‘Paint by Mr. Amos Ferguson’
Published: Sep 14, 2013
He does not remember exactly the age he started to paint, but said that as a young boy, when he did not have canvas and paint, he would draw pictures in the sand, on pieces of paper and all through his school notepads.
Born on February 28, 1920 on the island of Exuma to Reverend Robert and Lavinia (nee Rolle) Ferguson, Amos attended school until the age of 14 and worked with his father, a preacher, farmer and carpenter. In his 20s, he left for “The Contract” in the United States.
Ferguson joined the many Bahamian men and women that picked the fields during the war. He lived in the U.S. for more than five years. Debating whether to stay in America or return to The Bahamas, Amos prayed for guidance. With God’s help, he returned to The Bahamas and moved to Nassau.
Amos worked as a house painter for a living. One day his nephew, George, came to him with a message from The Lord. George was told in a dream that The Lord had given Amos a talent, but he refused to use it.
Hearing this, Amos decided to take his interest in painting seriously. From then on, Ferguson painted relentlessly. He would rise at 3 o’clock each morning to pray and paint. He continued to use house paint throughout his career, preferring its shiny, hard finish on cardboard to the more traditional oil or acrylic on canvas.
Amos said he liked the challenge of painting with a substance more difficult to control.
No one can easily deny that there is an element of sophistication in Ferguson’s paintings, with subjects illustrating in a simple and unique way life’s various seasons, nature and a bit of surrealism.
Amos said that he “paints by faith, not by sight. Faith gives you sight,” often turning to the Bible for inspiration. Ferguson credits his successful career and profound creative gift to his faith in God.
At first he did not sell his paintings. They were created to honor God. His work, although highly regarded by his fellow artists, was largely ignored at home.
Ferguson’s first solo exhibition was held in Nassau at Toogood’s Studio in 1972. He also held exhibitions in 1977 and 1978 at the Lyford Cay Gallery and Brent Malone’s Matinee Gallery. By the early 1980s, Amos’ work would go far beyond the Bahamian shores.
When art connoisseur Ute Stebich saw Ferguson’s work, she was stunned, impressed with his style and thrilled with the apparent simplicity of his work. She was amazed that an artist of that quality had been working in obscurity for so long.
She quickly arranged for a solo exhibition to be held at the oldest museum in the United States, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. “Paint By Mr. Amos Ferguson”, a show of 50 paintings then took a two-year world tour. Many believe that this event brought Ferguson international acclaim.
The 1980s and 1990s brought Amos massive attention, and he quickly became famous among museums, galleries and collectors of folk and outsider art around the world.
Critics described Ferguson as a phenomenal colorist and genius at simplifying complex shapes. His signature paintings are purchased for many thousands of dollars.
This is an artist who was first discovered abroad before he was valued at home in The Bahamas.
The humble home of the world-renowned painter was on Exuma Street for years, but in 2005 the name of the roadway was changed in his honor to Amos Ferguson Street.
He continued to paint right up to his death in 2008, becoming the most prolific painter in The Bahamas.
Ferguson once said, “It makes me happy to know that they appreciate my work. If they appreciate my work, they appreciate me too.”
To many, Amos’ story is as mesmerizing as his art.
• Source: artistsofthebahamas.com