Developing Our Contemporary Art Market Together

Article by Lisa Howie, Black Pony Gallery & the Atlantic World Art Fair

Investing in art is always a good idea. The trouble is, many claim to have no knowledge of the subject and so they shy from it. But I disagree. Everyone knows a lot more about art than they think they do.

For starters, everyone can describe what they are looking at. In terms of materials, objects, shapes, colours, a list of identifiable elements that we know and have words for. 

Once we slow down and really see what we are looking at, then we can think about how we feel. Not in an evaluative, ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’ kind of way. Rather, in an overall ‘how does the artwork make me feel’ kind of way.

Once we spend time looking closely and giving ourselves time to reflect on how the artwork makes us feel, then we begin to naturally consider what it might mean. It’s an intuitive study if we give it time. 

Time. Studies have shown that art museum goers will look as little as three seconds on an artwork but much longer reading the text panel that describes the artwork. 

However, when you fall in love with an artwork—and I mean a proper swoon—you cannot shake it from your memory. The artwork will call on you again and again. If you’re lucky and can buy that work, I encourage you to do so.

This is the heart of the matter: an investment in art means you get to spend time with an object that makes you feel a certain, special way.

The other feel-good element is about and for the art makers— the people behind the scenes, sometimes working feverishly on a concept for many years, deep diving into methods, materials, ideas, big crazy ideas. Thank goodness we have creative expression to free up our lives, thank goodness we have art makers amongst us! We need to nurture them and one way to do so is to buy their artwork.

If you would prefer to hear the research on art investment, here is this. noted in 2018 that “Over the past 18 years, the leading index for the 100 most important artists in the market reflects an annual price appreciation rate of 8.9%, while the S&P 500 returned 3.4% in the same time frame.” That’s an exciting statistic considering savings accounts often sit flat at 2%. 

Experts say that investing in art is a good way to diversify your portfolio. If you are looking for a return on your investment, then you do need to do some research. 

This is where it gets fun, visiting art museums, galleries, art fairs and biennial exhibitions to determine what art truly interests you and which artists are being lauded by these institutions and spaces. 

The Caribbean mid-Atlantic region offers a dynamic selection of contemporary art museums, galleries, alternative spaces, and artist residency programs that provide space for experimentation and transformative experiences. Each serves to elevate the discourse on contemporary art in the region, thereby informing its own value. 

We don’t have to wait to be evaluated. We are already creating our own art market together. It is important that we value art from our region as this will inform others to do the same. 

For many collectors, it is important to investigate an artist’s journey and no one journey is the same. Gone is the day when only academic backgrounds determined value. Today, self-taught artists, graffiti writers, and top-tier fine art graduates, are all welcome in the contemporary art market. This is exciting for art makers and art collectors alike.

In 2019 I started Black Pony Gallery as an online entity that would provide access to the almost 5 million global art collectors who follow Artsy. (If you are not aware of please have a look. Provide your email address to access the inventory of over 3,000 galleries. Please follow Black Pony Gallery & Artists.) 

Presently, I feature emerging to established artists from the Azores, Bermuda, Cayman, Cuba, The Bahamas, and Turks & Caicos. I’m interested in the narrative of the Atlantic corridor, of the space where my ancestors crossed very different paths from West Africa and Europe. 

The writer in me enjoys how the artwork I feature begins to tell its own story, of people, places, tensions, and triumphs. It’s a contemporary narrative built on centuries of complex exchange.

I am so committed to telling the story that I started the Atlantic World Art Fair, the only online marketplace dedicated to contemporary visual art makers in the mid-Atlantic. Started in the murky depths of 2020 when cultural revenue was reaching an all-time low in our region, the Fair provides a collaborative space for galleries and alternative art projects who sell art, to gather and showcase artistic talents free of travel barriers and now, exorbitant flight fees.

Join me on a short trip into the portfolio of several Island-based artists whom I have the pleasure of featuring in Black Pony Gallery, starting with the hot mediums for collection: contemporary photography and mixed media.

For Teresa Kirby Smith, the landscape provides the ideal setting to experiment with photography. I quite like thinking about her art-making process. The works appear to be digital constructs when in fact she is an ardent traditionalist when it comes to process.

Kirby Smith says, “These color-saturated photos of flora found in Bermuda are from an ongoing series called Tropical Abstracts. They are all single exposures, but using a hand-held optical device in conjunction with my camera. I've aimed to create images that are lush, layered and densely textured.” 

I imagine Teresa in her garden balancing an object in one hand while peering through it and her lens held by the other. A balancing act and a very, very steady hand to construct her photographs.

Emerging photographer ABWilson prefers to zoom in on the details of her lengthy walks, discovering beautiful colours and shapes in obscure places. Wilson is currently on an extended walk-about in Asia as she tunes her eye and hones her talent.
Meredith Andrews has been collecting plastic debris washed ashore Bermuda’s pink beaches these past eight years. She has a treasure trove of colourful objects that have journeyed from far flung places that she arranges into pleasing spectrums and shapes to create her photographs.

Andrews also finds unique perspectives in the landscape surrounding the beach. The rocky shoreline, with its prickly crags crafted by pounding surf, becomes the setting for an inverted dancer who is impossibly suspended, poised and vulnerable amidst the rock’s strength.
James Cooper sees the idyllic beach setting differently as well. For his Eye Land series, presented in the Atlantic World Art Fair 2022, Cooper created paper collages that place the tropical scene in a black and white background onto which he layers gold symbols that remind me of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Cooper says of the series, “These collages are the product of an ongoing fascination with ideas of transcendence and represent possible gateways to other realities."

The notion of other realities leads me to the artwork of Bahamian artist Dede Brown. She resides on a small island off Nassau. Follow her Instagram for epic photographs of the seascape outside her studio window. 

It’s no wonder we find fan coral impressions in the halo of her feminine characters. These mythical beauties who have emerged out of the ocean with sequined scaly eyes and bird of paradise feathers as fascinators. Brown experiments with several techniques such as photography, image transfers, screen printing, painting & etching, and combines them with other materials to create detailed mixed media portraits. 

Some of you may question the medium of photography in our humid environment. Well, we own photography, and we live with the doors open all year round. Some images are framed behind museum quality glass, others are dry mounted. We like to live with our art, and I do my best to keep aware of the artworks’ conditions. Having a dry storage area is always an asset. 

Photography and mixed media– this is just the beginning of a wider conversation on contemporary Caribbean mid-Atlantic art. 

Please take time to review some of the artwork featured in Black Pony Gallery and the Atlantic World Art Fair. If you’d like to talk further about developing an art collection for your home, office, or building, please say hello.

About Lisa Howie

Lisa Howie is a curator, consultant and cultural entrepreneur. In 2019 she launched Black Pony Gallery on the Artsy platform, featuring contemporary artists from the Caribbean and mid-Atlantic. In 2021 she spearheaded the Atlantic World Art Fair on Artsy, featuring galleries, curatorial agencies and alternative projects dedicated to contemporary visual art from the region and its diaspora. Concurrently, she is the Director of Learning & Engagement at the National Museum of Bermuda and Board Director with the Centennial Bermuda Foundation. Ms. Howie is the former Executive Director (2009-2017) and Director of Education & Programming (2006-2009) of Bermuda National Gallery.

You can contact Lisa at the below e-mail address or visit Black Pony Gallery or Atlantic World Art Fair online:


Artwork Credits: 
  1. Teresa Kirby Smith, Tropical Abstract 3, 2022. Limited edition print.
  2. Teresa Kirby Smith, Tropical Abstract 4, 2022. Limited edition print.
  3. ABWilson, Blues & Oranges, 2022. Limited edition print.
  4. Meredith Andrews, Petrified, 2020. Limited edition print.
  5. James Cooper, Eye Land Series 1, 2022. Limited edition print.
  6. James Cooper, Eye Land Series 3, 2022. Limited edition print.
  7. Dede Brown, Floating Head IV, 2022, mixed media on copper.
  8. Dede Brown, Dreams of Adolescence (Self Portrait), 2021, mixed media on aluminum. 

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