David Bridgeman’s studio in George Town is a treasure trove of art supplies and inspirational material. The vivid colours of works-in-progress adorn the walls. Shelves are crammed with rolls of paper and canvas. There are paints, pots and brushes on the surfaces, tools for building things, books and CDs. And in between all this are countless objects he has collected and kept because their shapes, colours or patterns interest him.
Words by Natasha Were. Studio photo by Guy Waller.
Whatever he’s creating, it’s always based on something he has seen. “It could be as large as an archaeological site or as small as the fibres left by a donkey’s pack on a nail,” he says. “It’s about what catches my eye.”
Although Bridgeman loved art as a child, it wasn’t until he moved to Cayman in 1987 to take up a teaching position that he met practising artists and was inspired to create again.
But unlike many local artists, he doesn’t feel the need to make art that reflects the environment he lives in. More often, it’s the remembered scenery of his childhood in Oxford, England, that finds its way into his paintings, drawings, sculptures and etchings. Not that he strives to create realistic renditions: he is more concerned with exploring the emotional response to what he is seeing or remembering.
Curiously, perhaps, he only painted two pieces that referenced his personal battle with cancer. One of these, The Last Tango, features his body in skeletal form, with the yellow chemotherapy entering his brain while the cancerous cells in his body light up.
However, many of his paintings feature elements of Whittenham Clumps, a woodland he spent a great deal of time playing in as a child – a place where he felt at home. Often, this scenery is perceived from different viewpoints.
A 2016 exhibition he held in London was based around an imaginary flying machine, with etchings and charcoal drawings representing the rural British landscape he fancied he would see from the sky. One painting, Industrial Landscape merges this with the view from his bedroom window of a nearby power station. Another, Up, Up and Away zooms in on individual trees.
These days, his art is broadly abstract, but that wasn’t always the case. In his early years in Cayman, Bridgeman was fascinated by the traditional houses and would seek out the weird and wonderful ones, painting them more figuratively. But then, when a semi-abstract self-portrait was accepted for the travelling exhibition, Carib Art, he realised that was the direction he wanted to continue in.
“Abstract is harder,” he reflects. “I believe it’s a progression. You have to do your time as an artist to get to abstract.”
Bridgeman has undoubtedly put in the time. For the best part of three decades, he continued to teach full time, painting as a hobby in his free time. And alongside making art, he studied it. He took classes with the Cultural Foundation and courses further afield in everything from etching and printmaking to painting. He studied with Caribbean artists such as Bendel Hydes, Jerry Craig and Isaiah Boodhoo, and for the past three years, has been mentored by artists in the UK. He’s had solo and group exhibitions both in Cayman and overseas, received numerous commissions, and, in addition to the National Gallery’s permanent collection, his works are part of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Collection in New York. And yet, it’s only in recent years that he has been able to retire from teaching and pursue a professional career as an artist.
Asked whether he wants – or needs – the viewer to understand what lies behind each work, he quotes another abstract painter, Agnes Martin, who famously said: “For music people accept pure emotion, but from art they demand explanation.”
For him, it’s enough that people enjoy his work. And once a piece is complete, he feels no attachment to it. It’s the process of making the art that he enjoys, but as soon as it’s finished, he moves on to a new project. This year, he has been experimenting with the use of gridlines. Inspired by a student he watched carefully colouring in a block graph, he started to draw these lines over his paintings, sometimes filling the resulting squares with colour. One of the last works in which he used the grids was for Nessun Rosa, commissioned by the Ritz-Carlton. But he’s finished with gridlines now, and is moving on again.
Bridgeman has changed a great deal over the years, he says, and so has his art. For him art is a constant process of testing, revising, adding, and taking away. Stylistically, it keeps evolving. There is no end to the learning. Now that he has the time, he will keep studying, experimenting, and creating.
To view more of David Bridgeman’s artwork:
Visit: Studio 3, 26 Pasadora Place; Call: 345.926.6845
Represented online by Lisa Howie of Black Pony Gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org