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Bahamian art: Presenting. Uniting. Educating.

Mixed Media Blog

Feature from the National Collection: Burnside Crowns a King

Solomon
Oil on Canvas
72in. x 72in.
2000
Collection of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas

If a visitor to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas were to wander into the office, which is found on the second floor, and take a turn to the left, one of the first things one would see is a larger than life painting of a gentlemen gazing back at the viewer with a contemplative and peaceful expression on his face. This is Stanley Burnside’s feature piece, “Solomon”.

The viewer might ask, why is he wearing a crown? What’s with the colorful leaves to the upper right of the canvas? Why is the sea only on the right of the gentleman’s shoulder? And the purple to the left, what’s that about? To answer these questions two men of importance need to be briefly mentioned.

The first is the late Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, also knows as Tony Mackey and known to most Bahamians as the musical performer, Exuma: The Obeah Man. Born in Cat Island, Mackey wrote and sang prolific songs about Bahamian culture that continues to resonate with visitors and Bahamians today.

The second man is King Solomon, credited as the wisest and richest and most powerful king in the Bible.

The dots begin to connect as the viewer gradually sees Mackey through Burnside’s eyes. Burnside creates a bold commemorative piece of art that recognizes Mackey’s memory and status as a leader at what he did. Mackey’s face is given life with the vivid use of color. The yellows and browns seem to reflect the very light of the sun. The artist chose the color purple to fill the space to the left of Mackey’s face, undoubtedly a reference to the esteem Burnside feels Mackey deserves.

The croton leaves, a native plant grown in The Bahamas, are placed to the upper right of the canvas. It would not be too far removed to say that this alludes to the vibrancy of Mackey’s culture and his deep roots in The Bahamas. Behind Mackey’s right shoulder Burnside placed a view of the sea, another clear symbol of Mackey’s Caribbean roots. The viewer shouldn’t ignore the crown that sits snugly over Mackey’s locks, this is Burnside’s assertion of Mackey’s wisdom and kingly status in Bahamian history.

We sympathize with the viewer who pauses expectantly in front of the image waiting on Mackey to burst into song. The peaceful gaze itself readies the viewer for a calm, wise word that only a king could give. Perhaps you’ll have a different experience all together, but there is only one way to find out.

-NP

Visit the NAGB today and see Burnside’s “Solomon” for yourself. Feel free to send us a comment or email, we look forward to hearing from you!