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William Wegman’s Bermuda collection

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Artist William Wegman shows off one of his Bermuda postcards while one of his dogs looks on (Photograph supplied)

William Wegman has collected thousands of postcards over the years.

The artist finds them at flea markets and on eBay and stores them in old suitcases in his studio.

He started hunting down postcards specifically from Bermuda after his first visit here in 2000.

“The cards I collect are generally photo-based, not images from paintings,” he said. “I do not have any one Bermuda card I like in particular but the Bermuda colours, especially on some of the hand-colourised cards, are quite unique.”

So far he has collected 80, which so inspired him that he started using them as the centrepoint for art pieces, using paint to expand the scene, turning them into something almost surreal.

Some of them are now on display at Masterworks in a show called Around Bermuda.

An example of art work by William Wegman in Masterworks’ Around Bermuda show (Photograph supplied)

They depict traditional Bermuda icons including St Peter’s Church, Featherbed Alley and Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. One of the pieces, also called Around Bermuda, is noticeably larger than the others and took more than 30 postcards to make.

“It was really fun doing these pieces,” said Mr Wegman, who lives in upstate New York.

He was in Bermuda last month to open his show at Masterworks and sign copies of Around Bermuda, a book made to complement the exhibit.

“My wife, Christine Burgin, designed it,” he said. “It is based on a catalogue that we inflicted our own ideas upon. It is more decorative than informative.”

Mr Wegman is better known for the conceptual work he does with his weimaraner dogs, which has appeared on television shows such as Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live and on the Nickelodeon channel. It can also be seen on wall calendars, gift cards and in a short film for children, Alphabet Soup.

He got his first weimaraner, Man Ray, in 1970.

The dog’s deadpan, but soulful look quickly became central to Mr Wegman’s photographs and videotapes. When Man Ray died in 1982 he was named the “Man of the Year” by the Village Voice, a news and culture paper that no longer exists but was known for being America’s “first alternative newsweekly”.

“There was a time when I had five dogs at once,” Mr Wegman said. “They were unbelievably well trained. We would go all over the place. We went to nature conservancies in Northern Maine and photographed them standing in place 500 feet apart, perfectly still with stuff balanced on them. They were good at that.”

Art by William Wegman in his show Around Bermuda on now at Masterworks (Photograph supplied)

Currently, he has two dogs, Flo and Topper, who are not as well trained as their predecessors but are “magnificent” in the studio.

“They do whatever they want, pretty much. They are very still and explosively strong. Given my age, they will probably be my last dogs,” the 79-year-old said.

If people know him a little better for his work with the dogs than for his paintings, he is at peace with that.

“I think it is very challenging for my galleries to keep up with the amount of variety I inflict on the viewing public,” he said. “Even with my paintings, they range enormously. I have a short attention span.”

Mr Wegman was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

An uncle who painted water colours in Bermuda gave him his first water colour set and lessons on how to use it.

“Later, I went to art school because my art teacher said I should go. I have been on that track ever since. I have never done anything else.”

Mr Wegman earned a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts College of Art and a master’s from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

As an undergraduate he was very well liked by his professors but his graduate schoolteachers “despised” him.

“To persevere and not be liked is shocking and awakening,” Mr Wegman said.

After finishing his education he taught art at the University of Wisconsin, California State College and other schools.

By the early 1970s he was making a name for himself, exhibiting in museums and galleries in Paris, London, New York and Düsseldorf. His work was also regularly featured in Interfunktionen, Artforum and Avalanche magazines.

His advice to young artists is to find what you like to do and insist on doing it.

“That is what I did,” he said. “I never expected I would get a dog and be well known for that, but I took advantage of that. I had fun.”

Also important: when you feel that you do not want to work is usually when you should be working.

“That is the most important time,” he said. “If you just do what you feel like doing, that will not serve you well. Going to school when I did helped with that; I was in this place where I was supposed to work and I did. When you get out of school your best friend and other students are not there. You have to keep working. That weeds out a lot of people. A lot of artists stop being artists when they graduate and do not have that built-in audience.”

• Around Bermuda runs at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art until November 30. For more information: masterworksbermuda.org; williamwegman.com

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Published June 22, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated June 22, 2023 at 11:46 am)

William Wegman’s Bermuda collection

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