When the new Permanent Collection Exhibition opened on August 5th, 2019, at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, I was immediately drawn to John Paul Saddleton’s West Hill Hidden Garden painting. Something about it spoke to me in a profound way. As a result, I found myself going back to see it many times since (often when I should have been working). The contrast of the darker hues of the shade against the bright airy light of day in the background continues to tug at my imagination. In truth, it has become a bit like a seductive loadstone.
Wistful. A simple word, but it is the best way to describe how this piece makes me feel, especially when at work and unable to indulge in the true fantasy depicted in the painting. Still, West Hill Hidden Garden is like a portal into that dimension where one could escape reality and truly connect with natural beauty. I’ve imagined myself walking up the stone steps to pick and smell the pretty flowers in bloom. Afterward, I would sit in the shade and quietly take in the flamingos as they went about life in paradise. As I write this, I imagine feeling the soft breeze and the temptation arises to lose myself in the fantasy of it all.
It is a happy accident that the painting is even part of the National Collection: it was painted on a plywood board that blocked access to the emerging NAGB Sculpture Garden, before the stone wall was restored or Tyrone Ferguson’s smaller gate installed, in May 2016. In order to elevate how West Hill Street looked, the idea was to use a painting to hide the board and create something attractive and intriguing for the passers-by, to indicate that there was something about beauty happening behind the wall and through the corner of Hospital Lane. The artist chose to use the idea of trompe l’oeil (a genre which literally means: “trick the eye”) and made a painting that indicated a secret garden beyond.
Saddleton is generally known for his landscape painting; his mural in the Domestic Lounge at Lynden Pindling International Airport is probably his best known to most Bahamians, and the NAGB has another in the collection—a gift as well—depicting a large cruise ship coming into port. Lush landscapes, with many trees and flowers in bright colours, often appear in his oeuvre, so in that respect this is typical of his output, though unusual in size and shape. The eagle-eyed viewer might wonder what the strange brown spiky object is hiding in the dark foliage in the foreground: this is a citation of a sculptural series by a fellow Bahamian artist, Heino Schmid, which were coconuts covered in steel nails and known as his “Landmines” (2014-2016).
Luckily, Saddleton used good acrylic paint, so once the board came down and the gate was installed, the painting was—surprisingly—in such good condition that the NAGB asked Saddleton if it could remain part of the National Collection and he kindly and generously agreed.
West Hill Hidden Garden is featured as part of the new rehanging of the Permanent Exhibition “Timelines: 1950-2007” which is mostly drawn from the National Collection and supported by several works from The Dawn Davies Collection.
“Timelines: 1950-2007” displays works from 43 artists and will be available for viewing until June 6th, 2020. Visit the NAGB today to discover which piece awakens your imagination.