World renowned artist, Amos Isaac Ferguson didn’t remember the exact age at which he began painting, but stated that as a young boy, he would draw pictures in the sand, on pieces of paper, and all through his school notepads when he did not have canvas and paint. Born on February 28th, 1920 on the island of Exuma, to Rev. Robert and Lavinia (nee Rolle), Amos attended school until the age of 14 and worked with his father, a preacher, farmer and carpenter, until he left for Nassau.
After moving to Nassau, Amos began working as a house painter. He would use house paint for his art, preferring its shiny, hard finish on cardboard to the more traditional oil or acrylic on canvas. Amos liked the challenge of painting with a substance more difficult to control.
Amos employed his sister Victoria’s son, George, in his house painting business. One day, George told his uncle about a dream in which the Lord gave George a message for Amos. According to George, the Lord said that He had given Amos a talent but that he refused to use it. Inspired by the message, Amos began painting relentlessly, awaking at 3 am each morning to pray and paint.
Initially, Amos did not sell his paintings as he felt that they were created to honour God. His paintings, which depict a warm, vibrant and beautiful Bahamas, are now found in museums, multi-national enterprises and private homes the world over. His work, although highly regarded by his fellow artists, was at first largely ignored at home.
Amos’s first solo exhibition was held at Toogood’s Studio in 1972. In 1977 and 1978 he held several one-man shows at The Lyford Cay Gallery and at Brent Malone’s Matinee Gallery. By the early 1980′s, Ferguson’s work would go far beyond Bahamian shores.
By chance, art connoisseur Ute Stebich came across Amos’ work. Ute was stunned by the quality of the work and submitted some of Amos’ work to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum to be considered for its African Dispora Collection. The Wadsworth curators were impressed with Amos’ style, particularly the simplicity and vibrancy of his painting. They were equally amazed that an artist of Amos’ quality had been working in obscurity for so long.
After the Wadsworth show, “Paint by Mr. Amos Ferguson”, a show of 50 of Amos’ paintings took a two year world tour, gaining him international acclaim. Amos’ work would later be shown at top museums throughout the United States as well as several of his paintings auctioned at the auspicious and world reknowned auction house, Sotheby’s.
That same year, in Nassau, a large group of American curators, critics, connoisseurs and journalists attended a one-man show by Ferguson at the posh One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island.
In 1980, his work began to attract massive attention and he quickly became famous among museums, galleries and collectors of folk art around the world. Critics described Amos’ as “a phenomenon colourist, and genius at simplifying complex shapes.
In January 2005, the Bahamian government honoured Amos by renaming the street he loved on, “Exuma Street” in the Englerston constituency on New Providence, as “Amos Ferguson Street”. Amos’was another form of canvas for him and displayed his mastery of colors in his home.
No can easily deny that there is an element of sophistication in Amos’s paintings, with subjects illustrating in a simple and unique way, life’s various seasons, nature, and a slight bit of surrealism. Ferguson says that he “paints by faith, not by sight. Faith gives you sight”, often turning to the Bible for inspiration. Amos credits his successful career and profound creative gift to his faith in God. A genuine charity conduit, Ferguson says that as The Lord guides his hands, he paints by faith from his heart.
Amos continued to paint into his later years despite his diminishing eye sight. Amos painted up until he was physically and mentally unable to. Even then, his passion for creating art was ever present.
Sadly, Amos passed in October 2009. His spirit lives on his work which can be found all over the world. His gallery still exists and holds hundreds of Amos’ paintings.