Visiting Old Friends

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oil on canvas, 24″ x 54″

Revisiting this piece and making some changes has me wanting to be up there again, in the soft rain amongst the agapanthus. I think an annual pilgrimage to either Mandeville or Greenwich is a worthy aspiration as I know there’s a lot that can be done with these heavenly flowers, and this is just a beginning.

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detail

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There are the buds in their various stages, and the sculptural perfection of them; there’s the spindly stems of the flowers and the way they burst into soft blue stars; there’s the spherical suggestion of the blossom, and the tall and slender stalks; there’s the host of lilacs and cobalts on the hillsides. And then there are the homes that they usually surround. I introduced a building into this painting to give it a context, something to work with the pathway; I’d like to work more compositions with agapanthus and buildings. Spring soon come….

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Kingston Garden

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oil on canvas, 42″ x 57″

Started well over a year ago, this piece hung on the wall unfinished because I didn’t know how to finish it. It is now completed. There were so many areas I liked I was afraid to continue in case I lost them, but once I gathered my courage and began back in it actually went well, and it revealed itself to me without (too much) hesitation. In fact, it’s got a freedom of brushstroke that I really enjoy and have been aiming for – loose and seemingly spontaneous, and the palette is so pleasing – soft and dreamy…. so I’m happy with it. Always a good place to be.

The flowers and leaves are all in my garden so I see them all the time, and I’d been painting a series of these sexy pinks and hanging heliconias, so after much fumbling and attempting to do them justice I am finally finding a dialogue with them that we both enjoy…at least I do, and they’re not complaining.

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(detail)

I’m finally beginning to accept that each piece I paint starts beautifully and with lots of promise and gorgeous marks, and then I mess it up, and then I spend a long time with plenty cussing trying to ameliorate. Trying to make what’s terrible better. Or not good enough acceptable, and then some. To save it from the reject pile.

This process allows a lot of luscious paint to build up, and there is the lovely play of drips and strokes and colours and tones, and that’s what make it interesting eventually, at least to me.

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(detail)

Not tight and controlled. “Spirit over rendering” is my new mantra.

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(detail)

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(detail)

It’s big, and difficult to photograph, but this is a record and that’s all it’s supposed to be.

Today I varnish it and prepare it to head off to a new as yet unknown home…

Caribbean Quarterly Journal

I’m honored and delighted to be featured in the most recent Caribbean Quarterly journal, the flagship journal on Caribbean culture published by the University of the West Indies (UWI). This current issue features the strong Irish Jamaican connection, a connection that goes back for centuries, and one that any of us Irish who live here are so happy to acknowledge. It is available at UWI Regional Headquarters, Hermitage Road, Kingston 7 (876-970-3261), or at the UWI Bookshop.

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The cover features a section of a 60′ diptich mural in Scotiabank, Mandeville.

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Two other murals, an 80′  mural in the Donald Sangster Airport in Montego Bay of Jamaican life, and a 40′ mural in Starbucks, Liguanea Plaza, Kingston of the Lion of Judah.

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Oil paintings and watercolors from gardens in both Jamaica and Ireland,

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and the very  lovely editor Kimberly Robinson-Walcott asked me to write an artist’s statement, which encouraged me to articulate why it is I paint, which is an important exercise in itself.

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Artist’s Statement

“I love how paint takes a life of its own, with the marks and tones and effects it can form if I can be free enough when applying it. Whether it’s oil paint or watercolor, there’s an infinite journey that can be taken with the aesthetics of mark-making and colour-work; the challenge is to maintain a fresh spontaneity within the framework of a recognizable form or scene.

My inspiration is always Nature and what’s around me, from the light on a distant landscape to the lines and shapes of a vine of hanging flowers to a still life of fruits. There’s a perfect spot between accurate drawing and loose brushwork, between sensitivity and spontaneity, between cool tones and a bright splash of colour. It’s that balance that I seek when I work. It can be elusive, and I make many mistakes, but it’s the joy that I feel when it works that keeps me coming back. With recent mural commissions I have followed the same principles, incorporating collage and glazes to introduce an element of contemporary social relevance. Ultimately I want each piece to manifest balance, to emit a feeling of harmony and serenity, to pay homage to the sense of the perfection that’s in the natural world.”

 

 

Walking into the Light

My first oil painting after a long break. And it went well, didn’t end up as yet another reject, which is a very good way to start back. These days are days of new beginnings, of new life, which I now realize is not an assured thing or to be taken for granted.

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This painting marks the birth of our new Young at Art calendar too. It’s based on a photograph I took of a magnificent tree in the car park of the printery on the day I was signing off on the final version, after many tweaks and minor adjustments. I was heading back to the car, and as I’d just begun teaching a new block on Trees, I’d been looking at trees in a sleuthing way, looking for good ‘models’. This one really stood out, and was inspiration incarnate! So absolutely magnificent, a magical being right here in our midst. I took a few pictures of it, and thought I’d try to paint it myself.

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When I got home the only surface I had ready was a 4′ x 4′ board, and so out it came, and I got to work. I applied much the same principles I’d been teaching for approaching trees, and so it went pretty well; all that presenting of shapes and interesting rendering paid off. And of course I had to work with yellow, as that’s the colour I’ve been consistently drawn to ever since I got my new lease on life; again, new beginnings.

The woman was so enjoyable to draw, and I love that she’s walking into the light with her arms full of work, engaged and productive and financially independent. I’ve incorporated the collaged newspaper technique that I was using for the Starbucks murals, and had to search through a pile of Gleaners to find the crosswords as my mother-in-law takes them out to do them – I was lucky to find a page with two grids still remaining!

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I love the combination of Kingston life and The Gleaner. This same technique came in very handy for the motorbike, which I found very difficult… I’ve never painted or drawn a motorbike before, and it was so challenging. I had to repaint it numerous times, and so pasting over a bike that simply wasn’t working and starting again on fresh newspaper became part of the surface, and I like it. Keeps it from becoming overworked and stagnant.

It’s good to be back.

Giving Thanks

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I haven’t posted any art, or indeed made any, for a long time. Today was the first day I felt like doing anything, and as I’ve been very drawn to the colour yellow in recent months, I set up in front of a pot of yellow allamanda flowers. It took me a while to get that far, as everything has been put away for over a year, but I found my box of watercolours, and an easel, some nice paper, a board, and some brushes – I couldn’t find my watercolour brushes, but I made do with what I had -and was happy to be in the sun and amongst the plants in my garden. Once I tried to begin, I realized that many of my paints had dried up, so the first strokes were not in the right yellow, and then a few drops of rain came out of nowhere; within minutes it was raining heavily and I had to run for cover…

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Indoors with everything I went, and set up again, this time with a light, but then the phone started to ring, and there were other interruptions, and once again little progress was made…When the rain eased off outside I went once more, but by now the light was totally different, as were the plant’s shapes, weighed down by raindrops and the flowers having had a battering, and so I did a few more quick marks and called it a day.

I had something to do on the road in the afternoon, and stopped at a pharmacy where the very friendly pharmacist and I got into a conversation, triggered by her wearing the pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness month. She told me about her friend who died 4 years ago of breast cancer; she had been misdiagnosed, and by the time she was properly diagnosed it was too late and she died, leaving two teenage daughters behind. It’s so tragic. I can imagine the anguish and torment the whole family went through, and now those girls don’t have a mother, and their father has lost his wife.

It could have been me, could have been my children. Having just been through breast cancer myself, and been cured, I give thanks for every day, and am so grateful for every moment, and if I’m not being grateful I quickly do a reality-check and pull it together, because I am BLESSED to be alive. And healthy.

I think that is why I’m loving yellow so much; it seems to signify new life, and I feel everything about my life has been rejuvenated. It’s for that reason I’m writing this post and sharing this first sketch, messy though it is, to celebrate surviving and living life, rain, dried-up paints, missing brushes, interruptions and all.

“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.”

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″