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Monday 17 November 2014

The Versailles Butterfly - Creating the artwork for The Bermuda Festival's Ruby Anniversary

Bermuda winters are cold and windy. I realize that everything is relative and I am grateful that I do not need to dig through the snow to exit my front door, but the South Shore is pretty furious and noisy almost every day from January to March. On the bright side, that is the same time that the Bermuda Festival lights up out theatres.
I started ballet at age three, had a gap due to injured knees between 18 and 36 and then resumed taking classes just for fun. The performing arts schools I attended exposed me to all forms of dance, music and theatre, but it was ballet that became my passion and ballet that has continued to entrance me for more than 40 years.
So when the Festival asked me to create the artwork to celebrate their 40th anniversary I was keen to portray a renaissance of sorts - to create a magnificently elaborate image that portrays ballet’s intensity and encapsulates all the arts coming together.

I envisioned a dancer playing a violin, adorned with a butterfly to symbolise a metamorphosis from the past to the present and to illustrate the joyous journey experienced when watching a truly great performance. I had a clear image in my head but was not sure that I would be able to make it happen.
For each of my Lumiere portrait sessions I have been experimenting with composites that incorporate various images layered together to create a fantastical scene. One model was perched on a giant clock pushing back the hands of time, while another was peeking over the edge of a boat at wooden fish jumping from the water. Each composite has helped me hone my Photoshop skills and enabled me to take on the incredibly ambitious task of creating The Versailles Butterfly.

After weeks of planning, the day of the shoot finally came. Samantha Hollis has been in my ballet classes at In Motion School of Dance for years, and I knew she would be perfect.

Make up artist Kylah Tear worked her magic on Sam. She has assisted me with several previous Lumiere sessions and has always done an absolutely beautiful job.
Jess Figuerido volunteered to lend her violin and to be on hand to ensure it was held correctly and my mother, artist Joy Blackburne assisted with creating Sam’s costume. Alexandra, Jess and Joy were all on hand to help make Sam’s skirt fly. 

We started the shoot on the porch, but soon moved to a nearby field as I thought that perhaps being outside might make more sense for the butterfly.

I spent considerable time going through the images and playing with different locations. I decided in the end that the inside of a beautiful building would be more exciting and tell the metamorphosis story better. I began creating the composite with two images I shot at the Palace of Versailles, melding them together to create the dramatic interior. 

I then erased the ceiling and replaced it with a sky shot from my garden. Sam was then introduced, but as there had not been one perfect shot, I combined several separate images. Additional layers of the skirt were added from various photographs. 
Alexandra’s silver and ruby butterfly was positioned on Sam’s hip and another one as a ring. And then came all the tiny tweaks to give the piece more depth. I gave her a ruby earring, slightly altered her raised foot, and even has added eyelashes. About 50 separate layers and over 50 hours later the composite was complete.

I had originally asked jewellery designer Alexandra Mosher to lend me some rubies to include in the shoot. However, as often happens when we start chatting about artistic projects, we were soon discussing a collaboration.
“I was enthralled with the idea of creating a special piece to commemorate this jewel of an anniversary. I have been developing a series of Rorschach butterflies for years, so Amanda’s concept for my little winged being becoming part of a swirling composite canvas was irresistible. After much discussion, research and sketching, I went about forming the master sculpture in wax.”

When designing a new piece, Alexandra begins with a loose sketch. The idea solidifies when the three dimensional form comes to life on her bench. She made the first butterfly model in soft wax to get a feel for the arc of each wing; bending and twirling the pliable wax before sculpting the final piece in a harder wax. There were four versions of the sculpture, the butterfly slowly evolved into an asymmetrical bat-like butterfly with a subtle surface texture. 
The Bermuda Festival logo is mirrored on the upper wings and violin f-scroll are inscribed into the bottom wings. Each piece is cast in Sterling silver and set with a single ruby. Alexandra has created several different experimental formulas for oxidising the silver, and in the process has discovered some wild patinas.
It has been an honour to work this concept into a tangible object that is not only a part of Amanda’s composite, but is available in various finishes as a pin or a pendant. A piece that communicates the elusive and fleeting nature of the Bermuda Festival’s phenomenal performances.”

Alexandra and I spent last Sunday creating this window display in her Washington Mall gallery. There are note cards, matted prints and limited edition archival digital photographs on canvas or brushed aluminium. And of course, Alexandra's beautiful butterflies! Everything is available online at alexandramosher.com, but we do hope you will pop by the gallery to see our labour of love. And, we will be donating part proceeds to the Festival to go towards their Outreach Programmes.

Tickets to the Bermuda Festival performances go on sale on November 25th. For more details and a look at the event calendar, please visit bermudafestival.org

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