By Yolanda Hanna
Photographs courtesy of Alfred Anderson Photography and Matthew Wildgoose
For this April-June 2020 issue of Up and Away where we wanted to highlight the island of Grand Bahama, we were fortunate to have two Grand Bahamians as part of our visual artist interview. Our contributor Yolanda Hanna was ecstatic to sit down and have an intimate conversation with one of her favorite Grand Bahamians, Matthew Wildgoose. A humble, talented and funny individual with a great sense of humor, he enjoyed sitting down with Hanna as well.
Please sit back, relax and enjoy their conversation.
On which island in The Bahamas were you born and raised?
I was born on Grand Bahama and raised in the small rural settlement of Holmes Rock in West Grand Bahama. Holmes Rock is a close-knit community near the shoreline, known for a popular cave that produces fresh water at low tide and saltwater at high tide. The residents were expressive and colorful, everybody knew each other. I lived there until I was 21. Life was simple and peaceful; it was the perfect island atmosphere for a creative, curious child to explore.
When did you KNOW you were a bona fide artist?
I knew when I was 13 years old. When I went to school, I’d sit in class every day and sketch in my notebooks. I spent more time drawing than writing notes. One day, I sketched a motorcycle from a magazine and my drawing looked exactly like the picture. That’s when I knew I had a gift and I began thinking I really could pursue art professionally.
You have a specific style of painting that brings life to your artwork. Which one of your paintings has made you stand back and say “WOW”?
My portrait of Ronnie Butler made me stand back and say “wow”. I loved Ronnie’s music and I wanted to capture his humorous, bold personality in my aesthetic. I also painted a portrait of the late singer Blind Blake on a beautiful red cloth canvas. The painting is inspired by his song “Run Come See Jerusalem”, which tells the story about the devastating hurricane of 1929. It’s a powerful song about our history. When I looked at that red canvas, I immediately thought of him and I vowed to immortalize his image on that background. I’m “wowed” by that painting every time I look at it.
Your portrait of the late Ronnie Butler, legendary entertainer and the godfather of Bahamian music, is one of your most recognizable pieces. What inspired that painting?
My paintings are inspired by people who influence culture. Ronnie Butler was the godfather of Bahamian music. He is an icon and his artistry is inspirational. Ronnie was a rich storyteller; his stories were framed with subtle innuendos that are hilarious. He was a genius. I listened to his music intently and researched his life before I began that portrait. His song “Water The Garden” is one of my favorites. In the painting, Ronnie is wearing his signature sunglasses, and if you look closely you can see a woman’s reflection inside his lenses. That’s the woman he sings about in the song. When I showed him the painting, he autographed [it] and laughed. He laughed hard and he said, “Boy, ya really jack me right up! But I could tell ya, dats me.”
What do you want people who view your art to take away? What emotion do you want to invoke?
Well, [that] depends on which piece they’re looking at. Overall, I want people to be pleased by the aesthetics of my paintings. I try to be technically sound with proportions and colors, and that goes back to my formal training from the College of The Bahamas, studying art and observing the work of other artists. I want people to be mesmerized by my creativity. I want them to see God, or at least get a glimpse of who God is through my art and become introspective. That may sound obnoxious, but God is the ultimate artist—I’m just a vessel, an island boy who decided to be obedient with the gift that He has given me. So, with a little piece of God inside my mind, transcending through my eyes and my hands onto a canvas, I create art. My desire is for people to understand that they can do what I’ve done by tapping into their gifts and my hope is they know God a little better when they look at my work.
When you look around the local art scene, who are some of the artists you admire and why?
What a tough question! I get a lot of inspiration from home. I really admire Kishan Munroe and Allan Wallace. Kishan’s work inspires me to do more, he inspires me to be better at what I do. He’s a brilliant artist and [one] who creates good work. I admire Allan Wallace. Allan is also a brilliant artist; his work is technically sound, and his creative process is out of this world, he creates everything in his head! I’m also impressed by his humility. Remaining very humble is important to me and Allan has maintained his humility. I admire Brent Malone. He’s a giant of an artist and his work is amazing. I like how he creates. Brent is a storyteller, and I admire people who tell our stories.
Stimulating conversation can be had around the dinner table, and to that end if you could invite a few people for dinner, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I’d invite Bob Marley and Ronnie Butler to dinner. Bob Marley because he wasn’t impressed by the world and its systems. He created his own path, while simultaneously giving the world what it wanted, which was good music. I respect Bob Marley for that—he was a trailblazer. Bob was a vegetarian and I eat meat, so I’d have to serve fish and/or vegetables for dinner. I believe we’d have a great conversation. I would invite Ronnie Butler because I’d want to discuss his music and learn about his creative process over peas soup and dumpling! Peas soup and dumpling is one of my favorite dishes and Ronnie knew how to cook it. So, we would cook soup while we listened to his music, and I would pick his brain and find out the backstory behind some of his most popular songs.