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‘Love and Responsibility’

New book examines the Dawn Davies collection
  • “Love & Responsibility” cover, featuring a painting by Brent Malone. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE PUBLISHER

  • “Therapy I” by Mark Redgrave appears alongside Erica James’ curatorial essay at the beginning of the book.

SONIA FARMER
Guardian Arts&Culture

Published: Dec 01, 2012

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Many people collect. Some collect books, others shoes, perhaps ceramic teapots or cat figurines – and some, like Dawn Davies, collect artwork.

Her home is a sight to behold – a journey through Bahamian art history, the pieces displayed upon very inch of wall space and every nook of her yard range across styles and eras, proudly celebrating our rich artistic heritage – and it only scratches the surface of the 1,600 odd pieces or so that she has collected in the span of 40 years.

It used to be that one could only enjoy the overwhelming display through a coveted invite to the collector’s beautiful home – and if you were truly lucky, a tour with Davies sharing her stories about every piece and a knowledgeable artist or two in tow with whom she shared a long friendship.

Yet with the publication of “Love & Responsibility: The Dawn Davies Collection”, anyone can begin to fathom the expansive collection right at their fingertips – the 547-page book gathers every piece in gorgeous full color, providing an unforgettable visual journey through the Bahamian artistic landscape.

Thursday evening, artists and art-lovers gathered at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to celebrate the publication of this opus. Edited by Erica M. James, PhD, with contributions by Petrine Archer-Straw, the book presents the Dawn Davies collection through the lens of 14 themes – including “Little Nassau”, “Amos Ferguson and the Intuitives”, “The Personal and the Political” and “Ceramics featuring Denis Knight” – and 15 artists important to the collection, all masterfully designed by Dionne Benjamin-Smith.

At four years in the making, “Love & Responsibility” stands as a true labor of love, said Davies at the launch. Like her collecting, the book began as a small personal project but due to its undeniable importance to Bahamian culture, soon ballooned into a perfect mix of coffee table book and academic reference, providing arguably the most

important publication for Bahamian art history.

“Initially, I wanted to create a book for my own personal use – a catalogue to document the collection that I could show to various people and say that this is/was my collection,” she said. “I thought of it as the end to my collecting days.”

“But what happened, of course, after I asked Dr. Erica James for her curatorial advice and assistance, was that the project became bigger and broader, particularly as I continued collecting – although considerably less and with a more discerning eye.”

“So, I wanted the book to be both a beautiful coffee table book as well as to have more substance,” she added. “I wanted it to have context and information on artists, and to celebrate the talent of our artists and the development of Bahamian art.”

Though Davies insists on avoiding the spotlight, it’s an impossible task to separate the collection from the collector – so closely are they intertwined that to directly address one is to indirectly address the other – so it is no wonder that Maxwell Taylor’s iconic woodcut of a woman bound, “Love or Responsibility/Am Tired”, echoes in the book’s title.

In her essay preceding the book, “How on earth did this happen?” Davies recounts the way she fell deeply in love with the art of her birthplace. The collection, which grew organically “is heartfelt and it has tried to be broad and representative” and reflects a love as deep and wide as the sea, one that begins at first sight with the purchase of a whimsical Alton Lowe painting and grew to encompass all styles, from her beloved impressionist landscapes by Dorman Stubbs to the most abstract masterpieces by John Cox, and continues to this day to grow.

This kind of love is ripe and mature and not without a great effort to keep it alive – indeed, Davies has been in it for the long haul, fully committed to nurturing it through her willingness to grow along with the Bahamian art world and through constant strengthening of her many strong relationships with Bahamian artists.

Speaking to the relationship between artist and collector at the launch, Holly Parotti – who is one of the 15 featured artists in the book – credited Davies with her ever-constant presence in the happenings of the art world and her invaluable support, financially or otherwise, especially to student artists.

“She’s willing to take a chance on the less successful pieces because she understands the place of them in the story of the artist,” said Parotti. “She bought a lot of my university pieces and even though those aren’t considered successful in terms of my portfolio, she understands how they fit into its context.”

“I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Dawn both as a friend and as a collector and I’m so grateful to her for what she has brought to my growth just by the way she is genuinely interested in what I am doing as an artist. She’s someone who makes you look twice at yourself, because she challenges the way I look at my own work,” she added.

Yet Davies’ passion is also an important learning tool. The book, a love letter of sorts to Bahamian art from the collector, is an invaluable contribution to the history of The Bahamas. Editor Erica M. James in her curatorial essay preceding the book, “Love at First Sight”, points out that in the charming pictorial essays and artist spotlights arranging pieces that range from 1881 to 2011, we bear witness finally to the shape of our cultural past and present, and develop excitement for the future.

“You can’t tell half of the story,” she said. “We have to show what Bahamian art is and teach people because many think that Bahamian art is a neo-impressionist painting of a Poinciana tree only, and we need to address that.”

“We need to address representations of Caribbean artists and how we can own them – from impressionists and beyond – because it allows us to see the full picture and the complexity of Bahamian art which is more than one thing, more than one style, and you can see all of that in Dawn’s collection in an unique way, whereas in other collections we may not have been able to do that.”

Indeed the “Love & Responsibility” will provide a powerful reference of Bahamian art for teachers and students locally while encouraging critical engagement with Bahamian art in order to present it to a regional and global conversation about culture. Most of all, however, the book will help others fall deeply in love with Bahamian art and culture.

“We have a rich history of shows, but not in critical engagement,” said James. “I hope the book encourages us to look beyond artwork and engage with it, especially through writing, so that we can get the word out about what we are doing.”

“We take for granted that we see what we are shown, and it’s not true. We need to encourage everyone, especially students, to pause and engage with Bahamian art on a deeper level. Hopefully the book is a stimulus for that, a way to start this conversation.”

• To order “Love & Responsibility”, please contact Ms. Dawn Davies at dawndavies@coralwave.com. “Love & Responsibility” is a not-for-profit project and any benefit from its sale will be donated to The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.

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