I have worked on and fulfilled two solo exhibitions over the past five years. And after each showing there was a recession: a period of simply being spent. I do not know if this is an experience shared by other artists. My suspicion is that it is (in varying degrees) but I cannot say so with certainty. I can point to the words that a good friend (a beautiful dancer) said to me after the conclusion of her incredibly successful show. She said, almost inwardly, “I am looking for something new to do. I am bored with myself now”. At the time I did not understand what she meant. How could such a creative soul, beyond the point of her breakthrough, not feel energized by her achievement? If I had thought deeper I would have found the empathy required. When you enter that space it simply feels like “Okay, that’s it…I have given you all that I can give right now…”
The “you” of course, is figurative and the statement an exaggeration. There is much more to give and much yet to do. The exhaustion on the other hand is very real. But it is not just exhaustion. It is an exhaustion mixed with a contraction- a scaling back of energy, a scaling back of a sense of adventure and a scaling back of the willingness to be vulnerable enough to create. It is an exhaustion mixed with a craving to be normal. The normalcy that comes with getting up and simply going to work; Coming home and spending time with your family and not having to expand yourself to accommodate a dream.
Generously for me the closing of Caribbean Majestic coincided with my Christmas break from teaching. As promptly as I was able to arrange for it to happen I was on a plane to New York to be with my wife. It would be the first time, in a very long time, that we would be together without an immediate project on either of our backs. It was an anomaly for us; To spend evenings slower- dinner, a movie and nothing else; To say yes to invitations and stay later on dates; To not have the anxiety( nor excitement) of pushing for an achievement that was desired but not yet had. That is a normalcy that has been rare for me. That kind of life can be enticing.
The scaling back on both occasions was a scaling of words as well. I have found that one can grow tired of expressing oneself- of attempting to explain and communicate. I found myself to have little more than the energy to watch from the shelter of my silence and view the explorations (and machinations) of others. It was not a question of “what’s next?”. I have been very clear in my mind, for a long time, about what I want out of this life. In truth “what’s next?” has been knocking for months faithfully. It was rather, I suppose, a coming to terms with rest being a part of the process.
In the months afterwards, I enjoyed the time I found to give myself to others in ways that I had not been able to before- Particularly to the relationships that faithfully weathered the process of the exhibition. In the months, I was reminded of the power of time as an instrument for change. I use the word instrument deliberately. For even whilst time it cannot be owned it can be misused. It becomes an instrument when you understand it as an abstraction- when you understand that your presence may support and reconstitute the lives of others meaningfully. And time-your time (your presence) and your work- is always the vehicle of this impact.
It is not that the making of art is not a powerful gift of yourself (and your time). The conundrum is that rarely is the creation of art a gift to the present (the immediate present). Its gift is for lives often unknown to the artist at the moment of creation. Its most precious value is its ability to be real for lives beyond the moment of its making. Most artists genuinely seek a voice that will speak beyond their own present and place in the world. And for most that I have known, that process drives them inward. I can say this now only because I have gone through my process of inward searching. There is work that has been created and stands apart from me. I can talk freely of giving of giving my myself to others now only because of what I have received through the journey of making the art (and life) that I choose. To the artist at the beginning of a similar journey I would say to them that the moment of fruition is worth it; the breakthrough into that version of you is worth it. Few things will give you the confidence like that of actually knowing what you can do (and what you have done). However, equally important is the remembrance of your actual life’s impact upon the lives of others and the impact of your presence to the ecosystems around you: that too is the work of your life.
Restoration to a place of creation took time but experience guided me to know to wait on it. I can write this now because, in a sense, the tide has come back in. The fatigue is no longer there. And the imaginings that I asked to rest, whist I rested, are now buoyant again with their own energy. I have been humbled to see the work that I have created connect with expanding audiences whilst I have simultaneously (and privately) given attention to others. At the beginning of March “Caribbean Majestic: the exhibition” was mounted at the School of Education’s Library at the University of the West Indies. It became an official an installment of their “SOELibArt: Promoting Art in the Library” series. Apart from being the most public installment of the work this showing is unique as I’ve asked Marinna Shareef and Shane Mohammed (two seriously progressive young artists) to expand the Caribbean Majestic exhibit. Behind the scenes I have been building the Caribbean Majestic catalogue of products. Now, along with the original paintings, for purchase, are also specially designed T-shirts, ladies tote-bags and prints from the Caribbean majestic series.
The next stop for the exhibition is Tobago. This was a desire of the team from our first meeting and much of the process has been tied to the imagery of the island. We knew would the work would remain unfinished until it is mounted there. The stories that I have gathered whilst going out into the field, painting, have been walking with me and supplementing my own life. I know that they will do the same for another. They are the lives of others and their lessons. On that end the work of telling them remains to be done. Once a week I will put these stories into words as best as I can. I understand very acutely that they do not belong to me.
Perhaps the most significant imagining, made radically buoyant over the past few months, has been the designing of a Children’s band for 2019 Trinidad Carnival. Together with a few parents and teachers from my school an idea has been mapped that blends community service and education through the vehicle of art. Motivated by the destruction of the 2017 hurricane season upon the Greater Antilles we committed ourselves to a creative project that aims at making a solid impact towards the support of children’s education in another Caribbean island. At the beginning of March we had the sketches for a portrayal entitled “Dominica: After God is the Earth”. For me the band brings a kinetic and public representation of the matters of courage, resilience and hope that have been the foundation of the Caribbean Majestic allegory.
As I am returning to a different rhythm of life I am finding the necessity of words again. As with the paintings, the process ahead is open. Take from it what you need. If nothing else it will be a beautiful journey.