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Nahshon’s surprise portrait takes Charman Prize honours

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Nahshon Hollis with his work, A Colourful Neighbour (Photograph by Blair Raughley Masters)

By now everyone who is interested in art in Bermuda should know that Nahshon Hollis received top honours in the Charman Prize.

It had been a while since the 28-year-old shared his work with the public. A Colourful Neighbour, his painting of his sister Shanna, was a last-minute inspiration. He kept the piece a complete surprise from her and his parents, O’Neill and Shawn, until he put it on show.

“It's all kinds of stories behind how that came about but how it really first began is she was all excited about this hat that she stole from our mom and she made me take pictures of her in it, outside in the garden,” Nahshon explained.

The shots would have likely just sat on his phone except that he’d considered submitting a “massive, ambitious painting” of his neighbours to Masterworks’ biennial award and then realised “there was no way I was going to finish it in time”.

As he pondered over next steps, he swiped through his phone and came across his sister and her hat and decided it was a good fit for the competition’s theme, The Local Seen: Bermuda and Bermudians in the Modern World.

Nahshon swapped the background, drawing on pictures he’d taken at Kiskadee Villa, a property in Bailey’s Bay his father found for a church with the help of the artist Otto Trott.

“I would go up to the property sometimes to help my dad [fix it up],” he said.

“It's a really nice view up there. I snapped a bunch of pictures and I had those on my phone and kind of just morphed them with the pictures I had of my sister.”

Even the canvas the work is painted on has a story. Nahshon brought it back from Baltimore as an uncompleted painting he’d started while a student at Maryland Institute College of Art. Mental health issues prevented Nahshon from graduating and forced him to take a break from art; the pandemic got him interested in creating again.

Nahshon Hollis in his garden (Photograph supplied)

“So years later, I just painted my sister over that unfinished painting of the college. It was really cool to me that I took that unfinished painting from when I wasn't doing well mentally in art school and I turned it into this Charman Prize-winning piece that has a really positive underlying meaning,” he said.

“That's the same art school that Otto Trott and my sister went to so it's interesting how all that’s tied to the piece.”

The title, A Colourful Neighbour, seemed appropriate considering how unique Bermuda is “in having a colourful neighbourliness in its traditions, people, and even just the landscape”, Nahshon added.

“Like when I'm outside gardening by the road, people are beeping at me and I don't know who it is but I'd wave anyway. Or whenever I come back to Bermuda from abroad, just how Bermudians greet you or talk just feels relatively colourful and neighbourly,” he said.

“I think my sister embodies that vibe a lot through her art and personality, so I thought it was a perfect idea to use her as a muse to symbolise that vibe – especially when she's been so supportive of me. Bermuda's not perfect and I'm still trying to improve mentally, but I think it's good to take moments to appreciate lots of the good and positive things, especially when things aren't going so great in the world.”

Nahshon began painting as a toddler. By the time he was seven he was “taking it seriously”.

Watching Bob Ross, the host of the television show The Joy of Painting, was a favourite pastime. The mountains – which Ross described as “happy trees” – that Nahshon created looked just like those made by the celebrated artist.

“And then at some point I just gradually branched off into my style, which doesn't really look anything like his but I’ve tried to put his personality, his focus on positivity and nature and stuff; I try to deliver that in my work.”

Nahshon Hollis, left, and his mother Shawn, FaceTime with his sister Shanna after his Charman Prize win (Photograph by Blair Raughley Masters)

At 13, Nahshon was featured on oprah.com as one of the world’s most talented kids; that same year he became one of the youngest artists to hold an exhibit at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

Various accolades and awards followed.

People then described his work as “surrealist”; the sentiment now is that it “looks pretty photorealistic”.

“I used to not do any paintings of Bermuda. It was always just from my imagination of some other country but suddenly I just started to be more inspired by what I see around me,” he said.

After university Nahshon took a year away from art to focus on his health and painted sporadically. When the pandemic hit in 2020 he discovered gardening.

“That's actually my favourite hobby now. That actually helped me to get my mind back together, I guess, and actually helped me get back into art.”

His training all came from YouTube. In 2023 Nahshon won the Bermuda Parish Garden Competition in the large garden category.

“It feels like art. I’m more artsy with it than [people usually are] I guess; I’m always kind of landscaping around my house.”

He’s grateful also for the push he received from Shanna, a graphic designer and artist.

“My sister’s been really helpful in getting me back out. She’s been the celebrity lately with her Flora Duffy mural and all the different art things she’s doing. But now, I guess I’m starting to get back in the mix.”

John Charman, left, and Jasmine Lee, Masterworks’ exhibitions officer and curator of the Charman Prize, present the Charman Prize Award to Nahshon Hollis (Photo by Blair Raughley Masters)

Nahshon completed My Colourful Neighbour in about 20 days.

“My sister and family had no clue at all that I was painting my sister for Charman. I was aggressively hiding the painting from them the 20 days I was working on it. I turned the painting around every time they tried to see it. I revealed it to them after the deadline and my sister went crazy,” he laughed.

“In recent years I’ve really been trying and this painting is my jump back into the art scene. It’s crazy.”

My Colourful Neighbour by Nahshon Hollis (Photograph supplied)

He’d like to someday have a show with his sister. In the meantime various relatives are planning a family exhibit at the Bermuda Society of Arts next month that he will likely join. Nahshon is also considering international shows and the Bermuda Biennial at the Bermuda National Gallery.

“I might focus on social issues at some point in my art, but for now a lot of pieces I have planned have a colourful neighbour vibe like the piece of my sister. I maybe want to start doing paintings of my garden, like Monet. I like his work a lot and how it feels so meditative,” he said.

• Nahshon Hollis is available for commissioned work. Follow his art on Instagram @nahshonhollisart

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Published April 12, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 13, 2024 at 8:04 am)

Nahshon’s surprise portrait takes Charman Prize honours

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