‘Go play in the road’ — that was Graeme Outerbridge’s instruction to artist Ami Zanders — so she and two fellow ‘coven’ members did just that yesterday, while sporting witches’ hats and T-shirts bearing Mr Outerbridge’s message. From left: Lexy Correia, Katrina ‘Spring Flower’ Smith, and Ms Zanders. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
‘Go play in the road’ — that was Graeme Outerbridge’s instruction to artist Ami Zanders — so she and two fellow ‘coven’ members did just that yesterday, while sporting witches’ hats and T-shirts bearing Mr Outerbridge’s message. From left: Lexy Correia, Katrina ‘Spring Flower’ Smith, and Ms Zanders. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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FRIDAY, OCT. 19: Hallowe’en has come early for photographer and city mayor Graeme Outerbridge, who has plunged himself into a witch’s brew of controversy.

He used Facebook to criticize local art — and sparked a scary backlash.

Mr Outerbridge was recently removed from the Facebook page Bermuda Artists for criticizing the standard of local artwork and is already banned from the Arts Centre at Dockyard.

“Most art in Bermuda is a joke,” he wrote, adding that local artists have “very little pure expression or talent… most of it sniffing for a sale”.

As female artists joined the ensuing online debate, Mr Outerbridge quipped: “Looks like a little coven is getting together… Now broom riding… there is a lost art.”

But the artists look set to have the last word — they are emblazoning his comments on witch-themed T-shirts, as a fundraiser.

Mr Outerbridge, who is an executive member of the Bermuda Professional Photographers Association, said he made the comments in his capacity as an artist, not as mayor.

Regardless, his Facebook comments have gone down about as well as a clove of garlic at a vampires’ ball. But he stands by them, telling the Bermuda Sun yesterday: “My opinion is based on being an artist for a considerable amount of time.

“I think that people, like in so many aspects of things, don’t do the work and expect to be embraced as some sort of great artist because they are doing something in a very small place without the wider critique or exposure on expertise, of execution or the actual thought behind the piece.

“There’s a majority of people who call themselves artists in Bermuda who are afraid to stand up to criticism.”

The comments he made online were part of a Facebook discussion on the page for the Art Walk In The East, which takes place this Saturday and aims to promote creativity and invigorate St George’s.

Mr Outerbridge was angered that organizer Ami Zanders, with whom he had already had personal run-ins on the subject of art, had invited him to the event on his Facebook wall.

After he commented on the post: “I will not be attending for obvious reasons,” Ms Zanders countered: “For someone who claims to want to make art in Bermuda more progressive, you do your best to put all artists in this country down. You suck and you are an oxygen thief!”

Mr Outerbridge replied: “Go play in the road no talent,” and “I don’t think views on art are front page material.”

Other artists soon began to join in the online discussion and at last check there were more than 70 comments.

One contributor offered to take Mr Outerbridge on a walk around the Masterworks gallery to see some of the work in the Charman Prize created by Bermudians and long-term residents.

Mr Outerbridge wrote: “Some of the work in the Charman show is excellent… much is crap.”

Inspired by one artist’s comment, Ms Zanders decided to “make a positive out of a negative” and print T-shirts featuring Mr Outerbridge’s Facebook quotes, to raise money for the next Art Walk In The East.

The comments on the T-shirts include: “Go play in the road; No Talent; Broom riding… there is a lost art.” Ms Zanders says she has already received lots of orders.

Mr Outerbridge said of the T-shirts: “They are doing exactly what I suggested, which is great — they are taking an original idea and incorporating it as part of the artistic expression at the event. Copying is the greatest form of flattery.”

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun, Ms Zanders said: “I’ve never attacked him as an artist — he was really very negative in the Bermuda Artists [Facebook] group. Things like, ‘where is the good art in Bermuda?’ He was attacking everybody and it’s sad.

“A lot of people get scared to speak out about it — they feel like they are going to get blackballed because he knows a lot of influential people.

 “… I’ve heard it all before but it is still kind of alarming that he is the mayor and he has all of this responsibility. It is just embarrassing.”

After previous run-ins with artists, the Arts Centre at Dockyard sent an official letter to Mr Outerbridge, warning him that if he tried to enter the gallery, further action would be taken. While the gallery claims this was because of his negative influence, Mr Outerbridge said it was due to a separate disagreement: “I was trying to ensure that that process for electing representation at that gallery was done democratically but now, with the new constitution that has been put in place, there is no democratic process.”

He also claims he was threatened by an artist at the gallery.

Artist Lexy Correia was a moderator for the Facebook page Bermuda Artists when the board decided to ban him. She said: “He was always instigating arguments all the time and putting other artists down. Once they tried to make a discussion out of it he became argumentative so it was never a constructive conversation.

“We don’t mind constructive conversations on the board but he was .... looking to purposely start fights and constantly stated that there was no talent in Bermuda.”

Mr Outerbridge told us: “It [the ban] was for expressing my opinion that people weren’t touching the boundaries of modern art and from my understanding I see very little conceptual art around.

“I felt a lot of the art in Bermuda was not breaking new ground and I stand by that.”