A Lifetime of Painting Cruise Ships
The Monthly Mantra
Artist on Board … Artist on Board … Artist on Board …
“Can we go to Cucina for dinner?”
That was Bermudian maritime artist Stephen Card’s immediate reaction to me telling him I’d be visiting the island aboard Carnival Sunrise’s 4-day sailing from New York. Not “Oh, it’ll be so nice to see you!” Not “It’s been way too long!” Not even “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Unfortunately for Stephen, the ship would only be in Bermuda from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. so the dinner-only Cucina del Capitano, Sunrise’s Italian restaurant, would be shuttered for my entire call at the island. Ha. Ha. Ha.
I can’t believe I’ve known Stephen Card for 26 years.
It seems like yesterday that he joined our table at the Ocean Bar aboard Holland America’s Statendam in 1993 claiming to be a Bermudian and a maritime artist. I believed neither. He had no discernable accent and, seriously, he didn’t look like an artist — no piercings, tattoos, man-bun, or tattered Ramones t-shirt. For heaven’s sake, he was wearing a blazer with a little embroidered emblem on it like a Catholic grade-school uniform.
As it turned out, Stephen wasn’t yanking my chain and, ever since, I’m always on the lookout for Stephen Card paintings whenever I sail the ships of Holland America, Cunard, Carnival, Saga, and Costa.
I recognize them immediately by the puffy cumulus clouds that always seem to hover above whatever magnificent ship is featured on the canvas.
A self-taught artist, Stephen was destined to be at sea and, without fate intervening, he just might have found himself at the helm of one of the ships he loves. In fact, his early years are sprinkled not with artistic achievement but with stints that range from deck hand to harbor master, delivery master of ocean-going tugs, and even a position aboard the private luxury motor yacht of entertainment mogul Robert Stigwood. In the early 1980s, however, a chance encounter with Nico van der Vorm, then Chairman of Holland America Line, led to a three-painting commission for van der Vorm’s office, and convinced Stephen to trade in his dress whites for a set of paintbrushes. It was a decision that triggered commissions that continue to this day and recognition as a premier cruise ship artist.
Aboard Carnival Sunrise, Stephen and I stroll around until we come upon Cucina del Capitano on deck 10. We enter to find no tables set with straw-covered bottles of chianti, menus, or baskets of warm parmagiano-topped bread but, on the far wall, I spot a Stephen Card painting in its golden frame. In this painting — big surprise — cumulus clouds hover above Carnival Triumph (which is now Carnival Sunrise) and the ship sits beside an ornate lighthouse. “For Cucina, Carnival wanted a connection to Italy so I set the ship in Messina, alongside the lighthouse topped by the golden Madonnina,” says Stephen, explaining that the quote that appears at the base of the lighthouse — Vos et ipsam civitatem benedicimus — is a blessing contained in a letter from the Virgin Mary to the citizens of the city. “The only problem,” admits Stephen, “Is that Triumph never sailed to Messina.”
Well, I won’t tell if you don’t….
To date, Stephen has produced 21 paintings for Carnival and, next on the agenda, is a painting of Carnival Mardi Gras, the line’s first ship, that will be displayed aboard the new Carnival Mardi Gras which sets sail next year. Look for it — where else — at the Cucina del Capitano restaurant on board.
The Best Cruise Ship Artist
Fans and collectors of maritime art will want to pick up Stephen’s books Cunarder, Holland America Line: The Spotless Fleet, and his most recent volume, Steam and Canvas, a collection of over 100 maritime paintings — or they’ll want to check out his line of Delft tiles, Famous Dutch Liners, all available through firstname.lastname@example.org. If you happen to be in Bermuda early next month, you can catch Stephen’s November 8th one-man show at Gallery 117, an exhibition that includes about 20 paintings — maritime subjects along with a few surprises — like aviation works and still life.
Aviation and still life?? Suddenly my world tilts like it did when the Bee Gees went disco, but I recover and ask Stephen what he’s working on now.
“I’ve just finished a painting of Swedish America Line’s Kungsholm in Fort St. Catherine, Bermuda,” he says. “Her Easter cruise, 1937.”
And, just like that … the world rights itself.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Stephen and I are NOT engaged. A rumor like that starts when a bartender snaps a photo that seems to focus on a subject’s ring finger and the shot is innocently posted on Facebook. So, save your congratulations, gravy boats, and monogrammed bath towels for an actual celebration of love. I’m still pretty ticked about dinner at Cucina being the first thing Stephen thought about when I said I was coming down.
— Judi Cuervo