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Nassau, N.P.
The Bahamas

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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Artist Directory

Amos Ferguson

NAGB

Amos Ferguson

(1920 – 2009)

Amos Ferguson was born in the settlement of The Forest on the island of Exuma. He was the son of a preacher and farmer. 

Training/education

He received his primary school education at Roker’s Point School in Exuma, and religion was a large part of his upbringing. Ferguson came to Nassau in 1937 to learn a trade. He dabbled in various enterprises such as upholstery and furniture finishing. He went into house painting and did that fulltime until he became inspired by a dream his nephew had about Ferguson being given a gift from God. He then began to paint pictures from his imagination on a part-time basis. 

Career

His works would be completed on cardboard, poster board and pieces of wood, using house paints. His first artworks were sold in the straw market, where his wife worked. He later sold his work from his home on Exuma Street (now Amos Ferguson Street). He held shows in the 80s, and word spread about his talents at home. In 1985, he was featured in an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, in Hartford, Connecticut, titled Paint By Mr. Amos Ferguson – this was also his signature on his paintings. He is remembered as the country’s best-known intuitive artist. 

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas acquired over 20 of his works shortly after opening in 2003. Formerly exhibited at the Pompey Museum, they now represent a major holding in the National Collection.

Philosophy 

Amos Ferguson believed that painting is from God and all of the works he has created came to his mind through divine instruction from God. He did not paint images as one may see them in the natural world, but as he envisioned them. In this painting, Jesus is the central large figure with outstretched arms symbolizing his willingness to give himself to God’s will. At the base of the white-clothed Jesus is a small dish containing “too” (two) small fish and five round objects representative of the “balley” (Barley) loaves. 

Contrasting the large white figure are seven rows of small, and one row of large pink-faced heads in black clothes and white collars: priests. Ferguson managed to produce a very distinct composition by contrasting a white foreground against a black background. The perfect round eyes of the “desiple” (disciples) were created by Ferguson’s technique of using nail heads to produce round dots. His shapes were distinctively created by single colors; there is no mixing of colour or paint to make tonal differences. Shapes end where new ones start, suggesting a puzzle-like structure to the work. 

However, Ferguson’s use of colour, his mindfulness toward elements of rhythm and balance, and his complete rejection (implies knowledge of) of one-point perspective, allowed for a unified vision and a signature composition.

STUDIO

Project A
Many people look at Amos Ferguson’s work and say “I can do that!” But it is not as easy as it looks. Create a narrative painting based on a religious parable or a Bahamian folktale, using cardboard and a selection of five colours. Paint the name of the parable or folktale on the work, spelling the words phonetically.

Project B
Amos Ferguson often painted on everyday objects such glasses, plates, lamps and vases. Bring in a utilitarian object from home and paint it with key symbols of Bahamian culture in the narrative and formal style of Amos Ferguson. Ferguson often boasted that he hadn’t attended Junkanoo since the 1940s. Everything he painted was from memory. The symbols and narrative used by students must also come from memory.

Project C
Looking carefully at this painting, recreate it using one point perspective. Consider how this changes one’s impression of the work.

AESTHETICS

Space is created in or defines a two-dimensional surface in many ways.

Q. Describe the spaces in Amos Ferguson painting and the techniques used to create these spaces. What role does his treatment of space play in communicating a narrative or feeling to the viewer?

Discuss ways in which to change one’s reading of space in a composition by exploring various approaches to perspective. 

Pace/rhythm. How the eye moves through a work and how animated an artist makes a surface is important in how the work is experienced by the viewer but also in communicating meaning.

What are some techniques used by the artist to suggest movement and animation? 

Colour is not simply a means by which artists reflect the world but an avenue through which certain emotions, beliefs and even politics can be communicated. The class should create a reproduction of the painting using a different colour scheme. Students should also feel free to change the colour of the central Christ figure. When the project is completed discuss changes in colour effect the reading of the composition.

DISCUSSION

How many colours are used? What are they?

  • What is the painting about? Can anyone recall this story in the Bible?
  • Where is Christ feeding the people?
  • What effect do all the eyes of the figures have?
  • Where would you exhibit this work and why?
  • Why do you think Amos Ferguson signs his pieces so largely?
  • What is/are the effects of Ferguson including the name of the painting in the painting?
  • He is not spelling words using standard English but phonetically, or how the words sound as he speaks. Does this impact the way you view the work or the artist?
  • Why is Amos Ferguson considered intuitive?
Brent Malone The Busset and the Monkey, 1990 House paint on board, 36” x 30” National Collection

Brent Malone
The Busset and the Monkey, 1990
House paint on board, 36” x 30”
National Collection