Since before he could walk, John Kaufmann's been creating art - now 60 years of his work is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery.

From a painting of John Smith's Bay that he created when he was ten to more recent abstract paintings, Kaufmann says looking at a gallery full of six decades of his work leaves him "speechless".

The retrospective, Essential Elements 1947-2007, was curated by Charles Zuill and includes more than 30 works, painted by Kaufmann both in Bermuda and on his farm in Colebrook, New Hampshire.

Kaufmann was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1937 and he and his family began visiting Bermuda regularly from about 1946. They moved to the island in 1949.

"I've always liked drawing pictures, starting in my crib - I won't tell you what I used," he laughed. "I had my first art lessons when I was six...and I just kept on from there. Those early lessons got me interested and I thought I'd work with oils."

Two dollars of oils

"I went down and bought two dollars worth of oils in those little Windsor Newton tubes and brought them home. My mom said, 'You're not going to make a mess with those!' and took them away from me."

Eventually, he 'stole' the oils back when his mother went out - he had seen where she'd hidden them - and began creating pictures. A lot of his first works were copies of Christmas cards and snow scenes - "romantic sort of things" he said.

He attended Whitney Institute and Saltus Grammar School and then went on to study art and design at McGill University in Montreal with John Lyman who was a student at the Royal College of Art and the Academie Julian, Paris, where he studied with Matisse. Kaufmann was also a pupil of Arthur Lismer, one of the influential Canadian Group of Seven landscape painters of the early 20th century.

After Montreal, Kaufmann continued his art studies at Bard College, New York with Louis Shanker, who was known for his abstract paintings and woodcuts.

Over the years he continued painting - all of his work is created to music. In fact, the exhibition will be accompanied by a soundtrack of the music he listened to while he was painting. "I took modern dance in college," Kaufmann explained.

Good to move

"They said it was good exercise. It's nice to move your feet and feel the music and pick up the brush and paint."

Kaufmann, who is a practicing architect, has drawn praise from many for his art; in 1999, he was awarded the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour for both his artwork and his work as an architect.

"[This retrospective] leaves me speechless. I didn't know I was 70," he said bemusedly. "60 years -that's over half a century. There's been a lot of changes since then."

Also opening in the Bermuda National Gallery is Hair In African Art, which explores the attitudes toward hair, its symbolism and how it is represented in African Art. In the Watlington Room is the European Collection 1500-1900 and on the Ondaajte Wing is the Bermuda collection: 350 Years of Art in Bermuda.

The shows open to BNG members tonight, and to the public tomorrow and run until September 7.