Spirituality in the Work of Amos Ferguson
by Laurie Ahner
(This article was originally published in December 2016.)
Amos Ferguson created many magnificent paintings of various religious themes.
I have been involved in collecting and selling the work of Amos Ferguson, (1920-2009), Bahamas, since the early 1980’s. Amos became a friend, and I have sold more of his work than any other artist I have ever represented. He was a man who could paint joy! Since Galerie Bonheur means “good feelings,” and “joy”, I have always had a special love for this artist’s work.
It is obvious from looking at his paintings, Amos Ferguson loved to paint in brilliant and vibrant colors, and his subject matter was generally straightforward and direct. His imagery was typically flowers, fauna, fish, boating and fishing, nature, birds, colorful Bahamian houses, families, ladies and children, choirs, everyday life in the islands, and many scenes of his native people, both black and white.
Everyone can relate to these scenes no matter where they live, since we all love the great outdoors and good weather, both of which the Bahamas has quite a lot! However there was another motivation and theme permeating Amos’ work, and for which he is well known. Spirituality was a big factor in his life, and his belief in God and the Bible inspired most of his oeuvre.
Amos’ religious beliefs were inbred, as his father was a preacher and a carpenter on Exuma Island. Having left home at age 14, Amos worked as a house painter in Nassau, until his nephew told him that the Lord spoke to him in a dream, with a strong message that Amos should use his talent to create art. In his 40’s Amos started to paint prolifically; he concentrated on intensely personal religious paintings as well as brightly colored, joyous renderings of social rituals such as the Junkanoo festival.
To quote his niece, Lorraine Bastian, “Ferguson credits his successful career and profound creative gift to his faith in God. Ferguson says that he ‘paints by faith, not by sight. Faith gives you sight.’ “
“To paint, the Lord gives you a vision, a sight that you go by,” Amos once told a reporter. “But don’t forget you have to see and check the Bible and don’t forget God. And the more you keep up with your Bible, and get the understanding, the better you paint.” Amos Ferguson.
To quote Ute Stebich, an art historian who helped introduce Amos to the art world in the USA in the 1980’s, “There is a tenderness, a generous and smiling attitude toward life, which may have its origin in the deeply rooted religiosity of the Bahamian people.”
Another major collector of Amos, Sukie Miller, said: “Every time I passed his painting a strange thing happened: I heard Gospel music.”
Erica James, director of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, described Amos as a “dynamo,” and a very spiritual and passionate man who lived transparently.
Geoffrey Holder, another collector of Amos’s work, wrote: “Ferguson’s work reminds me of the Garden of Eden before the Snake. It’s pure, it’s clean, it’s direct, uncluttered.”
Another comment after his by death in 2009, by a news writer: ” Mr. Ferguson was a devout Christian and many believe that it was his infallible faith that lent him the courage and vision to fully explore and develop his unique and distinctive style.” Reuben Shearer, The Tribune, October 21, 2009.
Amos Ferguson was a sincere and genuine human being who loved God, his country, life, and the gift of his art. His simple lifestyle did not change or improve with his success and fame in the 1980’s, and the humble genius with a gentle and warm smile continued to paint until death took him to his Maker.
The religious and Biblical paintings by Amos Ferguson are truly a tribute to his incredible life and career, revealing his heart and soul to those of us lucky enough to be a witness to this Master artist.