Strength and resilience
As a child, Elizabeth Arnold watched as her grandfather carved exquisite armoires and chests out of cedar.
Something about the design aspect struck a chord, and art became a lifelong passion. Faces, a collection of her most recent work, is now on display at the Bermuda Society of Arts.
“My art classes, those were the only classes that were ever important to me — with most artists that's how it goes,” the artist laughed. I just wanted to do it, dive in there and get it done.”
That attitude didn't always sit well with teachers in Texas but, once she got interested in photography, Ms Arnold learnt the value of following instructions.
“In my late teens, I got a job in a photographer's studio, which landed me with another outlet for creativity,” she said. “Within photography, I did have to be very disciplined.
“I couldn't break the rules; there was not much room for failure when photographing weddings and at the studio, I took to it really well.”
In 1993, she moved to Bermuda where she established herself as a photographer and contemporary artist.
“I photographed quite a few weddings,” she said. “I stuck with it until my fourth child and then put [my camera] down when I was six months pregnant.”
Despite that she “always kept [her] foot in the door”, donating her photographic skills to her children's schools.
“I didn't pick up a paint brush, except for the murals in my children' rooms, until 2010 when I bought a new camera. I picked up a brush and started a mixed-media approach, painting on photographs.”
Beloved Lily, “an ethereal life-size portrait” of her eldest daughter, was accepted into the Charman Prize in 2011 and later used to illustrate children's books.
Ms Arnold's 2016 Charman Prize painting, Spring, was acquired by the show's benefactor John Charman for his private collection — a career highlight.
“In the studio, I did a lot of restoration work on old photographs, but now, it's all digital,” she said. “I decided to do away with photography and [focus on] paints and canvas. It was just easier.”
Faces, her first solo show here, was inspired by the late American singer Mary Wells.
Although famous for helping to define the Motown sound in the 1960s, she was penniless when she died of throat cancer in 1992.
“I admire her music and was really compelled to do something,” Ms Arnold said. “She sang so many songs for everybody and didn't get royalties. I felt it was such a shame.”
Cleopatra, Amy Winehouse, Frida Kahlo, Wonder Woman and Nina Simone are the other “faces” featured in the exhibit.
The idea behind it was “empowerment”, Ms Arnold said.
Each face demonstrates “feminine strength and resilience” and was created using “an inventive combination of media including paper, metal, acrylics, oils, metal, gold and silver leaf on wood cradle boards”.
“When I first moved here I had the opportunity to show with a small group of people who are now well-established artists, but this is my first solo show.
“I've had solo shows in Texas when I was young and felt like I wanted to dive in there again.
“From my early photography days I've always loved working with women — the bride, the mother and child.
“The show started with my idea of Mary Wells [and continued based] just on my own personal taste in music and who I work to.”
Having not exhibited in a while, she's been happy with public response. “This show was really challenging for me — in a good way. Out of all the pieces I had the most fun on Wonder Woman because she's so light-hearted. She's just fun; all the colours. It's been really well received. I'm happy about that. The opening was a success.”
• Faces is on display in Studios A and B of the Bermuda Society of Arts until December 10. Part proceeds of the sale of the musical artists on display and Frida Kahlo, will go to cancer and health organisations on the island. For more information on the artist, Elizabeth Arnold, visit www.mixedmedializ.com