Al celebrates 90 with A Burst of Joy
Al Seymour Sr kicks off his 90th birthday celebrations with an exhibit at Masterworks that opens today.
Thirty-one paintings are on display as part of the show he named A Burst of Joy.
Mr Seymour spent 18 months on the pieces – mainly oils with “a couple of watercolours”. He says he could not have done it without his family, who made the necessary treks to the store to fetch supplies.
“At the beginning I was painting because I just enjoyed it; because I had the opportunity to paint,” he said. “My daughter, Lisa, saw a few of the paintings and then she thought of my birthday coming up and the rest is history.
“It's almost like an opportunity for me to celebrate my birthday with the community. It’s also a message to other senior citizens: there’s always something you can do.”
As a student at The Central School – now Victor Scott Primary School – he was often caught drawing when he should have been focused on his lessons.
“The principal at that time, Victor Scott, was kind of small in his physical structure but, believe me, he was a giant when it came to teaching life values – so important during difficult times. And believe me, during that time it was more than difficult.”
The Second World War “was still raging”, Mr Seymour said.
“Bermuda had a shortage of just about everything you can think of, food, toys, clothing … that's just the way it was during that time. And so we had to really learn how to cope.”
He thinks it was likely he was one of a very small group of people who thought about art.
“As strange as it may seem, back then I would rather have a pencil in my hand instead of a sandwich because I just wanted to draw.”
He practised by copying the pictures of the “aircraft, ships and soldiers” on cereal boxes.
“Often I would be in the class drawing battleships on the back of my pages, hoping the teachers would not notice but they did,” he laughed.
His mother taught him to focus on the positive things in life. In what was then a racially divided society Mr Seymour was heartened by the efforts of an Anglican Bishop.
“He was not a young man but I saw him walking from the Cathedral through Princess Street down to Union Street to visit an elderly lady, who I knew personally back then, and then back to the Cathedral.
“Now he was White and she was Black and I just remember thinking ‘that’s the Bermuda we need to see more of’.”
He was similarly encouraged when his teachers, who “saw so many sketches on the back of my books” asked him to draw as many pictures of Santa Claus and Christmas trees as he could to decorate classrooms for the holidays.
“I remember going into different classrooms – everything was so quiet – and thinking all I can do is the best I can,” he said.
He was thrilled to be offered lessons in “the old Hamilton hotel that stood where the City Hall stands now” by a “wonderful” teacher, Billie Lang.
“It was every Saturday for a couple of hours and I was sponsored most of the time because I couldn't make enough money to pay,” Mr Seymour said. “People just wanted to help me develop my art.”
Ms Lang was particularly encouraging and invited him to paint anything he wanted on a blank wall.
“I painted this big tank and soldiers and – my mother would say ‘praise the Lord’ – the building later burnt down and I'm sure that went with it.
“But the experience there, it was a marvellous, wonderful experience. And I just always remember that because you have to think of the people who have helped you along the way.”
Within his collection at Masterworks is a painting of flowers that Mr Seymour also called A Burst of Joy.
“You don’t have to look far to see that we’re in a very troubled world today with all sorts of conflict and bloodshed and lots of suffering too.
“And I said a burst of joy seems like something we need to have a little taste of. And when I looked at the picture that struck me as a burst of joy. And then I decided I should name the show that because we are in need of a little uplifting in our spirits these days.”
His daughter, Lisa Pace, insisted that his work should be shared.
“As soon as she understood that I was going to have my 90th birthday she threw herself into arranging the show aided a lot by my son, Al, who is an accomplished innovator who produced the film Blue Mountain several times on local television.”
Mr Seymour spent the past year and a half working towards today’s opening. The effort led him to reflect on the dedication and commitment that was involved.
“A lot of us have to do all sorts of different things along the way that have nothing to do with art but you’re committed, you never lose sight of it.
“I had an experience in Florida some years ago. I saw these gentlemen and I recognised the uniforms. These were airmen who actually flew over Germany to end the war.”
In talking with them the word commitment kept coming to mind, Mr Seymour added.
“They had problems even before they reached the targets but it never stopped them from the objective they had. These are little things in life. It may seem like it's not connected to art, but it shows commitment and art is something that requires commitment.
“It can be seen with many great artists over the years.”
Mr Seymour has no real plans for celebrating his 90th on February 23. His hope is to continue painting beyond that.
“I've always connected some of the great art with some of the great symphonies. One of my favourite symphonies is Beethoven's Fifth. I've always thought if I could paint a picture the way Beethoven's Fifth sounds, I'd be close to what I want to achieve. So I'm still working towards that.”
• A Burst of Joy opens tonight in the Rick Faries Gallery at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and runs through March 7
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