5) “Work and grow; don’t beg” ~ Leroy Clarke.
As a young, male, Caribbean artist of African descent Leroy Clarke has been important to me. He is a beleaguered figure but the contribution of his work to this space and the example of his achievements cannot be denied or taken away from him…even from himself. Outside of his prolific life of painting there are two things I have appreciated the most of him in my encounters with him. The first is his honesty.
In each encounter, he has never hidden the “wretched” parts of his life as he openly calls it. My encounters were with him as an old man with nothing to lose in talking plainly. More than most who have attained the summits of praise that he has known he never hid the ugly truths of his life. The second characteristic of the man I have admired is the value he places on life; especially his own- His sense of pride in his himself and his heritage.
It is easy to forget the sometimes invisible lines that have emerged from the Caribbean’s history of slavery and colonialism. Lines and notions of worth that govern our institutions and the attitudes of many. They persist. They continue to affect the lives of so many. Only those who have encountered the lines know that they exist and the ways in which they affect growth. Leroy Clarke has been honest about their existence. And that acknowledgement along with the example of his life of work has been important to me. At the end of an interview, I once asked him directly “How to make it as an artist”. His words were ” Work and grow; don’t beg”.
6) “It is about integrity” ~
Peter Minshall agreed to an interview with me after I sent him examples of my work. It wasn’t the first time I had asked but this time the response was immediate. He said he could tell a lot about an individual through their art and in my watercolors he encountered one of the most sensitive painters of black skin he had seen. The interview with Minshall was surprisingly warm. I had gone in with warnings of a difficult man-prone to emotional sways. I met a man introspective and brutally honest about his art, his life and his mortality.
The questions I prepared had long been answered by the time he would begin to talk about the importance of integrity in one’s art. He reasoned that it was the only reason his audience put up with him for so long withstanding the misadventures of his process. He acknowledged that often there was a valid reason for his band members to turn their backs on him. And he confessed that he through the years he thought long and hard about what made them endure.
The answer, he shared, came through the private testimonies of the many who responded to his work on an emotional level. An impact that he felt was only possible when one’s work is honest and reaches for the most meaningful modes of expression one can craft. An impact that was only possible when one’s work took risks in the pursuit of a language that was honest, real and bent towards love. He said, “It is about integrity” and the demands one is willing to impose on one’s self to give world something genuine.
7) Let the work become what it has to ~
The question of form is an important part of making art. Beyond what is to be done one is faced with deciding how it should be done. This is a component of creating that can often induce paralysis in the creator. Form translates content.Form decides what the work will become and how it will be interpreted.
In no small way are questions of “form” among the most demanding aspects in the process of creating. There are strategies that one learns to combat this difficulty; techniques of design that demand that the work is mapped out before-hand then followed with faithful execution. Whilst such strategies are undoubtedly beneficial, they have their limitations. One encounters their insufficiencies when attempting to represent abstract thought and conditions of life that are more felt and understood than they are represented in the physical world.
I faced this dilemma head on when in the build up to my first solo exhibition Portrait of An Angel. Some of the images were meant to reference ideas of West African-Caribbean spirituality; ideas which were hardly linear concepts. In a quest for what to paint I reached out to playwright Rawle Gibbons– A deeply spiritual man whose life’s work has been centered in the total development and practice of Caribbean art. Of the many things he shared in our conversations one line of guidance repeated itself “Let the work become what it has to”. He spoke of an approach that was seemingly the reverse of all the strategies I had learned on making art.
It spoke of an outcome driven by the process and not of an outcome that was predetermined. My training demanded that I fixed a point and moved towards it. There could be the adjustment here and there but not major diversions that changed the planned outcome. To “Let the work become what it has to” demanded that I relinquished conscious control over the outcome. It meant that the work could start as one thing and emerge as something totally different at the end. It meant acquiescing to the drifts and tributaries of thought that came to me while I worked. He was asking me to purposefully trust the process while I worked- allowing the energy of process to guide its outcome.