Every decision I have made has been guided by the question of whether art will remain in my life or not. It has been the fact of my career that even when my roles have had seemingly very little to do with art they have always been fixed on the acquisition of knowledge, experience and expertise to fashion myself into to a better artist. I can certainly understand where, in some instances, a passing glance of my career would not reveal the uninterrupted impulse of art in my life: Titles and the footnotes on a resume have a way of masking the truest cast of an individual. However, in very real terms, to give an account of my background in art is to give an account of the narrative of my life; not just through the careful articulation of dates and achievements but also of the very nature of it. An account often only revealed in those intangible moments that are difficult to represent through words. It is to describe the motivation of quiet moments and searched for accomplishments. To give an account of my background in art to offer the idea that even who I have chosen to love has been guided by the impulse of art in my life. Art has been the constant influence of my career even when it has seemed unapparent.
I entered university at the age of twenty-three. After A levels It was my talents as a painter that I came to rely on at that stage in life; the financial cost of attending university being more than I could at that time. In small circles I had been recognized to have some skill in rendering a portrait and it would be these commissioned pieces which sustained me and allowed me to contribute to the material needs of my family. It was hard work and unstable ground but it built in me a measure of self-discipline and self-reliance that I would not trade now. The importance of cultivating these qualities is perhaps the greatest lesson for one who finds himself on the path of a creative career.
When I eventually entered University I was matriculated as an Art major. However, after a year in the art programme I switched to the Carnival Studies degree. This perhaps of one of the better examples of how the ‘facts’ on paper can sometimes disguise the truth of the matter. For me, given my experience and the direct exposure to what was required to earn as an artist in the Caribbean, the Carnival Studies programme had a greater appeal. The core courses of the Carnival Studies degree went beyond the creative aptitude of an individual and aimed to provide training in the Business of the arts, the economic realities of the creative industries and entrepreneurship. My recent experience with the harsh realities with producing and selling my work steered me and I choose instead to invest my resources to the development of my capacity in arts entrepreneurship and management .
Because of the connotations and sometimes prejudices surrounding the term “Carnival” this part of my resume can stir reservations about where my interests and competencies are located. However a passing overview of the curriculum of the Carnival Studies degree can provide evidence that it is the only degree in the English-speaking Caribbean that offers courses in arts management and entrepreneurship. It is the only degree in the English-speaking Caribbean that seeks to develop the managerial capacity of ‘creatives’ and foster within them a professional understanding of the regional industry and the space they can occupy within it if their skills are packaged and presented in the right way. This skill set is a necessity for any artist that is serious about his craft and this, truthfully, is the real essence of the Carnival Studies degree. My venture into Carnival Studies was wholeheartedly a push to develop myself as a better artist. It might useful to highlight here that by the time I entered university, along with a growing practice
as a professional portrait artist, I had already exhibited at the CRT Craftry in Hartford Connecticut, which was the oldest running African-American commercial art gallery and locally I had my work accepted twice to the National Art Society’s annual juried exhibition.
In 1999 I left Trinity College Moka with a distinction in A level art . This is something that can become a footnote in the resume of an individual with the passing of time but the truth is this particular footnote represented one of the most expansive undertakings with the craft in my career. It was an intense engagement with the manual practices within art guided by a thorough and committed teacher who beyond fostering an environment and appreciation of art history (and the value of art to its society), challenged us to submerge ourselves in the technical magnification of our ‘natural’ capabilities. This is the primary difference an art teacher can make in life of a student and it is a function that should not go undervalued. With such a submersion comes humility, a voice, growth, self-reliance, and confidence. With it comes the endowment of one’s ‘natural’ talents to the stage where it can meaningfully impact and create discernible changes in one’s environment.
Within those years I drew relentlessly- sometimes in-excess of 12 hours a day. I attended four-hour art classes on Sundays, visited the galleries around Port-of-Spain weekly, committed myself to books and articles on art at the National Library and had come to demand an attention to my skill that I had not previously fixated within myself. I drew constantly. I had a special interest in capturing the human form. Therefore apart from sketching those around me repeatedly I found myself after school at Noble Douglas’s dance studio to draw the dancers as they went through their positions. I did this faithfully for six months. I am saying all of this to demonstrate that the depth of my relationship with art runs far deeper than the lines of my resume may ever be able to suggest. Even my later involvement in the field of carnival has been framed by the study of art. Through my teaching and my research I’ve sought to make apparent the contribution of practitioners who saw no distinctions between Mas from other visual forms of art. Art has been my Polaris; my navigational truth and the constant of my life and career.
Soon after I graduated from University in 2006 I was asked to join the Department for Creative and Festival Arts. In a way this has been my formal training in arts education. Teaching at this level has given me the privilege of engaging with students from a diverse range of backgrounds making it possible to see( from the vantage of an educator) the needs, challenges and strengths of individuals who have committed themselves to a life in the arts- seeking their own strategies for sustainability. As a part-time lecturer at the Department for Creative and Festival Arts I’ve had the fortune to teach/work with students who were recently graduated from the secondary school system as well as professionals who had spent years in the field. What comes to you when you’re in such a position are real examples of the lives of creative individuals and a survey of what it takes to survive as a creative within the Caribbean. Through direct communication from the students the limitations of the secondary and tertiary systems become juxtaposed with the needs of the creative industries. This allows a holistic view of arts education and its immediate importance in the training of individuals who can stand on their own in competitive markets as well as the development of markets that can transform into sustainable industries. It brings starkly into one’s mind the role of art and arts education to the social and economic issues of the region and the ways in which the curriculum and teaching methods can be expanded to transform our creative expressions into economic realities of viability and development.
Teaching at this level has also given me the opportunity to work with individuals, groups and institutions outside of the university. It means that I have had the opportunity to work with groups and programmes through a range of profiles; primary schools, NGO’s, corporate and government institutions, secondary schools and other tertiary establishments. It meant the opportunity to see on the ground where the arts are needed and the impact they can have on other ‘ecosystems’ within society. What I have grown to appreciate is that art lives amongst us more than we assume.
Perhaps the most educational and rewarding aspect of my experience lecturing at the Dept for Creative and Festival arts has been the opportunity to interact and work closely others in the arts who have also committed to building the intellectual and technical capacity of the creative industries in the Caribbean. There is a host of persons who I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to observe and draw examples (even if it were at a distance at times). Colossal characters like Kenwyn Chrichlow, Pat Bishop, Rawle Gibbons, Marvin George, Dr. Louis Regis, Prof. Patricia Mohammed, Prof. Rex Nettleford, Mrs. Hazel Franco, Mr. Sat Sharma, Dr. Jo-anne Tull, Dr. Efebo Wilkinson, and Prof. Gordon Rohlehr…all of whom already stand as contributors of policy, inspiration and hope in the English-speaking Caribbean. This happened alongside an interaction with scores of colleagues and students making strides in the Arts: Talented individuals, with whom I have had the pleasure to admire closely.
All of this is an uninterrupted journey into art. It is a submersion into a history and legacy. I have never viewed it otherwise. As the saying goes “Nothing is lost…” It all adds up and all of it brings into being a life shaped through the impulse of art. Nothing is lost. There are the hours spent reading and looking: not always on art in particular but always internalized as precepts into the human condition-always feeders into a creative impulse. There are the conversations with friends and strangers: not always on art but always with the potential to stir and idea or an emotion. Then there are the dreams and the moments of wonder that inspire every day; the books and things collected; the music and the places visited. All of it is felt and wished for another to have it felt in the same way. This is the very essence of art. This is the impulse which I feel every day-the response to everyday. Art lives with you. It does not stop when you stop drawing or painting or sculpting. It is an impulse for a life through art and that remains in a heart regardless of what surrounds its day. That has been my background. That has been the fact of my life. That has been my career.