Last year, Abaco artists Leanne Russell and Attila Fezst, were among 40 Bahamian artists chosen to represent contemporary Bahamian art in the Imago Mundi’s Luciano Benetton Collection.
Although the project has existed for a few years, it is a new and exciting opportunity that was extended to Bahamian gallerists and curators who then contacted the nation’s most renowned and promising artists.
In September 2013, Amanda Coulson, director of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas in Nassau, contacted Leanne and Attila about the 40 artists that would be featured in the book called Caribbean Together-Apart. By 2016, the finished product would essentially appear as the artists’ business card or as a screenshot of every country at a glance when all 10,000 pieces from artists in 80 countries are compiled.
Both Leanne and Attila were humbled by their selection. The project also includes artists practicing art in their own countries, and those who are a part of the Caribbean diaspora who have relocated to other countries.
“The whole purpose is to celebrate artists in isolation and bring those internationally renowned and those beginning to make a name for themselves together as a community,” Leanne explained.
According to Leanne, the only challenge for the project was that the original piece submitted by each artist could only be 10 centimeters by 12 centimeters canvasses and had to be submitted within a two-week period.
She added that one of the greatest parts of travelling as revealed by Benetton is to discover artists who are amazingly talented and those who have not been recognized by mainstream galleries. Indeed, the Imago Mundi website emphasizes that the Luciano Benetton collection will “unite the diversities born out of art created from surroundings and culture of our world in a common frame of artistic expression.”
While Leanne’s submission was about female deities, Attila’s focus was a close up of a lionfish face in black and pink.
“I had done a piece with three of them called for the NAGB/Colina calendar in 2012-2013, and thought the small canvas (10cm x 10cm) was a great size to re-do a small detail from,” he revealed.
Attila said that before his inclusion in the Benetton collection, he had only been a part of the art scene in Nassau for a little while, so he was really happy to be included with all the other artists.
He shared: “It definitely adds to confidence and the realisation that my path is going in the right direction. I have drawn for as long as I can remember, but started university in the UK doing Architecture for a couple of years. Then I changed courses and finished up in History of Art and Design with Graphic Design.
“My mother also used to teach art in high school at Queen’s College in Nassau (teaching quite a few well-established Bahamian artists like John Cox and Toby Lunn), so she was a big influence on me, too. “
He enjoys creating works of art using pen, ink and pencil, and firmly believes that drawing well is the foundation for all art. Since working as a designer for Abaco T’s in Hope Town, Attila began screen printing his own pattern designs and textiles.
“This got me inspired, and I started painting at a larger scale, which I’ve never really done, but there is so much more I want to try,” he expressed. “The whole point of me doing what I’m doing is to use it as a creative journey – to learn new skills, try out new techniques and ways of doing things, and work with and learn from other artists and designers doing vastly different things.”
Not only has the journey been creative for Leanne, but she has seen herself mature on an artistic and spiritual level.
“I see my growth every day in the new opportunities that I did not think were possible. I have evolved because spiritually I decided to leap and the net appeared. A friend of mine told me that God will not give you the vision without giving you the resources to carry it out.
“I’ve just been networking, and it’s a good feeling getting that validation consistently among contemporary Bahamian artists. The Bahamian art scene is such an amazing place, and there’s funding available for those who want to create their own self-expression.”
Leanne’s artwork incorporated the use of natural material like driftwood. Although, she admitted that it is sometimes difficult to merge contemporary materials with natural ones, she is committed to creating a balance.
Both artists are working on various projects in their spare time with Attila preparing for the Bahamas National Trust’s Art & Wine event in Nassau as well as his own design work, and Leanne involved in Layers Project with Scharad Lightbourne, the National Exhibition, and member of The Salus Project.
Leanne and Attila also stated their joy in seeing the talent that exists overall on Abaco.
She said: “Abaco is showing that it has a lot of talent, and the impetus to take art work more seriously.
Meanwhile, Attila has observed that the Abaco scene has developed well in the nine years he has lived here.
“After paying attention to and spending more time involved with the art scene in Nassau, I think the way forward is to bridge the gap between islands. Get more people in Abaco aware of what is happening in Nassau – has anyone been to the National Art Gallery, or Popup Studios? But also get more Abaconian art into Nassau,” Attila advised.
“There are some incredible young Abaconian artists (Leanne Russell, Zyandric Jones) who are doing just that, so it is happening, and everyone involved in Nassau wants to see more art from the islands. It’s motivating and inspiring to see people creating art in different ways [because] it’s easy to get stagnant otherwise.”