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A brush with Bermuda

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Island hopper: landscape artist Jason Bereswill in his studio

Jason Bereswill has a thing for islands. He painted his way through Iceland and St Barts, and did the same in the Caribbean.

In September, he visited Bermuda for the first time — he has returned twice.

“From Day 1, I was definitely inspired to paint,” said Mr Bereswill who packed a palette, brushes and canvas into a scooter and sketched at Horseshoe and Gibbets Bays during his initial weeklong trip.

“I've painted on a lot of islands but Bermuda felt different. It has quite dramatic and varied terrain and as an outsider it felt unfamiliar. I'd seen pictures, but I don't think I was prepared to be struck so hard by the landscape.”

He returned in November and December, painting and photographing so he could complete the large-scale landscapes from his snowy studio in New Jersey.

The works are now on display at Reid Street boutique Atelerie.

“The area around Horseshoe Bay is what immediately hit me,” he said. “I'm a little bit obsessed with rocks — not in a scientific way, but more in a guttural, mythic way.”

He sees his work as “a 21st- century reflection on geological time”. Much of it focuses on the depiction of rocks and islands.

“There's something about an island that I'm particularly drawn to,” he said.

“The philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes islands as originary and essential. That nails it. There's this unfathomable power to them. Humanity, both physically and psychologically, is drawn to islands.

“I was in Mongolia last year. I didn't feel compelled to paint at all. It was probably the grandest landscape I've seen — it was so wide open and vast. I loved it; I just didn't feel any need to paint it.

“But from the moment I arrived in Bermuda, I had to paint. I've been more productive with each trip. I feel like there are endless amounts of paintings to make.”

Mr Bereswill lived in Manhattan for ten years before moving back to New Jersey five years ago with his wife, Jane Hamill, also a painter. They “lucked out” when they bought a 30-acre farm.

“It's amazing to be here. There's a lot of people working on different things. It pushes us to stay active and working on what we're doing,” he said.

“We had built up enough contacts with our work that we didn't necessarily have to be in New York any more. We could really make what we do anywhere — we didn't have to be tied to the city.

“The conversations were becoming less about ideas and more about the commerce of it and who was buying what from whom — things beyond the work itself and what we're trying to strive for.”

Still, he is thankful for the city that kick-started his career. After earning his master's degree from the New York Academy of Art, he won a newly created residency in St Barts at the Eden Roc hotel. The idea had been pitched by painter Eric Fischl, one of his “heroes”.

He stayed for seven months and there met his first dealer, Tony Shafrazi. “It was the luckiest thing in the world to meet him in St Barts,” Mr Bereswill said.

Mr Shafrazi put on his first show in New York before sending him to Abu Dhabi.

“He had heard about this art fair that was being started, right when they announced plans to bring in the Louvre and create a Guggenheim and really expand on their cultural development,” Mr Bereswill said.

“The landscape was amazing. I was painting in date palm groves; I was painting along the gulf; beaches as well. It was a natural fit even though it was such an exotic place. I did three shows — one each year — in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”

The artist has also had residencies in Leipzig, Germany and Mexico City. He has sold works to actor Steve Martin and American painter and photographer Richard Prince.

He typically paints “empty scenes”. His first and only portrait project began in 2010 — a series of wave paintings.

“I happened to be flipping through a surfing magazine and saw two pictures from The Eddie — an invitational surfing competition in Waimea,” he recalled.

“Andy Irons was riding the shore break. He was one of the top surfers in the world. I'd seen these two images that really were the same exact instant in time.”

An online search produced eight more images capturing the same moment.

His father Paul Bereswill is a photojournalist and sports photographer — a field he believes is dying as publications turn to crowdsourcing.

He started painting the images when, after the third painting, Andy Irons died.

“I was depicting the death of my father's industry and the central figure in the series of paintings dies. It really shook me, even though I'd never met him.

“I started painting him out — leaving this empty stage of the wave where you would see his trail through the wave, but no surfer, no board.”

The wave paintings have become part of his regularly commissioned work, though he never showed them.

“It's become this strange word-of-mouth thing,” he explained. “I'm still doing them. Those initial paintings for me have the most resonance of any works I've ever done.”

For more information, visit jasonbereswill.com or instagram.com/jasonbereswill

Jason Bereswill paints in his studio (Photograph supplied)
Jason Bereswill works in his studio (Photograph supplied)