“We Likke but we Tallawah”

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Collage and acrylic on hardboard panels, 20′ x 6′

Now that Starbucks has officially opened their first cafe in Montego Bay I no longer have to keep my work a secret! It all started towards the end of the summer with an email and then a phone call from the wonderful Starbucks designer Denise. Then some brainstorming, a few watercolor sketches, the submission and the approval process, and we were off, into the big time with 5 4’x6′ panels stretching the length of my veranda. Just feet away the deluge of passing hurricanes dumped never-ending rain as I pored through stacks of  my mother-in-laws recent Gleaners, which as Divine Guidance would have it were filled with the best photographs of Jamaican life, having just come through the London Olympics and the season of Emancipation and Independence. Slowly over the weeks the piece took shape, and when it was finished we hired a van to get it across the island to the beautiful space of the new cafe, where my super-talented husband Bruce installed it. I did some finishing touches, and we met another lovely Starbucks designer, Jeremiah, who lit the piece so perfectly – every artist’s dream – and we stayed with our lovely friends at The Wharf House, a slice of heaven. Every moment of the experience was wonderful, and I am so thankful for this opportunity to have grown as an artist. With Jamaican culture as my subject it was a heartfelt and enriching experience in every way. Below, after these shots of details, is a description of the work:

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Installation and finishing touches time…

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detail – The Doctor Bird, symbol of Jamaica

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detail – the sky a quilt of songsheets, the hills a host of musicians

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detail – the mane resplendent with athletes

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detail – Montegonians and local dress designers Sandra Kennedy and her mother

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detail – the Jamaican national anthem

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detail – Usain Bolt on top of the world!

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detail – the louvres a bank of artistes

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a cameo of Jamaican life culture

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detail – Bolt, Marcus Garvey, Peter Tosh and more…

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detail – Bolt in the coffee bushes

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During installation…

A description of the whole piece:

“This bright and colorful mural celebrates the best of Jamaica; from our musicians to our athletes to our world-famous coffee and our beautiful island landscape, it illustrates a common Jamaican expression, “Wi Likkle but wi Tallawah’, meaning that although we are small, our impact is massive!

Prominently featured in the center of the piece is the Lion of Judah, a symbol of strength and pride, an icon internationally associated with the Reggae music of Jamaica. Facing the lion is the Doctor bird, a hummingbird endemic to the island and the national bird of Jamaica. Known in Jamaican folklore as a messenger from the spirit world, it is a fitting homage to the lasting influence of those who have built our culture over time. The juxtaposition of the beauty, speed and agility of such a feisty little bird with the noble majesty and stature of the handsome lion represents the best of the Jamaican character; charisma, dignity, confidence, joy and winning speed.

On either end of the mural coffee branches grow, their berries glistening gold and red, representing what many connoisseurs consider to be the best coffee in the world. Behind them is the landscape of the Blue Mountains, where the famous coffee bushes grow, and above this view of the island’s interior a bank of louvers frames the composition. This tropical architectural element is also featured above the windows of the coffee shop, thereby connecting the mural with the space within which it is displayed.

 

The mural is created with layers of collaged paper taken from local newspapers, and from album covers spanning years of the island’s musical output. All the images feature the people of Jamaica, and these layers of collage are combined with glazes of paint. The overall effect is rich and resonant, allowing for much of Jamaican culture to be explored and enjoyed by the viewer. It is guaranteed to give rise to many conversations that center on an appreciation of just how much this little island has given the world.

To list just a few:

  • The lion’s mane is a mass of athletes, all wearing the yellow gear of our track teams, our footballers and our cricketers, and crowning the top of the mane (and indeed the world), a victorious Usain Bolt revels in glory. The Lion’s face features The Skatalites, Peter Tosh, and a young boxer, and emerging from the lion’s ear is the wonderful Jimmy Cliff, star of the film ‘The Harder They Come’.
  • The sky against which the Doctorbird hovers is a quilt of well-known songs and lyrics; Sitting in Limbo, My Boy Lollipop, No Woman No Cry and many, many more
  • The louvers filter light through a dancing couple, and beside them are album covers of the music of ska, Ernest Ranglin, Third World, Harry Belafonte, Shaggy, Sizzla and Damian Marley, to name just a few. On the other side of the Lion the louvers feature the National Anthem, a salutation to Jamaican farmers, and a headline mentioning the Jamaican Chess team.
  • The Blue Mountains undulate behind beachgoers enjoying their Beach Day, and emerging from the rich green hillsides are the faces of Grace Jones, Steel Pulse, Luciano, Buju Banton, Bob Marley, Millie Small and Miss Lou. James Bond, a character created in Jamaica by Ian Fleming, blends in with the mists and the Lion’s whiskers.
  • Amongst the coffee branches and flowers, Starbucks’ intention to support Jamaican farmers is featured, as are local fashion creators Sandra Kennedy and her mother, and on a coffee leaf on the far left side, Usain Bolt points his iconic pose to the Doctor bird in the sky.”
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Sunday Morning, Walking in Beauty

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detail

The poinciana trees are finishing their reign now, but back in the early days of summer they’d burst into bloom, seemingly overnight, and put on a raging show, all hot burning reds and bright fiery oranges. Flaring up all over town and country they were, gladdening the hearts of one and all, and up close they’re even more gorgeous – what a riot of fabulousness they are! Down Constant Spring Road there are about a dozen of them lining the side of this dirty noisy city street, and for that stretch and that stretch alone, the grime and ugliness of this frenetic road disappears, the fanfare of color and majesty filling the space with glory. Most of these particular trees are of the orange, and more rare, variety, with a few of the common red ones amongst their rank; the blend of the two colors only serves to intensify Nature’s parade, to turn up the volume, so to speak. Beneath these tall trees is a long and wide path, strewn of course in a carpet of big blousy blossoms, so the overall effect is spectacular, and upon this path people walk, going about their business.

I determined to have a go at painting these beauties, but as usual the ‘plein air’ approach is not possible, between the heat and the unwanted attention, so I took some photographs instead one early Sunday morning, and returned to the studio to work from them there. It was only then that I noticed that the young man who had been walking amidst the dapple on the shaded pathway while I took the shots was carrying his Bible, and so the scene became more charged with meaning; a young man on his spiritual path, walking towards the Light, surrounded and embraced by beauty; and that felt like something universal, something we can all access, whether it’s because we respond with joy to the awesomeness of the natural world, or because we’re walking our path with faith…and then it became more personal again, and the young man became a young man I knew and loved, and for whom I had just planted some bright orange marigolds, and so this is for him.

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oil on canvas, 28″ x 36″

 

After the Rain in Lambent Light

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oil on canvas, 18″ x 27″

Many moons ago I visited friends who live between Cockpit Country and the sea, in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland and pastures, and while we were there it rained and rained, night and day. I love the rain, and loved being cocooned indoors as massive rainclouds moved slowly across the land, drenching it and saturating it (not unlike the weather we’ve been having lately from the dreadful but thankfully distant Hurricane Irma; bands of relentless rain). Then close to midday there was a break and we went out for a walk in the most perfect weather, to me an Irishwoman, damp and cool and with the promise of more rain. As the sunshine did its best to have a say, light glinted off the boggy pools of water that had filled any dips in the fields, and the horses’ backs and manes glowed. Lambent light it was, and it’s not often you get that in the tropics, and what with the wet field and the sheep in a lane-way I thought I was back on home turf, back in dear and magical Ireland, and saw paintings all about. Alas I’d come out without the camera, so my dear friend took some photos with her phone and Whatapped them to me later, and this painting was begun.

Now with a show coming up I’m trying to lick this and other pieces into shape so they can go out in public…this is the result.

Finding a Way

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Oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″

So I’m still trying to find my way, my one particular style of painting. I’ve spent the summer responding to this and that: painting orchids from a flower right in front of me, the ‘plein air’ approach, and as close as I got to painting outside as it’s so damn hot; starting something from life and then continuing in the studio with the help of a photo; starting from a photo and then trying to allow the paint to take over so the image is not too literal, but the paint is what’s important; experimenting with a collage-and-glazes technique I gave a workshop in, and going big with it…  All have had their challenges, and I can’t say that I know which approach resonates the most with me, so I guess I’m still exploring.

This one I started months ago, inspired by a photograph I saw on Facebook of someone entering a river’s pool somewhere in the interior of Jamaica, and I really liked the feel of the place, and rather than pack up the car with equipment and go and find this magical river, I started from the shot and took it from there. The other day I found the painting amongst a stack of unfinished canvases, so I put a few touches to it and titled it to reflect the fact that I don’t know one definite way, but am pretty open to the exploration. Maybe ‘Finding’ is presumptive; it’s searching really….It would be easier if I knew my ‘style’, but that will either become clear in time or it won’t. And I’ve always liked a variety and find it hard to stay with one approach. One thing I know is this type of narrative painting, the one with a ‘story’, a depiction of something happening as such, is easier to conclude than the type of painting that is an exploration in paint alone… I have many of those unfinished…

Heliconia Collinsiana

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oil on canvas, 18″x 28″

Summer is coming to an end, so I’m trying to finish up all the pieces I’d started but haven’t yet concluded. I’m often afraid of the finishing process, especially if I like what I’ve done so far; painting is easier in the beginning stages when there’s nothing to save or lose.  And then I usually don’t know how to finish, don’t know what the piece needs; there are so many options, only the most basic fragments of which I can imagine, and so until they’re revealed, by happy accident essentially, I don’t know what they are, so I’m going in blind, so to speak. Furthermore, it gets harder to keep a piece fresh and real the more it develops. That balance between allowing a spontaneity of marks and effects to happen, and care with what already works is very elusive, and amounts to a dance on the canvas that could well result in a tragic fall. And so the finishing process calls for a certain courage, a confidence to strike out; but knowing how easy it is to ruin a good piece tempers such positivity, and the reject pile is high, and so courage is hard to find… and I’m afraid of that familiar feeling of frustration, of wasting precious time, of being a failure.

I want the magic of gorgeous paint to just happen, as it sometimes does, but it can’t get on the canvas by itself, and my hand is so heavy – so it’s me, my heavy hand, and fear, or at best trepidation…

But today it worked well enough, so I’m somewhat heartened. I kept thinking of icons when I was painting it, and I think that guided the palette. I used to immerse myself in books of icons, and hang out in icon galleries, so maybe one of those ancient saints decided to step in and lighten my heavy hand, to allow the sacredness of Nature to be honoured, to the best of my stumbling ability…

Same Orchid, different spike

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Oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

Having struggled with painting orchids – replicating the close-up beauty of the flowers a la Georgia O’Keeffe has been too tall an order for me – I’m having more success now. The trick has been to focus on a branch of flowers, as then there are more shapes to work with, both positive and negative, and they lend themselves to quick brushwork. It makes for more fun too, as I’m trying to capture the morning light on and through the petals before it changes and it’s afternoon, and this faster work prevents me from getting too precious. The smaller canvas size also helps – I have another monster canvas that’s taking forever to complete, so this is a nice breather.

Loose Lady Orchid

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oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

In an attempt to loosen up, as my studio work has been consistently laborious and ultimately not much fun, I took to the orchid I’d bought myself as a birthday present with the intention of painting. I pass her every day and admire her beauty. She has a lovely spot in the hallway patio; the morning sun illuminates her petals, and she glows. So today I responded to her beckoning and for the first time in a long time I’m happy with the result.

I pray that this is an approach that will work for me again –  loose, gestural, spontaneous and not overworked – and as it feels so natural and authentic to sketch with the paint in this responsive way, I feel heartened that maybe it just will…