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Friday 9th November 2018

Written by Joanne C. Hillhouse/Sponsored by Joanne C. Hillhouse *Jhohadli*Writing and Editing Services

Independence week, I took a turn toward the airport, a place I visit only when I have to travel, because of the teasers on my social media indicating that some of Antigua and Barbuda’s signature artists were on show for the season. I don’t mean literal signature but artists whose work has a recognizable (to me) and distinctive style and point of view.

Take Mark Brown whose Black Madonna and Christ, oil and metal leaf on canvas, is imposing and not just because of its size. Bold is one word to describe his work; challenging is another. This is the artist, after all, whose Angel in Crisis series saw angels shedding their celestial nature, and any hint of modesty (yes, that’s my delicate way of saying there was full frontal nudity and exposed doubt) and explore the full painful, messy range of human existence; angel after de-winged angel, and a pregnant nun. Mark was setting the usual tropical bliss paintings aside, and doing concept art which some found disturbing. But art is meant to disturb, isn’t it? And so he continues to do with a Madonna, skin rich like brown sugar, veiled and haloed and naked, as a baby, also brown, also naked, suckles at her breast. It was her eyes, which seemed to me defiant yet vulnerable, that drew my own though, even with the grandeur of the painting. There is a story there.

Also Guava de Artist, I thought I recognized his pop art sensibility in Stingray, from the pepto pink of his female form to the ‘what?!’ in her gaze to the cigarette hanging from her fingers, and, when I checked the tag, I was right. I remember first seeing Guava’s work (an urban nightmare on canvas repurposed from palettes that seemed a part of the image itself) at the Woods Gallery, when there was a Woods Gallery. And interviewing him some time thereafter – his work even more of an outlier in terms of the tropical bliss aesthetic, with echoes of cartoon and graffiti in its otherworldliness. There was nothing literal and everything exploratory about it.

Of course, Debbie Eckert, I feel like there are two main lanes to her visual art – her portraits, she has an incomparable knack for capturing the light in her subject’s spirit, especially when it comes to children; and her nature canvases which are all about that magical glow. Right away I knew Approach, the full moon’s golden glow hitting the water and rippling out, was hers.

And of course Heather Doram, I recognized her mixed media work of found objects right away, and not just because this piece or one much like it had been a companion to my story The Other Daughter on the Commonwealth Writers platform Adda. There was the earthiness that is consistent even as her actual product moves through its different phases. Senior among our artists, firm in her grasp of technique, strong in her point of view, Doram yet does not play it safe, she’s still experimenting and that is always interesting to absorb. This piece Fusion in reddish hues has a broad view of course but the individual pieces keys and coins and such had me appreciating the detail. This may be my favourite of her phases after Strength of a Woman.

Another artist who has continued to evolve and experiment, I think, since I was first introduced to his art, Emile Hill, showed a mixed media piece on wood called Dawn that drew my eye and my interest. Drawing my eye as well was Jamil Charles’ What Mother Earth Gave Me, another of those paintings that says one thing in whole but has amazing detail the closer you get – also a very topical and insistent piece in this era of Climate Change. Bernard Peters’ Seat of Power was familiar to me because it had been a standout for me, one I’d written about, from another show (an exhibition of the work of art teachers) – and it remains quite dramatic; and it was fun to see a young one, a young one whose name I recognized as she was a 2018 Wadadli Pen finalist, in the mix: Chloe Martin with her Hummingbird in Paradise which did, in the end bring some of that tropical bliss.

Then there is Kallan Greene’s Choback/Let it Go which captures the wildness and intimacy, the heat of mas and j’ouvert…and is that snow-like substance, powder?Interesting attempt to capture the mood of Carnival from the inside-out.

As I understand it, the show will remain at the airport – just outside the arrival lounge, which is actually a good location for it, though I do still wish there was a town showing for anyone who might not be able to get to the airport, or a national gallery, in that unused historical building on Redcliffe Street that artists have been lobbying should be re-purposed for this, say – for a week, post-Independence. If you still miss it, well you have the names of a number of the artists; keep an eye out for opportunities to support their undeniable talent.

This post originally appeared on Jhohadli as a sponsored post; contact Jhohadli/Joanne C. Hillhouse if you wish to sponsor a future post in support of coverage of Antiguan and Barbudan arts and culture. All Rights Reserved.

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