dialogue Toby and I had in the show was part of something bigger,” says Cox.
“You know when you go to a baseball game and three people in the game will start chanting and clapping something, and then it’s five, then it’s ten, and then half the stadium is doing the same thing? I feel like that’s been the metaphor for 1992 up to now,” he continues. “You get this energy – and then it stops, which is probably a good thing before it gets commoditized and you can buy it at Target. That’s when you know it’s over.”
• “20/20” opened Wednesday, December 19 at Popopstudios ICVA from 6-9 p.m. See photos from the opening reception…
By Sonia Farmer
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday December 15, 2012