Monday, July 21, 2008

The Judgment of Paris

Both of my parents were avid readers and members of the San Fernando Library – that central hub of that little town – and my mother would bring home art books by the dozen which were my earliest education, so the images - even before I could tell the difference between photography and painting (art?) - were imprinted on my very psyche before almost anything else I can remember, in the same way we learn to eat or talk, instinctively.

One work more deeply embedded than any of the others was Rubens’ Judgment of Paris – if only because the ladies were naked and, well… fat – those vast landscapes of flesh, those amazing accoutrements of symbol and drapery, and the general electrifying baroque energy of it all, bouncing off the old hand worn pages, some of which were actually inscribed with obscene graffiti by other readers no doubt moved by the almost palpable erotic energy to express in their own way their own deep appreciation. Remember, this was long before pornography became anything as everyday as it is now, internet and cable weren’t even dreamed of, so this kind of picture would have been pretty much the only kind eroticism available out there, apart from blatant pornography – unfortunately, hypocritically, a distinction that is still unclear for most Trinis.

I’ve drawn The Judgment of Paris so many times I‘ve lost count. Something to do also, I think, with the business of beauty pageants (it must have been the very first recorded) – though in our case here, more specifically Carnival Queen Pageants; the business of threes (three goddesses); the business of deception (Aphrodite proffering Helen of Troy - the most beautiful woman in the world - as bribery for first place); the erotic current running through the whole story (don’t tell me Paris wasn’t aroused, or that Hermes who organized the whole thing isn’t a walking phallus himself – I mean, think of the herms, his image - rampant erections all over the cities of Greece); the challenge of formalizing the whole thing in terms of composition and symbolism; and of course just plain good ole storytelling.

So, here are a two of those images – one of the earliest, from around the very late 1980’s, from a series on the Iliad, and the latest, from as recently as last year. In the former, I differentiated and named the goddesses through their symbols – or I should say, my own personal symbols for them, hence (in the detail) the moon and water over Aphrodite’s head, since she was born of the sea – and the implication of the power of flight in the act of hovering rather than the actual wings on Hermes headdress and sandals - though they’re certainly there in the most recent drawing - and of course his more rampant erotic embellishments. Hera I gave the symbol of vegetable fecundity for her fertility, and Athene a beating heart symbolizing passion and the spilling of blood in war. I wonder what, if anything, Rubens would think!

As I said in one of the earlier posts, things are interchangeable – I mean subjects and representations – with a few adjustments – a fascinating thing to know and finally understand and USE, which only gives credence to the observation about there being really only a handful of subjects and stories in the very first place – and that nothing is ever NEW – not ever!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Nativity Triptych

The Nativity Triptych reads, from left to right, The Annunciation, The Adoration, and The Baptism.

I used the daily rituals of ablution and washing and the Baptists’ baptism at the river as settings for the famous biblical story, and hopefully these will have a familiar look to any Afro-Caribbean person born of the last century, at any rate - the adoption (in the way that we do here of everything North American) of Christian Fundamentalist Evangelism is probably making us more American by the day and less indigenous by the moment, alas! And the common childhood sight of the Baptist meeting at the corner is a rarity that is seldom seen nowadays.

I tried keeping this piece in the narrative traditions of the great Renaissance nativity paintings, but without the ostentatious display of wealth and privilege mandatory to the conventions of that day. In my work, the “folk” make their way through the forest to the holy family to pay homage, not without a little of the natural curiosity (macoshousness) of our people. The three Wise Men are wise rather than rich, reaching across the river of life to the infant, the mother and father.

In the Annunciation, the bringer of the news speaks only to Mary, or is it only She who sees and hears his message in the general tumult of the washday ritual? And in the Baptism, Jesus is anointed to the ringing of the Baptist bell, under the Baptist flags, and to the incantations of the women.

The Nativity Triptych was finished in 1993 (Crown of Thorns followed naturally out of this in the following years as part of the whole project on the life of Jesus). It was proposed for the newly refurbished St. Finbars Roman Catholic Church in Westmoorings, but the fee could not be raised by subscription or otherwise. It was reproduced (badly!) as a stained glass panel in the Our Lady Of Guadeloupe Roman Catholic Church in Paramin, high up in the Northern Mountain range of the island. It’s at home now in my own home in Santa Cruz, looking out the door at the cocoa trees and listening to the parrots as they fly through the estate raiding the fruit! I think this is where it belong

I suppose the opposite end of the story is The Resurrection, but that’s for

another time, if its to get its full and rightful treatment – The Resurrection (of the last posting here) is not intended to convey the momentousness of that huge and wonderful event – stressing more the intimacy of a more deeply private revelation.

The Crucifixion is in Maracas Valley, listening to the river flowing by just a few feet away outside my partner’s home, and happy there too, I think – except when the bars across the river start pumping out American Rap and Jamaican Dancehall music.

Left to right the panels read Gethsemane, The Crucifixion, The Entombment. The full-flowering Poui tree of the central panel of course represents renewal and benediction. The cloudless pure blue sky connotes eternity. It was shown in Crown of Thorns in 1998, as a contrasting foil to the gothic black and white of the rest of the exhibition, and to imply that life cannot proceed without death, that in fact death, in all its terrible beauty, is as much a part of daily existence as life is, is simply the darker of the two inextricable entwined partners of creation - my own understanding of the meaning of the story.

The location is one of the hundreds of little rock islands that shimmer and burn all day long in the relentless day-long sea-spray and sun off the North-Eastern Toco Coast of Trinidad, one of the most beautiful places on all this earth.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Crown of Thorns

Lest it be thought from the last posting that my work be too frivolous (not that that would necessarily be a bad thing!), from almost ten years ago, here are pieces from an exhibition based on the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, which I named Crown Of Thorns, because only when it was nearing completion of the project did I realize that nowhere had I actually reproduced the wounds of the flagellation or nails or even the crown of thorns itself.

I had experimented with this in one sketch of the flagellation or Man of Sorrows - and had to stop. I simply was not able to bring myself to look at the awful physical disfigurements and torture so traditional to the story (this was before Mel Gibson’s truly disgusting movie, after which I more than ever felt felt vindicated in maintaining my original position of restraint. Grunewald’s revolting Isenheim Altarpiece I have never been able to stomach either, for that matter – which is perhaps the whole point! ).

The psychological agony was enough, surely, and seemed all that was necessary to the real message of redemption, anyway! In fact, I am yet to complete the centre piece of the story, the crucifixion itself! What a terrible joyless thing this rite of Christian salvation is! Surely there needs to be lessons learned from the Hindus and Buddhists, at least for some kind of balance between joy and sorrow! Although, who suffered more deprivation and anguish in the pursuit and name of revelation than Buddha himself. So, what do I know!

The series was entirely black and white, deliberately archaic in the sense that I used the stark contrast of line and solid black in quotation of the Greeks in their wonderful narrative decoration of earthenware. This also seemed to lend a sense of claustrophobia to the events of the story, placing a solid weight over everything, as if there was literally no way the participants could crawl out or escape from under that black dead mass.

Later, I expanded on the work. Graphite, and colored pencil pieces based on the original pen and ink drawings, in the way I work, always going back to things that need – demand - further development and reworking. Sometimes over dozens of years I’ll go back and do this, a kind of self cannibalization, I guess. The pieces are relatively small. It was suggested they should be room-size. I’m going to work on that too – someday!

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Two years ago, at A Different View book shop, Richard Bolai and Adel Todd were discussing a joint show they wanted to have and I asked if I could put a couple of small pieces in among theirs’, and they said, “Okay,” These are the pieces. The basic idea of the show was India In Trinidad. Our separate associations with India in Trinidad are and have been, intense and deeply personal, as well as general in the same sense of what every Trinidadian experiences of India here on a daily, hourly, basis – politically, culturally, socially etc.. Speaking for myself, I grew up in Palmiste, South Trinidad, before Dewali was ever declared a holiday, among the then still lipe-walled and carat-roofed houses of the villages of Debe and Duncan and Cainan villages, and lived with an Indian man from Woodbrook for many years. My own couple of pieces also came out of the experience of two earlier shows, both Inspired by the Kama Sutra, and some others pieces based on the Krishna story, specifically the Radha and the Gopies episode, still to be completed. Kama Sutra - detailAdele was working towards performance and installation pieces, and some other multimedia works, I think, based on how India works in Trinidad, so many times and ways removed from the subcontinent itself. I don’t know what Richard is doing. Well, the whole thing is still in the air, is still that awful thing, a work in progress. We have each of us produced work, a lot of it, but it’s still waiting to come together, to be formatted/framed (in my case) and produced/performed (in Adel’s case) and published (in Richard’s), I think.

So here is some of my work. I’ve opted to show details here because the blog format cannot accommodate the very fine detail of the full pieces, which are actually not that large - the friezes, for instance, are not more than12 x 20 inches, but densely worked in the spirit of Hindu miniatures. The line drawings are complete in themselves. Sometimes I work them further with colour, sometimes not. This is done purely on a whim, if I think the application of colour will amplify or make the picture more complete or finished - finished in the sense of being more polished But there are some who consider colour to be an affectation, an effete redundancy, and sometimes I see their point. So I leave them in the more pristine and pure state of line.

An observation - how strange it is to discover that what you thought were two very separate and different things are really, exactly, one and the same! I’ve been working on a series from the story of Hercules, specifically Hercules and the Daughters of Thespius. It is, visually, the same story as the Hindu story of Krishna and the Gopies - the man/god’s impregnation of a legion of women – though of course the Hindus out-do the Greeks by a couple thousand women.  Sita and RhowanThe cultures may be different, but the stories are the same, the psychology is the same. I’ve been told that this is the peculiar dream of all the male side of the gender divide, to have the sexual prowess or ability, as well as the opportunity, to endlessly service a never ending multitude of the fairer sex! Muslims martyrs of course do one better than everyone else, achieving the honour, albeit a mixed and perhaps painful one, for both parties! - of deflowering a legion of virgins in heaven in reward for their sacrifice!