By Nadia Hall
Sheilagh Head is quick and willing to speak about any artist other than herself. We’re a full ten minutes into discussing Giotto’s frescos before I notice we’re off topic. How deftly she changes the subject! It stems, I suspect, from a natural humility, but also speaks to her career as a gallery owner. A massive supporter of local artists, The Windjammer Gallery houses an eclectic mix of works that take the visitor well beyond the realms of “beach art.” The gallery, established in 1985, represents over 50 local artists and is run alongside trusted Gallery Director, Danjou Anderson. “Danjou is wonderful. This gallery has been as much about his passion as it has about mine. He’s believed in it as strongly as I have. “ Currently seeking new premises since the massive renovations of their previous home, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. In its time there, the gallery has become a directory of Bermuda’s art scene and a quiet haven for the local business sector seeking respite.
“You try to be as open as you can be. You try not to let other things intrude. So you’re very open, to the good things and the bad things. On a normal day you pigeonhole these things and try to put things in perspective. As an artist, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they can seem far or more important than they really should have.” She’s describing the challenges of painting abstractly versus figuratively, but this could equally be a philosophical reflection on the challenges of any professional; an example of art imitating life?
Her modesty belies her proficiency. Sheilagh Head is a magnificent impressionist and abstract painter. She studied painting and sculpture in Italy at The Accademia di Belle Arte in Perugia before returning to England to complete her education at The Manchester College of Art. “When I went through art school, it was in the 60s, and it was very difficult because I’d been at a very strict girls boarding school and everything in the 60s was everything to do with conceptual art. I said, well I don’t really want to spend my time contemplating my navel, I want to just learn how to paint, I want to learn to draw and I want to do all of these disciplines. And I needed that, because when you come from a strictly disciplined environment to suddenly be let loose is terrifying.” Perhaps this is why she’s compelled to provide support and guidance to artists that should be flourishing in Bermuda’s art climate, maintaining, “We should have galleries on every corner!”
“In the 60s it was a very hard time going through art school. I think we were all stumbling around. All these boundaries having been removed was not a good thing, at that stage. It’s only recently, in what I call my dotage, that I’ve really given myself permission to paint my abstracts. I’ve dabbled with them over the years, but I’ve always felt there was something missing, that it needed more. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to really, really find out how joyful they can be and also how cathartic they can be.”
At first glance, there appears to be two facets to Sheilagh, an abstract Sheilagh and a literal Sheilagh, but the two are actually one and the same. The National Gallery chose an abstract for their group show. “Sophie [Cressall, Curator) wanted to showcase a different approach to the landscape. If I’d had my druthers I’d have picked an abstract and a figurative piece because I feel that this describes me more; that right now I don’t feel or see a huge difference between my abstracts and my figurative paintings. It’s all about mark making; it’s all about what I bring, my vision, which is very rarely are my views of something totally literal. It’s more about sort of the kind of feel I have about it. I’ve got to the point now where I don’t really see much difference between one and the other. And what really amazes me is that a lot of people don’t see the difference either!” she laughs. A particular favourite, she points across the room, is an abstract of her daughter’s garden, all vibrant colours and bold brush strokes. “It’s a joyful thing because of the beautiful colours that come out. Poinciana trees and other things bursting forth, but it’s never literal, it’s usually something that’s more of a feeling.”