Lynne Bernbaum: La Joie de Peintre

Unassumingly located on a side of Anguilla’s busiest road there is a sanctuary of elegance, serenity and, above all, talent awaiting a visit from an alert passer-by: Lynne Bernbaum Art Studio is one of the key reasons why the George Hill Landing is slowly, perhaps even implausibly, turning into the cornerstone of sophistication in Anguilla. An ample open space, her studio is three-quarters gallery, one-quarter playground for the artist, with both areas tactfully separated by a light drape hanging loose from a low bar. Thus, although the characteristic bric-a-brac essential to painters all around the world is in full view to visitors as soon as they walk through the door, the careless neatness (or controlled chaos, depending on how you want to look at it) with which Lynne keeps her utensils spills over to the rest of the showroom, sending a welcoming message.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Lynne’s résumé includes studies in half a dozen different institutions in disciplines spanning from architectural landscape to illustration. Immediately obvious to anyone confronted to her art are her expert manipulation of perspective and the important role played by geometric shapes in her paintings. Indeed, perhaps as an effort to keep her audience focused on the important stuff, she often simplifies the features of her subjects to the point where faces become little more than flat circles or ovals. Similarly, more abstract explorations look closely at the relation of objects on the canvas, relying heavily on principles of proportion and composition to create a coherent whole.

These days, Lynne can’t easily decide what is her preferred medium of expression – oil, or watercolor. “They both have their advantages”, she tells me, as she gives a quick glance to samples of both hanging in her studio. “Watercolor is faster, and I’m really comfortable with it. But I like the freedom that oil gives you.” She’s referring to the composition again, and the opportunity afforded by oil paint to change plans midway through the creative process. “People say you can’t make mistakes with watercolor. You can, but not as much as with oil. With watercolor you have to plan from light to dark, you have to plan your whites from the outset, which will be the paper.”

Until the year 2000 all Lynne did was plan her whites. Then, the opportunity arose to “studio-sit” for a season at Michèle Lavalette’s place in Anguilla. Michèle worked predominantly with oil. At this point, Lynne had never experienced working in full view of her customers; nor had she ever experimented with oil paint, either. To this day, both remain fundamental parts of her daily routine, with most of her subsequent series being developed both in oil and watercolor. I suppose one could say she owes a great deal to Ms. Lavalette.

Yet Lynne’s attachment to the Caribbean dates further back, to another century – indeed, to another millennium. She had been working in islands such as Tortola, when one day the chance presented itself to exhibit at the Devonish Art Gallery in Anguilla. This was in 1994. Soon thereafter she made this island her permanent home. Maybe she’s indebted to Mr. Devonish, too.

Since the days of her first exhibition in Anguilla she has matured stylistically to become one of the most distinctive artists in the island. In recent times she has exhibited in New York City (2008) and in Brittany, France (2005, 2003). Interestingly, she continues to produce, display and sale work from all of her recent series of paintings, regardless of when they were started. “I like to create new pieces for each of the exhibitions”, she explains. “At the same time, I don’t feel like any of those series is complete”, she continues, “I don’t think I have exhausted their possibilities, so I continue to work on all of them both in oil and watercolor.”

Presently, Lynne is working on a new project entitled “Paint Paint” – one of the few sequences she has decided to explore exclusively in oil paint, possibly marking a turn in her future development. The cunning name refers to an equally cunning idea that came to her, rather poetically, during her sleep. “Something new, nothing to do with the Caribbean,” she would answer, when asked what her latest subject would be. Though sincere in her answer, this did not turn out to be completely true. Continuing her long-standing quest for the hidden beauty of Anguilla, for the nuances in the commonplace, the unique underlying beneath the obvious, Lynne has made the raw material of her art – paint itself – the topic of her latest work.

Sculpting the paint as it comes out of the tube and combining the various mini-sculptures to paint a composition that brings together the complexity of her trade and the crudeness of her subject matter, “Paint Paint” adds a new dimension to her proposition – a dimension that is unapologetically modern and defiant in nature. Like any piece of modern art, the joke is on the viewer; but unlike most of it, the tools to appreciate what has been described as “art that exists in its pun” are both available and accessible. Sitting in her studio, surrounded by her paint(ings), capturing her answers, I realize this is 100% Bernbaum. All past debts have been cancelled, all loans have been repaid. Whether you identify a surreal landscape or an ironic still life when you look at her new collection, one thing is for certain – you won’t find anything comparable this side of the Caribbean.


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