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Announcements Art

Repre 2 Private View – next Friday, 12th April 6-9pm

Unfortunately I won’t be around for the exhibit, but if you are in London, please attend!

repre2_header_next_week

Silwex Studios, Quaker Street, E1 6SN
Don’t forget to RSVP!
Private view- Guest list only
info@repreart.co.uk

Exhibition continues on the 13th and 14th April
Open daily 12-6pm (admission free)

Repre Representational Painters

Repre are a group of nine artists that share a common vision to capture and depict reality. From the body to the landscape, each artist is concerned with not only depicting the real, but exploring the boundaries of realism within their practice.

Repre 2 will be an experimental exhibition exploring each artist’s relationship with realism. As a group the artists are unified by the starting point of reality, but ultimately their work is a personal and unique approach to depicting the world around us. There are a variety of ideas that the artists are driven by such as surface, mass media, atmosphere or the deconstruction of reality, these themes will provide the basis for the exhibition and will give an insight into the role of realism within each artist’s work. Alongside showing individual pieces, the group will work on a live painting over the course of the weekend, the collaborative piece will allow the artist’s to question their own practice and come together as a group to explore the representational and experimental artistic process. The exhibition will end with an artist’s talk on Sunday 14 April, to open up a discussion around the themes of depicting the real, working collaboratively and the outcomes of the exhibition.

The group’s name, Repre, is itself a reflection of the distance it sets itself from the constraints of traditional figurative art. Repre is a segment of the original word ‘Representational’. The artists aren’t solely bound to painting the real but instead challenge their approach and ideas to make their work relevant to the contemporary art world. By using a variety of themes, influences and ideas the group’s work provides an exciting approach to figurative art.

The Artists:
Julie Bennett reappropriates mass-mediated images into gestural paintings:
http://juliebennett.co.uk

Nathaniel Fowles paints evocative scenes of London and has his work in many private collections:
http://www.re-title.com/artists/nathaniel-fowles.asp

Jemma Grundon’s work concerns the landscape and the evocative nature of the world we live in:
http://www.jemmagrundon.co.uk

Noel Hefele Hefele is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York who is interested in the notions of landscape painting addressing our relationships with the non-human world:
https://www.noelhefele.com

Amelia Humber’s paintings relay the atmosphere and emotion of landscape:http://www.ameliahumber.com

Rebecca Molloy (founder of Repre Art Collective) looks at the deconstruction of reality:
http://www.rebeccamolloy.com

Louise Morgan is a landscape painter producing predominantly miniature watercolours that are centred around memory:
http://www.louisemorganart.com

Andrew Newton an experimental artist who looks at the minds subconscious dichotomy between structure and order and spontaneous impulsivity:
http://www.andrewnewtonart.co.uk

Patrick Simkins is exhibiting new work that questions perceptions, fragility and morality. He was recently an official London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Storyteller:
http://www.psimkinsart.co.uk

silwex

Categories
Residencies

Mud painting I got beats

I passed out at about 10 o’clock. The kids did a number on me today. A few too many young ones were around for the mural painting in the afternoon / evening. And they were excited. So while I was managing them, another group of teenagers were painting on the mural. They went over somethings that I think were finished, but that is fine. The push / pull of having different folks work on it is interesting… to a point. I think it was mistake to let them use big brushes. Regardless, the mural became a big spectacle this evening and I had to clear people out, not once, but twice. When the kids were done I rounded them up and got them to wash up and leave. I took a picture of the group and congratulated them for all their hard work. I told them it was time for the big kids to work on the mural now.

That went well for a while. After the basketball practice let up, we had a few more teenagers come to paint. By the time they started to lose focus by painting their hands more than the wall, I called it a night. In all it was a good session. Kevin took a leading roll on deciding what the mural should look like. They tried to avoid the mangroves a bit, but really brought them closer. Gahleel (sp?) came by afterwards to inspect and apologize for not making it. He had some critiques, saying that they “over did it in areas.” I let him tell me how I could fix it. We sat and chatted for a while.
I wanted to keep the swarm of younger kids from painting too much on the mural. At first, I showed them the red-clay dirt. I asked them what they know about it, what you can do with it. They were aware that you can fashion it into objects by putting water in it and molding it with your hands. They were excited when I told them you can also paint with it.

They had run off to the Sea Side area to collect mangrove sticks (I’m thinking to paint them and stick them in front of the mural…). They also came back with part of the dog skeleton. They were very excited about it and asked if the archeologists will like it.

After I demonstrated the paint, they asked if they could paint the dog skeleton. I said sure! Why not!? 8 of them swarmed around the skull and painted it brown and put it in the sun to dry. I had them paint on the ground in front of the research station with the mud. That provided about 30 minutes or so of entertainment for them and a few interesting markings on the ground. I told them which ones I liked and tried to get them to collobarate. They came together to draw the Marcello tower, which was cool. A good portion of them wrote my name on the ground, which was funny.
I was worried that Dwight might see it the next morning and think I let them paint on the concrete with brown paint, but it rained and washed off a little later in the evening.

After cooling them off from the mud painting, I was able to slowly work them into working on the mural. Keeping them from jumping in identified the ones really interested: they would stand and watch the teenagers quietly.

The next session will have to be drawing in a few creatures. A conch shell, and the marine animals that live in the mangrove roots on the side columns.

In the morning I had painted at the same picnic table spot under the tree at the high school. I intended to move a painting along as a demonstration that they could then come and look at. I had a steady trickle of students coming by on break to watch and ask questions. I talked with Jahraka (sp?) and found out he likes to make music. He grabs beats from the internet and records over them with audacity. I told him I have some beats that I can send his way and he seemed excited about that. He said it is hard, he learns all by himself and they don’t teach music here. I told him to stop by sometime before I leave and we can listen to some beats and try things out. He likes the dancehall style.

At the end of the school day, four students came to work on their own canvases. Mitzi (sp?), Wakida, Shaquille and Kahanic. 3 girls and 1 boy. The energy was more subdued for this session. I gave them several tips and an overview of what we would be doing. They were hesitant at first but then moved quickly into it.

Mitzi was the only one who painted in vertical format. She put her compostion together in a way that reminded me a bit of Frida Kahlo and perhaps a little bit of Matisse. Maybe she will like Roussoue? She created her own version of the landscape based off of what she was looking at. When she was about done, she said “I feel like a pro!” She put the red fruit in the tree at the end, which I asked “Where are those coming from?”

Wakida took immediately to the expressions possible from the brushwork in oil paint. She might be interested in some Renoir? Although I don’t really like his work, the brushwork can be exquisite sometimes. Wakida quickly painted a second canvas before we finished up. Wakida used loads of paint, which at times muddied up.

Kahanic used the easel and painted a “pink tree” full of blossoms across the meadow. She had a unique way of putting the composition together that seemed to echo her positivity while painting. At the end she dropped purple dots into the painting for apparently just a decorative reason.

Shaquille was quiet yet consistently making jokes. He possibly was the only one out of the three who did not over do it with the oil paints. He made some nice clouds by pulling the paint off the canvas, but his trees were a bit too symbol-like.

In all, I should have had them wrap up about 30 minutes earlier than I did. The oil paint can build up and become too wet for the work to be productive. I would say we worked for about 2 hours. Everybody took their work home with them and hopefully kept the paint smudges to a minimum.
I spoke with Mitzi later on at the mural and she said her Dad was really proud of her when she showed him the painting.

My approach still seems to be to get them enthusiastic and feeling capable. I try to sneak in lessons underneath that but I am not being too strict with the WHAT to teach. I am being adaptive. If they are pushing a particular way that seems intruiging and could lead to greater things, I try to offer relevant advice. If they are headed down a path that is closed off due to a technical constraint or blocking in their thinking, I try to pull them back.

Enthusiasm vs Technical ability. Is there a way to teach them more formally in such a short time? The school has a level of formality to it that I am not used to.

Categories
Residencies

Workshops and the Biggest Tree

This morning I set out to work on the mural by myself first thing. The sun hits the wall of the mural in the morning and it is extremely bright. For a few mornings now I walk outside and can’t even look at it. So I head back inside for some sunglasses, wondering how the wall will weather in this sun over time.

The mural wall is cinder block. This morning I was focusing on filling in some of the crevices and pores where the white is shining through. It looks bad when you can see speckles of white coming through the blue of the water or the blue of the sky. I’ve been chosing any old paint color to fill in these sections, aware that I can utilize them to add a dry brush effect of blending some colors. The dots are endless though and seem to reappear afterwards.

I was also waiting to meet with Romeo, who is the guy who knows how to mortar here. I have collected old glass to add to a post by the museum with the kids. I am sure I could figure it out, but I thought I would get a quick tutorial on the proper proportions to make sure things go smoothly. I don’t want time to run out for this project though, even though it should go fairly quick once we start.

I headed up to the high school a little before noon with some canvas and oil paint. We had a fun session on a picnic table underneath a tree in a meadow. Two of the guys from yesterday, Malcolm and Kendrie (sp?) came out. I gave a few pointers before starting and talked about mixing paint and brush application. I also told them how to decide upon their composition by using their fingers as “viewfinders.” We talked about not using white or black when painting landscapes, as they can dilute the vibrancy of the colors. We talked about working as if you were squinting, so you can get the large shapes and tones down. They went right into it.

It was a lot of fun. Between the laughing and jokes, they really approached it earnestly. Some struggled more than others. There were 6 boys. The smallest boy, Shammah (sp?) had the largest canvas. He put down a very nice Picasso like rendering of tree branch, boldly cutting across this big canvas. He then got a bit lost trying to figure out the rest of the painting. At the end, one of the boys said his was the best. While they were painting, they kept telling him it was weird.

Kendrick took to painting on the easel. He approached the tree that we were getting the shade from, composing a closely cropped painting of the trunk. Malcolm decided to paint the school buildings and put together a composition that had bits of a Cezanne feeling, a compressed geometry of sorts. Kevin drew a scene with some symbol trees, and I kept busting his chops about that. “Man, that looks like you drew a tree and then just stamped them down, I don’t see trees like that!” The other two drew very nice considered compositions. One was centered weighted with a tree. And the other was stratified… sky, tree, grass, foreground. The color choice was vibrant.

The session lasted a bit too long for a few reasons. With the exception of Shammah, they added enough paint to the boards. The oil paint was still wet, so it began to get messy. The boys were painting in their uniforms, which made for a hilarious moment when one of them was asking for burgundy paint to paint over a blue stain on his pants. Also, towards the end, a few boys started literally swinging from the tree branch. You can only expect to handle the focus for so long. The rough housing lead to two of them marking up each others paintings… which actually made them very cool in my opinion. I tried to get them to slow down and recognize that the “ruined” expression could be worked back into the painting. But they both ended up wiping their paintings completely. The others set their work to dry and we all left the school.

Along the way I got a nice post-workshop video where they recounted some things about their experience. I will upload it when I get back. The boys helped me carry some of the supplies into town. They allowed me to hang with them and answered my questions and pointed out things of interest to them. I asked them about the biggest tree in Barbuda and they took me to it. One of the boys said in astonishment “wow, I’ve lived here my whole life and I never saw that tree before.”
They told me about the previous largest tree that was by the baker. They cut that tree down because it was endangering the power lines. They said you could see it from many parts of the island and use it as a landmark.

I took some photos of the largest tree and we left, talking about how old it is and if the root system is really as large as the road. They asked me if that was the biggest tree I’ve ever seen and I stumbled on how to answer that. I muttered something about how it was the biggest root structure I had seen.

It was really nice of them to give me a little tour of the area and help me carry some supplies. 
We passed an abandoned tour boat, with some wildlife painted on the sides. They cleared the bush to show me the Frigate bird airbrushed on the side. I asked what happened and they said “It just broke down and the tourism declined.”

We walked through the abandoned and drained “Duck Pond.”  It used to house ducks and was apparently an attraction for the tourists, but the pond attracted too many frogs, so they drained it. It still fills up with rainstorms though.

I returned to the field station for a quick bite to eat and then got back to work on the mural. Kevin was the first to stop by. He jumped in a bit timidly, painting the red on some of the Frigate birds. Ghaleel (sp?) came by and was scoffing at the previous day’s work. He boldly added the sun shine in orange, adding a big new direction for the mural. I lost those two after about 30 minutes because of two reasons: 6 ten-year olds (and younger) came to work on the mural, and basketball was happening next door. 

I managed the kids well by limiting their brushes and color choices. Over time, they managed to get a few more brushes. They got a big kick out of the stop motion camera taking pictures and would break frequently to pose in front of it. They tried to split up and explore the aqua-ponics side of the yard, but I kept them roped in. As the sun was setting I collected their brushes and brought them to clean up. By this point I was shepherding them by saying “everybody line up, get in line, you against the wall, everybody quiet!” It was a fun experience for them. One boy said “Painting is so awesome!” with bulging eyes. Another said “I told my mom I am coming to paint the mural and she said she was proud of me.” They want to come back tomorrow, but this could be a problem, as they aren’t really bringing the painting closer to being finished.

After I escorted them out, I spent a few hours working on the mural by myself. I walked to the wharf to watch the sun set over the lagoon, which was spectacular. Some of the high schoolers shouted out “Boom – Bad!” and waved. I talked with the hamburger shack guy Byron about a possible Frigate Bird tour. On the way back to the mural I watched a few minutes of the Basketball game. A lot of respect for the guys playing hard ball with no shoes. 

This is definitely a learning experience for me. At the end of the day it feels good. I feel like there are small victories that make it worth it. I feel like I am not working hard enough, but am working all day—its a strange feeling.

Categories
Residencies

I’m Safe

As I sit down to write, yet another mini-squall is hitting the roof of the research center. The roof is thin, and it sounds like there is metal on the top. The rain always sounds gentle hitting the roof, a bit like a soft static in both ears. 

Tonight is my first night on my own at the station. Sophia left this morning for Antigua, Puerto Rico and eventually New York, all by Monday. Max the 1-year-old doberman rotweiler is now staying with Romeo, so it is truly quiet here.

Max has a thing for kids, as in, he wants to eat them. For this reason we decided it was best to not have him around.

Being sunday and a transitional day, I wanted to get some oil painting done in the morning. I’ve been attracted to the government building shortly up the road. The building is very stately, but falling apart. It had some trouble with a bad string of hurricanes in the 90’s and was never repaired. The council used to use the building but they moved over to another a stones throw away.

I set up under the shade of a tree and painted for about 4-5 hours.

The first man who I talked with while sitting there was a welder and a handy man. He was on break from his security job at the council building. He asked me if I was “enjoying the day?”_ this enjoyment question I get a lot when painting. I think it is funny in a way. I do enjoy part of the time, but honestly it is hard work at times as well. If I was working on a spreadsheet I would be less likely to hear that question. In fact, when I code in wordpress I occasionally hit “the zone” where I really am enjoying myself. But I don’t attract spectators or get asked if I am enjoying my time.

I suppose this is because of some perceived axiomatic understanding of what painting is. I find myself trying to dispel that notion fairly often. I don’t want it to appear mystical; painting is a practice and most everyone has a practice. In conversations I ask people about their practice. This is how I came to know the fellow is a welder.

He has also experienced the burning from looking at the arc light. He said it is “very painful.”

Our safety mindset in the US sits around our lives, dicing up and individualizing our actions like a card catalogue.

The burning eyes provoked a fear of my own, as well as the motorbikes with no helmets. I cringed and then wondered how safety laws and regulations impact my sense of fear. When I asked about the helmets, some students said “you just have to be a good driver.”

In response to “How are you?”, people respond “I’m Safe.”

I really do enjoy the conversations while sitting outside painting. People seem a bit inclined to open up and offer things about themselves.

Overall, about 6-8 people stopped by. The first guy and then two high school students were the most talkative. One older guy came by and was a bit oddly philosophical. “Are you painting the building or do you think you are painting the building?” He told me that every slave came through that building in colonial times and it should be repaired because it is history.

What a strange period in history. Has colonialism stopped or just morphed? Is Barbudan kids listening to Rick Ross some strange evolution of colonialism?

We live inside our own bubbles so much that it is hard to understand the perspective of others.

___

Council elections are coming up in March. I learned today that there is a “head guy in charge” who gets elected every five years in Barbuda. Council has a two-year term. Change is difficult here politically. As I understand it, 90 percent of Barbudans are employed by the government. There is little incentive to vote out the incumbents, because that would threaten their livelihoods. Apparently it is good pay for the amount of work required.

In the evening I had another 5 hour session with some students on the mural. They worked for about 4 hours and it was great. They really took to painting and were diligently painting in what I told them to. As the session progressed, they eased into painting on their own. They added and subtracted some things from the mural design and really did a good job. They were very comfortable with the process and even discussed elements of the mural with each other. Malcolm and Kendrick (sp?) were the students.

After we finished, they took photos and posted it on Facebook. They were saying “that’s sick!” I told them we will continue to work on it and figure out how to make it even more “sick” over the next few days. We will put some “swag” into the mural—to which they laughed.

They added the ferry that brings people and cargo, as well as a person fishing from the mangrove roots. The also added a few too many flying-v birds. I may secretly paint over those.

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Residencies Uncategorized

Paint on the Mural

Today was my first working Saturday after getting started with the students. (Last week was the BATCAVES, which I haven’t posted about, but will back date it.)

This morning I organized the paints to use for the mural, setting the stage anticipating students. I even discovered a few cans of a couple different colors that put my paint supply worries at ease. We have plenty of paint to make a mural.

There is a supply issue constantly at the background of almost every aspect of life in Barbuda. You can get a lot of the items of everyday life in New York, but the question is when, and how much will it cost. A bottle of Gatorade, for instance, is generally available at the stores, but sometimes they are out of the supply and waiting for a shipment. A 20 ounce bottle cost 6.50 Eastern Caribbean dollar, or $2.40. These small things can add up very quickly.

I have sampled some of the home cooked food that people sell on the side of the road. It is all very good, but perhaps not too healthy. I haven’t eaten this much chicken since the days when my brother would complain about how often my father would serve it for dinner. Generally that food is a bit cheaper.

I was in a bit of a bind after I organized the paints. I wanted to have some students around when we added the first bit of pigment. But it was Saturday morning and I found out that they are likely doing chores and would be available a bit later.

I brought some paints down to the museum and added the word “MUSEUM ->” as a bit of clarifying signage. Immediately, I attracted some kids on bikes who were quick to lend a hand.

I am learning this is not a place for a perfectionist, not that I am one. But giving the paint brush to kids when you are painting something like letters on the wall of a museum space is a hard thing to do! I wasn’t bothered by it, just aware of the letting go, while remembering that the exposure is the key.

I met a rather commanding 5-year-old who had a lot of questions. I threatened to paint her nose with the yellow I had. I did, and the group got had a laugh! Shortly afterwards, most of them had yellow dots on their noses.

To drive home the point of this being a new experience, one of the kids opened the acrylic paint, marveled at the bright green on his finger and asked “this came from Brooklyn?”

We painted up the lettering, and I went back over the edges to tidy it up. The accent is thick thick thick. I invited some of them to come paint the mural with me later in the day.

There was a frustrating moment where I was hoping to paint the mural, but no kids were around, and then when I packed up to go paint on a canvas, the kids would show up. They promptly disappeared after I put my oil paints back. This felt like it went back and forth several times. But we got started on the mural.

I had the first group work on the water and the second group work on the sky. With 6 brushes, the wall got covered pretty quickly. We even blocked in a good section of the mangrove. Now there are a lot of things to figure out still, but it was great to have a solid and under control work session with some kids. With each successive session I will bring the size of their brushes down and that should allow me to keep it manageable. After they left for the day, I spent a bit of time working on it myself. Several of them plan to return on Sunday.

I like the balance of letting the students work and then trying to pull that together. I hope for some happy accidents that take the mural in unexpected directions.

The evening was a great casual sit down where I finally cooked something for Sophia, Louise, and John. I had a lot of questions and learned some history.

Categories
Residencies

“Boom-bad!”

Today marked 1 week of visits up to the high school. I wrote in the morning and headed up there about 10am. The plan was to work with some Form 5 students, the oldest group I’ve worked with yet.

There were only 3 students at first, all girls. The reason for this: the students had to get special permission to leave their other classes. So this made for a different course of the class.

I am pushing at the climate change / global warming theme a bit more, framing my own artwork as something  concerned with the relationship between nature and culture. Today I went into my most in-depth explanation of it yet, and I didn’t seem to lose the students. There was at one point “I am really interested in what you are saying…” and afterwards one of them asked me if I understood the dialect because they felt like they can answer my questions in the dialect but are a bit shy or having a hard time to answer in our shared english.

To be truthful, this is the thickest Caribbean accent I have come across. When the kids are comfortable and talking to each other, it might as well be a different language 75 percent of the time. I’m picking up a few things, enough to make them laugh on occasion. “Whago-on?” is a standard greeting. Also you can say “Boom-bad!” when something is good or someone did a nice job.

I referred to the excess carbon in the air and how it creates the “greenhouse effect.” I told them, rightly or wrongly, to think of that like the Earth putting on a sweater. I asked them if nature included humans and they said yes immediately, which I honestly was a bit struck by. I felt a little odd speaking about the dichotomy of nature and culture, when I have read and tried to work past that myself over the past few years. But how else would you refer to it and communicate that idea? Perhaps these theorists who call for the death or the end of nature are a bit foolish. In some books, I’ve seen it written as human and non-human, which is still a dichotomy.

Regardless, we had a nice discussion.

After that we moved into drawing. Since they are in their last year, they need to produce a portfolio of research, writing and artwork around a theme. They had chosen “Gardens,” “Beaches,” and “Caribbean life.” We discussed ways to brainstorm how to make artwork around their themes. We also talked about thumbnail sketches and experiments with compositional lines. We looked at some paintings and drawings and talked about the compositions.

They all grabbed pencils to begin sketching their ideas. Only one out of the three was able to jump right in, so I focused my efforts on getting them to use color and to draw all the way across the page. There was a curious difference to all three. But the similarity was just a general lack of confidence in their drawing ability.

One student showed me a project where she painted on a piece of fabric and I was genuinely enthusiastic about the colors, shapes and compositional lines. Her drawing today replicated that same overall ability to use the page well and add interesting structure. She also had an interesting area where she was drawing the negative space between some well rendered palm trees. Her theme was the beach, so we briefly talked about how and why the beach is important, as well as how it is a particular way of relating to nature.

Another student had the theme of the garden. She was really hesitant to draw in the first place and searched for images of places she never had been on the internet. I kept pushing so she would draw sincerely, from what she already knows about gardens from her research. She ended up drawing this interesting imagined garden with a vaguely Chagall character to the lines. She spent a lot of time drawing the individual branches, leaves and flowers, but the objects were floating a bit too much for me. We talked briefly about how gardens are another way of relating to nature.

The third student was very shy and actually positioned herself farther away from me so I couldn’t see her work easily. She took a long time to get going, pretending to not know what she was doing. After she started rolling though, it was all momentum. She filled the entire page and had interesting colors and shapes. Her theme was Caribbean life. She drew from a picture, but added a very distinct voice.

All of the students were good in their own way. I found it curious that all the while they were drawing, they attracted a crowd. At one point there were maybe 8 others in the room observing. A common taunt when any of the students have been observing this week was along the lines of “You are a bad artist..hahaha…” Which appears to truly alter conceptions of self.

At one point I tried to discuss that point by telling them to not trust someone who says “I am a good artist.” Those who do are prone to rest on their accomplishments while the “bad artists” continue to work and get better. You are never defined by one single achievement, if you are an artist you are practicing and this practice has no end. You keep trying because you keep wanting to get better. If you are saying you are already good, how can you get better?

In the class, the craft teacher showed some fabric work that some of his students have done. I was genuinely impressed: Screen prints on fabric,

In the evening we drew the mural design in charcoal on the wall. A 3rd form student was primarily helping me, aided by two younger girls. The 3rd form student was not worried about drawing large at all. He grabbed the charcoal and accurately placed lines on the wall according to the drawing. He said that the image reminded him of some place, which I thought was sweet. It is imaginary, but at least I passed the kid and local test. I wasn’t too far off in my imaginary landscape. We added the charcoal and then it started to rain pretty heavily so that was it for the day.

I sense frustration with the artistic level of the kids by the adults. I sense a self policing behavior clamping down on the students from developing their talent. I also see some genuine ability across several areas. Am I naïve to think enthusiasm and exposure are all they really need at this point? Does this lead to the Waldorf school dangers of being too experiential? Would a traditional art education in terms of developing technical ability even be able to hold their attention? Would that type of instruction be more for the peace of mind for the older folks?

I was told there is little art on the island, so I am trying to make sense of the diverse patchwork of skills, talent and expression that I do see.

Categories
Residencies

“Fill the page”

This was a work day. I researched and drew out ideas for the mural in the morning after saying goodbye to the last of the field students. I realized that I needed to move the process along a bit quicker. The students do have some interesting drawings, but I am to create the experience of painting a mural for them. In some ways, the process is more important than the specific outcome.

My process for doing the work is odd sometimes. The mural is a bit long, so I wavered on the composition. But I knew I needed to commit to something today. The problem is, how to design a mural in a place you have only been for about 9 days? There is also the logistical issue of paint supply. It is difficult to get things here. We have some primary color buckets, some white primer and a few tubes I hope to mix with the white paint to make a few more tones. Another challenge is actually thinking of a mural design that would be easy to direct some students to work on.

I decided to set up a paint by numbers approach with broad flat shapes that they can fill in. That way I can direct a handful of the students at a time.

As far as the theme of the mural, the Mangrove tree is a very valuable ecological asset that grows on this island. It provides a well sheltered habitat for a whole bunch of organisms. The unique root structure helps keep the land together. The tree itself is an efficient carbon sink, the most carbon rich forests in the tropics. And the worldwide population of mangroves is on the decline.Mangroves perform an ecosystem service of protecting from storms and hurricanes. They are very effective bulkheads against climate change.

So I first made a terrible mock-up in illustrator, only to switch to the sketchbook and pencils. I created a few sketches that I took with me to the school.

At the school, I taught the form 4 students for about an hour and a half. I used the same general shape for the class as I did the two previous classes, but I put more effort into getting them to draw. At times it felt a bit more awkward than the previous classes, but that easily passed because I was aware that this feeling was my own creation.

I passed out some pages of drawing paper and crayons after talking about my artwork and showing examples. I framed my artwork in terms of climate change, which they didn’t recognize. They knew the term global warming though. I tried to express it in terms of healing culture’s relationship with nature.

I asked the class what is culture: “A way of life!”
And nature? “Life!”

We then set about drawing pictures of mangroves and other plants. It was a bit of a struggle to get the students drawing. Some where more eager than others, but in the end, all of the students drew. I also had to coax them to use the crayons and fill up the page. Most would grab only the pencil and begin very timid drawings.

But in the end, everyone did fill up the page, more or less. Three students stayed an extra 15 minutes working on their drawings. The goal was to simply get them drawing and using more color and space than they are used to.

It is hard to know the best way to approach teaching them art. My hope is to take them outside their comfort zone with enthusiasm.

In the evening, I redrew the mural design, making it more clear. I also experimented with some red mud as pigment. I continued to collect old glass shards to use as a mosaic as well.

The day was capped off with a quiet dinner at the field station and an epic tennis racket zapper smackdown of some skeeters.

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Residencies

Back at the School

This morning I walked to the school to meet with the students again. I’m on my own a bit more recently. The field students went out to Castle Hill. I was sad to miss what Sophia calls her favorite place, but it is important to be persistant and present with the students to establish a working relationship.

I walked there in the morning and MOSTLY knew my way there. I had to ask one fellow if I was going the right way. There aren’t many options on which way to go, but this is the first time that I walked to the school on my own. I have walked back several times previously, but doing things backwards and forwards is difficult for humans for some reason. Try reciting the alphabet backwards. NOW. Just kidding.

The walk there illustrates a bit of the local context for the students. There are several half built houses that stick out. They are not abandoned. The reason they are half built is, there is no credit on the island. You have to build a home with the cash upfront. The land is commonly owned among the Barbudan people. You get a plot of land from the council and then you can build upon it. There are no mortgages or rent.

The walk to the high school passes through the center of town, called Madison Square. A few folks set up to sell food along the way. I smelled jerk chicken along the way. After two years of living in Flatbush Brooklyn, I’m happy to say I’ve tried jerk chicken and I like it. There are also several cars that are overgrown and abandoned. I think it is difficult to repair autos on the island. Parts can be hard to come by. In fact I passed a hand written sign that said “We have difficult to find items! Just ask!” Again, the population of the island is well below 2,000 people.

I got to the school, walked on the grounds and waved to a few familiar faces. I wave or say “Good Day” to just about everybody, which is not the case in Brooklyn. I have noticed some skepticism from a few people, but with repeated greetings over several days, this skepticism is mellowing. I walked into the teachers lounge and one teacher asked me if I brought my work to show again today. I didn’t have the print outs, but she said she heard it was “beautiful” and wanted to see it.

Mr. Weber, the main art teacher I am working with was at the school today. He was feeling ill yesterday so was not in. I went in to meet with him and discuss how we can move things forward. We talked for a while about some ideas on how to guide and manage the students. We talked a bit about his own history with art. I learned that the examination board for the students is Caribbean wide. They are not to paint these projects with slow drying paint, as they pack up and ship artwork away to be graded by the exam board.

The teacher had a notebook on his desk dated 1994, with plenty of cursive writing filling the pages. I asked him what the yellowed pages where about and he said “I never thought I would be using this notebook now when I wrote it back then.” It is a building techniques notebook that he copied diligently from teachers who either wrote on the board or dictated the content. They didn’t have text books back then. And now the kids “have everything.”

There is a unique texture to the school. I don’t quite understand structure of the days. It is Caribbean, I suppose. On such a small island, the school does not need to be indoctrinating the proper behavior toward authority and train kids to sit at desks for 8 hours a day. For a lot of these kids, that is not what is ahead of them. And so, there is a lot of milling about and socializing. The socializing and network building is probably extremely important to the integrity of the island, so I imagine there is a lot of value in that. Still, the school is not without its challenges. The art teacher (who also teaches several other subjects) was complaining that the kids don’t read. But I wonder if they do read much anywhere these days.

After the meeting with Mr. Webber, I walked down a few classrooms and came across a bunch of students I had spoken to yesterday. About four of them were sketching, maybe another 6 were doodling, writing their name in block letters and so on. They were excited to see me, so we looked at some of the drawings. For every person drawing, about 3 folks were surrounding them, experiencing the drawing in a way themselves. There was definite enthusiasm and an almost ownership of the other person’s drawing was expressed. “I started it, and he helped me finish it.” I made sure to ask the names again of those that were drawing and take pictures if they didn’t mind. I drew a sketch of a dog for a girl that requested one. I asked them what they knew about global warming. They said it was a hole in the ozone layer that was caused by pollution. The sun will be closer, no not closer, but hotter. The ice caps will melt and the sea level will rise. I asked them what that would mean for Barbuda and they ducked the question and moved on.

After debriefing with the principle I left for the day. I needed to get back to add a second coat of primer on the wall for the mural. The mural is going to be on a cinder block wall. We have a limited supply of pigment. I wanted to fill in the pores of the concerte with the primer to stretch out what pigment we do have. I didn’t make any concrete plans with the students to work on this, but about 6 of them showed up after school to help me do this. They were very well behaved and focused today, which was great.

The wall is fantastically primed now.

We finished the day with a bbq on a tire rim bbq for the departing field students. I’ll show you a picture someday.

Tomorrow, back to the school to workshop with some older students.

Categories
Residencies

The Museum Opens

On Friday I attended the Museum opening, a culmination of a long collaboration between the Barbudans, the politicians and the researchers at the Barbuda Archeological Research Center  (BARC). The ceremonies started about 10am with a series of speeches by leading figures, including John Mussington, the principle of the high school here, and Dr. Sophia Perdikaris, the director of BARC. A group of children played steel pan renditions of Bob Marley and what I think was Twist and Shout (?). There was a delightful elasticity to their playing.

It is important to note that there are two museums. In one building there is an “adult” museum, with archeological finds, a human skeleton named “George” and historical photographs of life on the island. Across the way, there is a museum for children. Here you will find informative yet fun posters about the importance of mangroves, the dance of bees, a small boat for the children to play in and various other installations to generate excitement. Both rooms can hold about 18 people at most, so they were at capacity for much of the day as people checked it out for the first time.

I was struck by two things:

The audience was full of children. This is of course due to the fact that the schools create a field trip out of the event, but these children are the ones who will grow with the museum. The museums are seeds. They are institutionalized places where stories of the past are presented in a formalized way. They also give us the opportunity to orient our own lives to this narrative. It is the children that will grow up having this as a part of their lives. The principle is already setting up a program where they help manage it.

The difference between having a museum and not having a museum is huge. Can you imagine not having one in your home? No matter what the size, opening up that space in a formalized way within a culture is a tremendous intervention. There is now a place to display artifacts found on the island, not ship them off somewhere else. Barbuda now can be in control of its own narrative a bit more, having a place to perpetually ask “what does it mean to be from Barbuda?”

Of course this is all just a beginning. There are real challenges in how to manage and grow the museums. But it was a nice moment to observe, this transition from all the hard work of setting it up to letting it become part of the social fabric of Barbuda.

 

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Residencies

‘Nuff Respect Going For a Swim

Today was filled with a lot of conversation. Five more folks came into Barbuda for the museum opening tomorrow.

In the morning time, I met the local high school principal and some of his students. The students were very polite and yet sharply witty at the same time. I gave the a brief introduction to what I hoped we could do while I am here and several of them seemed genuinely enthusiastic. I brought some of my greeting card prints to give to them at some point.

Take my Picture / Don't Take my Picture.
Take my Picture / Don’t Take my Picture.

I passed a group of kids hiding under a staircase on their break from lunch. One kid saw I had a camera and exclaimed “Don’t take my picture!” so I pleaded with them jokingly, “Why not?” About 4 of them scattered, leaving these two in the photo on the left. They were ready and willing to confront the camera. I think it makes for a compelling photograph. I wonder why some kids were so against it.

I did some sketching with oil pastels in the morning, trying to warm up and get the muscles going. I had no blue, so I ended up making the sky a bright purple. It felt like the heat of the day was nicely conveyed by the purple. The research center’s mascot, Max the doberman / rottweiler has a bit of a fear of kids. He was moving through the scene I was sketching, anxious and annoyed by the kids. So I colored him in red.

Had  Beef Patty for lunch from a lady on the side of the road with a tupperware full of them. I think it came out to about 1 dollar. It was obviously homemade and quite tasty. I had a meatball too. We also visited a general store. On the one hand it was strange to see some familiar brands like Gatorade and the like, but the store was 60-70 percent empty. The woman behind the register was  keeping a running leger of the inventory in the story in a big note pad. When I purchased a razor, she marked it down dutifully.

Barbuda is a small island. Most of the goods are imported, either officially, or in bags on the planes and ferries.

I painted in the afternoon, eager to push pigment. I set up at the lagoon with a lightweight aluminum easel. It took a little while to get comfortable, as the wind would blow the canvas down onto the palette and I forgot a rag to wipe my hands. The new easel became painterly rather quickly.

The painting is small, perhaps 9 x 12.

When painting I started to feel the gravitational pull of the practice. It pulled me in and it also brought about the errant passerby. I used this opportunity to have conversations. I found out that a large metal buoy in the lagoon that I was painting had blown there from Nova Scotia during a storm. People from Nova Scotia had verified this. I spoke with Byron, who likes  art but doesn’t have time to practice because he works day and night at his snack shop. He dreams of owning a restaurant one day. He lived in the Bronx from 1979, when he was 19, to 1986. He had been to Brooklyn once, but only driving. They were looking for a party but could not find it.

I also encountered Nuff Respect, a beautiful racing horse. Her owner was taking her for a swim to prepare for a race this Sunday. The horse followed the boat well out into the lagoon and you could tell it was a bit of a workout from the breathing. It was stunning. When they were done, Nuff Respect left with her owner riding her.

I also saw some fish, skimming over the water like skipping stones.

The sky seems so large here, perhaps because of the persistant flatness of the island. I tried the impossible task of painting the rolling clouds and reflecting water, searching for the impression, or  the style of the land.

I painted until the sun went down and the colors of the water and the clouds dimmed. The evening was filled with conversation. A lecture by Anders from Sweden, who showed an example of his multi-screen video projects about climate change. The discussion afterwards brought about some interesting ideas. How to you democratize the voices heard speaking on the impact of climate change? Can the field be level in terms of who speaks with authority? It is problematic if one speaks too much in the realm of academics, yet some shaping of ideas and crafting of language is needed to move the effort along. Words do matter. They shape beliefs, values ideas and ultimately action. But sometimes actions might not need shaping. Perhaps they are clear enough already.

The principal told an interesting story at dinner. He said that a fisherman was in talks with a ‘developer’ who wanted him to invest in his business, get more boats to get more fish. “And then what?” said the fisherman. Well, you need to get an accountant, hire people to work for you, buy more boats, sort out distribution, and so on and so on. “And then what?” Well! you have plenty of money. You are a millionaire and you can live in a beautiful place and go fishing whenever you want with plenty of leisure time. And the fisherman said “I can do that all now.”  Of course, I am mangling the eloquence and impact of how the principal told it, but his point was very clear. Development is a diffferent idea for different people.

I was also struck by this idea from Kevel: “Climate change mimics generational change.” It’s a simple, yet insightful way of framing the issue that I had not thought of. But I am saying more and more “boy, it sure isn’t snowing like it did when I was a kid!” How in the world do you get kids to care about it if that is how we frame it? “Yeah yeah yeah grandpa…”

Finally, I had a great discussion with someone working for the World Heritage site plan in Antigua. As a life long resident there,  he highlighted a lot of the tensions stemming from the differences between the two islands. He will be speaking tomorrow night and I look forward to learning more.