THINGS THAT MATTER: Our Explosion of Culture – Painting and Sculpture
Sat, 03/19/2016 - 7:16pm
Sir Henry Fraser
“Fine art is knowledge made visible.” (Gustave Courbet)
“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” (John Ruskin)
“Fine art comes from the soul …” (Richard McDonald)
There has been an absolute explosion of art in Barbados, captured magnificently in the lavish ebook The Arts Directory Barbados, by Corrie Scott and Kathleen Yearwood, put together five years ago in 2011. It’s a revelation. Many Bajans had no idea of the riches, and the richness of these riches, among us - some 250 artists, sculptors, photographers, potters, jewelers and more, featured in 230 pages. And every month, bold curators and brilliant artists and sculptors show exciting new work at our several galleries.
But they’re often showing and sharing with each other – because it seems that most Bajans prefer some mass produced decorative print or ornamental wall hanging or vase from over and away, over a genuine piece of inspired local art. In fact, one of the striking differences between Barbados and Jamaica, both in the enjoyment of fine art in homes and in the corporate sector, is the passion many Jamaicans have for local art and craft. Banks and insurance companies vie with each other to commission, to collect, hang and display the finest collection. Much of this is due to the pioneering spirit and leadership of Edna Manley, but also to many, many others, perhaps inspired by the magnificent physical beauty of Jamaica.
Three splendid shows opened a few days ago. The first I saw was Journeys, at the ArtSplash Gallery – Alison Chapman-Andrews’ Portrait Show with Ras Ilix Heartman. It was a new departure for Alison, who is famous for her expressionist landscapes. She painted people she knew, and was inspired by their posing for hours, lost in their thoughts. There’s a striking painting of a meditative Akyem, in front of his painting in her collection. Ras Ilix’s powerful sculptures in mahogany contrasted and complemented the portraits. I particularly liked The Kiss by Ras Ilix, and Catholene Resting, by Alison.
Over at the Barbados Arts Council’s Pelican Gallery on the Harbour Road is a splendid collection of the work of Neville Legall and Friends – a Bajan “Group of Seven”. Neville, of course, has been around for many years, producing a never ending array of evocative Barbadian landscapes – all pleasing recollections of places passed (and sometimes past). But with him on this occasion are six others, employing water colour, acrylic, oils and photography.
If I was purchasing for the National Art Gallery – promised soon to open in Block A, at the Garrison - I would have walked away with eight or ten special treasures. These would have included two of Neville’s: Road leading to Chalky Mount, and Derelict Chattel; four splendid watercolours by Larrie Belgrave – the Good Shepherd, Out to Pasture, Six Mens, and Bathsheba; Glenroy Jordan’s Turn for Home – capturing the energy of a horse race; Everick Lynton’s nostalgic House on Chelsea Road, and a splendid landscape Down to Martin’s Bay; Denzil Mann’s Sharp Blade, and several of Rasheed Boodhoo’s amazing photographs. Rasheed’s Final Rest is a moving black and white photo, which alone is worth a trip to Pelican Village! But his From my Door (a view from the ruined bath house at High Rock) is a dramatic and unusual interpretation of Bathsheba, which for so many of us – artists, photographers and ordinary Bajans - is our main muse! This splendid work is the largest in the show and it deserves to hang in a public place such as a bank or restaurant.
Rasheed does great things with his camera (and his computer) while Larrie’s water colours are accomplished, with a delicate balance between freedom and control of the medium, and a splendid sense of atmosphere that works so well with watercolour. Oh, and he makes the most of our black belly sheep as models!
There is another striking pairing at the Gallery of Caribbean Art. Hand marks / Land Marks – Painting and Sculpture is an amazing show by Heidi Berger and Ancel Daniel. (Handmarks are the marks of the maker, the artist, while landmarks are the marks the land and its people have made on us and our work.) Heidi is well known both here and in many other countries for her inspired portraiture, while Ancel is a Guyanese Barbadian, working in Chalky Mount clay. Again the complementarity is almost uncanny, because both artists’ work is rich in stories and both are, in different ways, assemblages of themes and materials. And the curator Corrie Scott, has an uncanny knack for balancing paintings with sculptures and jars around the spacious gallery.
Heidi describes herself as a traveler – a gypsy at heart – and she likes to tell the stories of women moving, migrating, leaving home, and finding home. And her paintings are evocative – beautiful, romantic, wistful, occasionally sad or mysterious, often strong – of strong women, perhaps suffering. A series of very atmospheric monoprint portraits deserves to be displayed together in some public space, they are so beautiful and so moving.
I had two favourites: a large self-portrait of Heidi, rich with messages and inferences and stories; and The Carpet Bag – a girl – a child or perhaps a teenager by a bus stop, with a big bag bearing a doll. The image is a girl moving with her most precious possession, but for me it had a double meaning, of a waif, perhaps, with an unwanted infant to be disposed of to another family. A moving image in every sense.
Ancel’s sculptures and giant jars are remarkable. They are hand carved and incorporate stories. There is: Jordanite Medicine Woman, The Bush Doctor and many more, each with their mythical cultural inspiration and a commanding presence. But the piece de resistance is a huge lidded jar titled: In a Solitary Place – with a figure of a priest meditating inside!
This is a visually stunning show. But the goal of most artists is to share their inspiration; and thus share their work through galleries – and hopefully through sales! As the Polish-French artist Balthus said: “Painting is a source of endless pleasure, but also of great anguish.” A successful painting completed makes the heart sing – a failed work is pure anguish. Likewise selling is a source of both pleasure and life sustaining, while failing to sell is pure anguish. Dear reader, do go and find and buy from these many works a jewel that pleases you!
Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website: profhenryfraser.com