1) “Paint First- Then Make Love”
~ Boscoe Holder
Halting his advance he greeted me “My god she is exquisite! I hope you painted her!” he exclaimed. I could feel my companion grow unsteady blushing. With genuine shame, I told him that I had not. “Look at her eyes,” he said in the baritone gargled voice that he shared with his more famous brother. “Look at her eyes” he repeated,” You must paint her and you must paint her quickly! Paint her before she goes away!” Then he looked at me sternly, leaning his tall frame forward. And with a vocal register that became almost a growl he warned, “Paint first then make love! Not the other way around…paint first!” He straightened, laughed, wished us the best and invited us to his studio before he continued along his way.
Apart from this encounter one morning in my late teens, along Frederick Street, I did not know the iconic painter save for a visit to his studio a few weeks before. I have always been motivated by the memory of seeing him sitting among the hundreds of paintings in his studio. His words that day have also always remained with me. In my own experience, I came to know the wisdom of them. They really speak about discipline and understanding the responsibility of the artist-even when you are intimate with the subject. To follow pleasure before the work is done is one of the best ways to ensure that the work does not get done. Paint first!
2) “There is improvisation in all painting” ~ Kenwyn Crichlow
Kenwyn Crichlow’s work has an emotional content I search for in my own painting. His paintings are dynamic, textured and soulful- Powerful compositions of light, colour and form. I have been asked many times which local painter inspires me the most and my answer is always “Crichlow”. It is the power of his image guides my answer. At one point I thought I would never be able to capture the depth of spirit that Chrichlow’s abstracts conjure. I felt that my formalism was an obstacle.
It would be Crichlow himself who would release me from that idea. With the simple words that “there is improvisation is all painting”. In a 2012 interview he talked to me openly about his process. Crichlow would come to assure me that in all painting there is a period of instability where one is not certain where to go next despite all of one’s training. It is at this point that all artists make decisions based on something more than rational thought. “There is improvisation in all painting” he said. Crichlow is a master at harnessing that concept of improvisation and channeling it into incredibly visceral compositions of hope, loss and Joy.
3) “Fix your Art; Fix your Life”
~ Elsa Clarke
Elsa Clarke is one of the one of the finest educators on the techniques of drawing in the Caribbean. A painter in her own right and a wonderful human Elsa Clarke has an uncanny way of leading you back to your art and opening your mind for exploration. Many of the techniques I learned under her I still employ. They have been tested time and again and they have served my work with great faithfulness.
However, none of her words of instruction have been more enduring and grounding for me than “fix your art; fix your life”. The reality of this cannot be understated. There is sometimes the notion that your art is not a part of the serious business of your life. This is a deception that we discover too late. I have found Elsa’s words to be a saving guide. One’s life begins to find balance when one’s art is finds its proper station.
4) “There is nothing like the Sistine Chapel”
~ Pat Bishop
I did not know Pat Bishop. I cannot remember if I had a direct conversation with her outside of asking her for an extension on an assignment. And knowing the kind of student I was I am certain I asked at some point. I did sit in several of her classes at the University of the West Indies and encountered the enormous spirit she had. She was a brilliant woman with a lot to say. And she said it freely without fear or apparent restriction. What has remained with me from my distanced encounters with Pat Bishop is her conviction of the purpose and power of art with in a society. She was resolute in this regard.
In one impassioned lecture I remember her saying slowly, loudly and firmly that “There is nothing like the Sistine Chapel!” This may be a strange quote to highlight from a woman so austere in the development of Caribbean culture and the worthiness of our indigenous practices but It endured because she was essentially talking about the power of art to strengthen the human spirit. It was about the power of art, when done well, to endure beyond the time and space within which it was created. Pat Bishop’s Sistine chapel for me was a metaphor for integrity and standards of achievement. It was about the legacy of what we value that may be found in what we leave behind. Many times in my own painting, I find myself standing back looking at the work and saying to myself “there is nothing like the Sistine chapel”.