Photo: Scharad Lightbourne/Leanne Russell
Bahamian artists Scharad Lightbourne and Leanne Russell set out on a collaborative project called “Layers” during the month of February as a tribute to the work of renowned Bahamian artists Amos Ferguson, Brent Malone, John Beadle, and Max Taylor.
“I think in the great masters’ work, my work, Scharad’s work, they are all driven by that desire to capture a beauty that inspires us. We have both drawn on these masters’ work because we have both been inspired as they were to capture the beauty of a woman that inspired us with her look, or her essence,” Leanne specified. “I think all great artists, regardless of medium, long to have a muse, someone that brings out the best in them creatively – this isn’t just one of the underlying themes in this project, but in the creation of art: period.
“As an artist that never had any formal training at the tertiary level, I often say that studying the work of Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Malone was my education. A lot of my work had been influenced by Brent Malone’s paintings – the expression that he captures in his portraits really pushes me with my portraiture – he’s truly the master of that.”
As time draws closer for her work on John Beadle’s piece, Leanne wants to find out what inspired him when he painted The Conjure Woman, the challenges he encountered, and who his muse was because all of those aspects intrigue her. She and Scharad have also reached out to the families of the late Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Malone.
For Leanne, the project came about through her love of Bahamian art, and wanting to pay homage to “these incredible Bahamian masterpieces in a unique way.” It was also a way for her to promote decentralization of the arts in The Bahamas, and show young Abaconian artists that this kind of project can happen here because there are platforms that you can create locally to develop your passion.
Building on Leanne’s passion for the project, Scharad said he felt inspired as well because of his love for anything creative, and it has given him the opportunity to work with another Bahamian artist and travel to Abaco.
“We kept the location on ice waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it. Layers presented itself and the rest is history,” Scharad recalled. “As a photographer, the location has to have just as much character as the subject, and this one had fit my standards and expectations perfectly.”
The house they used in Treasure Cay was also an inspiration to everyone. During the first day on set, they were all amazed by the gorgeous Polynesian-themed home with its textures, and carved wood, which gave way to the natural beauty outside and a view of the Sea of Abaco.
“It was a great environment to work in. The location really added to the “Layers” concept: The house we had as the canvas and backdrop for the paintings; the models serving as our canvas (Sylatheia and I created some amazing art on the girl’s faces with makeup and actual paint); and Scharad’s beautiful photography serving as my canvas – you really don’t know where the art stops or begins,” Leanne reflected.
Scharad observed how Leanne’s discipline in painting will add to his work as a photographer because she is a brilliant artist.
“Her use of colour, composition, and dynamic portraiture only lends to my photography which is similar,” Scharad expounded. “Honestly, as I’ve said before, our two styles make a perfect marriage.”
For Scharad creativity has been the key ingredient for producing his art, whereas Leanne’s is life itself.
“I’m so inspired by so many things, but that comes from conscious living, and being aware of things and people and garnering inspiration from them,” Leanne shared. “The smallest element of my life might inspire a whole painting – music, art, fashion, nature – it all has its place in my work. The key is being open to the inspiration.”
As a fan of Scharad’s work, Leanne is inspired by his creativity, and also his branding and presentation of his work. Similarly, her style has often been described as photo-realist, so it will be interesting for people to decipher the photography elements and the painting elements in certain pieces.
Leanne said that the overall project is going to be an amazing mix of media and mediums, not just with her work and Scharad’s work, but also with what makeup artist Sylatheia’s Gierszewski brought to some of the looks; Ian Pinder’s videography (he’s making an amazing video documenting the making of Layers); and music created for the video by Bahamian musician Sammi Starr.
“It’s a lot of different “layers” of art, and we’re trying to showcase Bahamian talent in multiple artistic fields. It’s going to get clichéd after a while, but it’s really what “Layers” is all about – using layers of art to make one final cohesive product.”
You’ll definitely notice the eye-catching portrait of Abaco model Brieonna Russell on the front cover of the “Layers” project. Brieonna’s look was achieved using Liquitex heavy body acrylic paint, which is what Leanne uses on her canvases. However, she said that this featured piece was actually developed by Makeup Artist Sylatheia’s Gerwesztski.
Altogether, Leanne foresees the project as an astounding amalgamation of mediums, and art, sight, and sound. The second phase of the project is planned for the end of March in Nassau. The artists have handpicked a Bahamian model from Abaco, who is currently in university, but perfect for the “Standout Piece” they envision that will tie the two phases together.
So as the finish line looms ahead, Leanne admitted that there will be many sleepless nights to complete a project of this magnitude while being employed full-time, but that’s the great part of having a collaborator.
“When I’m feeling daunted, I can draw on Scharad’s motivation, or his positivity. That has been one of the great new experiences I have had working on this project,” she revealed.
Social media has also done its part for the project. Leanne said they have received a lot of positive feedback, and people are excited to take the step-by-step this journey with them.
“That was really what it was all about for us, to let people see the work that went into each “Layer,” so they had a clearer overview of how we created the final work,” Leanne said. “The wonderful thing about social media is that it cuts “six degrees of separation” down to two or three. Someone that follows the project on Facebook actually tagged one of Brent Malone’s family members in our tribute piece to him as we were doing it. It was a great feeling that they’re aware of what we’re doing.”
Leanne acknowledged that research for this project was a learning experience for her because even as an artist she encountered pieces that she had never seen before. It all began with The Amos Ferguson exhibition that The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas put on last year.
“The moment I walked into the gallery, and saw all of those Amos Ferguson paintings in one place, it was like walking into a church – like you were seeing the hand of God through Mr. Fergusons’ work,” Leanne said reverently. “[There was] something so sacred about seeing the life work of one of our masters in one place. It started me on a quest to view as many paintings done by Bahamian master artists as I could whether it [was] in galleries or on the Internet. This is when I started collecting the inspiration for ‘Layers’.”
Over the course of the “Layers” project, these ambitious artists tweaked the line-up and added and took away different works until they were satisfied that the pieces would inspire them, let them showcase their creativity, and provide the basis for an incredible collection.
“I have always had a great reverence for Bahamian art, but now the appreciation is even more deep-seated. It’s like I feel like I have a very personal relationship with all of the pieces now,” Leanne professed. “I’m hoping that through seeing our tribute pieces people get excited about this work again, and see how relevant it still is today.”