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Essay

In this new regular feature, we’ll invite contemporary artists from around the world to describe their art practice, spirituality, and current work. Antonius Roberts writes from Nassau, the Bahamas.

 

WE ALL NEED A ROSARY, whether we’re Catholic or not. We need that sense of connecting to a higher power or calling or inner voice. It transcends whether you are Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, or whatever else. When I’m in my studio, my sacred space, my temple, the connection happens between the work and how I feel, my state of mind, and my belief system. It’s about allowing myself to not think about what anybody else might feel and to have that sense of dance, or prayer. It becomes a kind of a trance, losing oneself and just enjoying that ritual.

Antonius Roberts (right) in his studio with James Piercey.

I find I am more in touch with a higher power through wood or natural material, because there’s a presence within wood, within stone. My ancestors believed that a spirit lives within everything. And so I’m always trying to connect to objects—to touch them, to allow them to touch me, to enjoy that experience. As I move through places, I want to connect to whatever is sacred within a space.

In my work, people are able to look at the ocean in the context of the art and see that this is truly what the Bahamas is all about. What’s unique for me about the water isn’t just the color or the sand. I see the economic system. Most of my forefathers were fishermen, or they collected sponges or did shellcraft. And a lot of that is dying or dead. Then beyond that, I think about the slave trade, and how many of my ancestors lost their lives to the journey and were just thrown overboard. When I look at the ocean, I’m hearing the spirits and thinking about the contradiction. This beauty has consumed so many of my people. That struggle is a private conversation I have with myself. A lot of stuff washes up on the shore. I could just walk by and say it’s trash. But every now and again I pick up a shoe and say, Let me immortalize this. Let me add some kind of value to this.

Antonius Roberts. Six Days of Creation (detail), 2019. Eighteen stained-glass panels, 32 x 30 inches each.

Recently, I was approached by a patron and asked to design and create stained glass for Saint Thomas More Catholic Church in the Bahamas. I’m now going through my work and trying to select paintings suited for stained glass. The theme is the six days of creation. And so here I am at sixty years of age, at the prime of my creative career, being invited to refocus on the beginning. Back to Genesis, as it were.


Antonius Roberts is one of the most eminent artists in the Bahamas. Born in 1958 in Nassau, he received his BFA in painting from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). Passionate about preserving Bahamian and African heritage, he played a leading role in the restoration of the Villa Doyle as the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. 

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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