10 Things you may not have known about artist, Asher Mains

You may know Asher Mains as a teacher, an artist, sometimes world traveler, but here are a few things many people do not know about me!

1. Both sets of Grandparents immigrated to Grenada in the 1950’s
My grandparents were adventurous in their own rights. Originally from the US, they moved their families to Grenada in order to start a school, Berean Christian Academy and help start Berean churches. As a result, both my parents grew up in Grenada and I have relatives that were born here. Subsequently my brother, Stephen, and I grew up in Grenada as home. Grenada has always been my base.

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2. Lived for 5 years in Dominica as a child
The devastation left by hurricane Maria in Dominica hits a chord close to home. My parents were unable to go back to Grenada following the US invasion in 1983 and so spent a few years in Dominica working with a school my grandfather had started there. I have fond memories of Dominica and I remember turning 7 right before leaving to come to Grenada.

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3. Started exhibiting art at 11
While many people know that my mother, Susan Mains, is an artist and helped give me an early start, others may not know that I showed for the first time in a Grenada Arts Council annual show when I was 11. I didn’t want people to associate my age with the work and so under a pseudonym, “Adonijah”, I also won a best in show award. Since then I have exhibited in every annual Arts Council exhibit and beyond

4. Was a national record-holding swimmer
I started swimming at 13 and in a few years I had represented Grenada at regional competitions such as OECS, CARIFTA, and CISC. I had also been the fastest Grenadian at cross-harbour and set a national record in the 1500m freestyle. I had also been swimming of the year in 2002 and then went on to swim for an NCAA college for two years.

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5. Plays percussion
I started learning drums playing with Veni Wei La Grenada, a dance company in Grenada. I learned the traditional rhythms but then wanted to innovate and so started a drumming group with friends called “Makofi”. When I left for college I played with several different music groups besides starting another drum ensemble there. Drumming has been a part of my life for a while now and occasionally still comes up.

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6. Studied – a lot.
I set my first O-level exams when I was in form 2. There was no restriction on age and I was ready to do them and so I got a few out of the way early. Since then, I studied Intercultural Studies at Calvin College for my B.A. and then turned around and went to community college at Brookhaven College to do studio classes in art for two years. From there I was accepted into Master of Science degree to study Entrepreneurship at University of Texas and did that for a year before switching over to International Political Economy. Realising after a year of that I didn’t want to go into that field I started my Master of Fine Arts study at Transart Institute through Plymouth University. All together, I studied for 10 years after leaving secondary school and I use every single subject and tangent in my work in some way.

7. Spent a semester in Ghana
Interested for the most part in the cultural relationship to Grenada, I spent a semester in 2005 studying at the University of Ghana as part of a semester abroad program with my undergrad. There I studied African culture, music and philosophy for about 4 months. I had daily drumming sessions with a master Dagbani drummer and was introduced to Twi, one of the local languages. It was fascinating observing the similarities and differences between Ghanaian culture and language and Grenada.

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8. Bartended for 8 years in the US
This was a way of making ends meet, especially during projects where I gave away a lot of art like Painted Portraits for Cocoa Farmers. I graduated from college and realized I hadn’t studied anything that would put me in a job right away and so I learned to bartend and did that while going to grad school. I worked at different places ranging from a large, high volume hotel bar to a craft cocktail bar, all the while balancing art, school, and work.

9. Started businesses while living in the US
I had two successful runs at business ventures while living and studying in the US. The first was a private event bartending business where I would consult with people about their parties and events and then bartend it for them. I also hired bartenders to do events I couldn’t do and overall it was a successful business. I also did a business stretching canvases for artists. I set up a workshop and would stretch blank canvases and existing paintings. This is a skill I learned at home stretching paintings for my mother and since then I had stretched 100’s of canvases.

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10. Started and directs Art School Greenz
This one may not be such a secret but I am proud to have introduced this alternative model for an art school to Grenada. Our main audience are working adults and students learn skills and build community. This is all working towards the continued development and excellence of Grenadian artists! Classes range from 3 to 6 weeks and being proudly unaccredited, we can offer what we want, when we want, how we want, to whom we want!

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This is not an exhaustive list but I wanted to put these major elements of my life here in the interest of sharing and being vulnerable! Would love to share more if you would like to know about me!

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Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 2)

There are so many good insider tips to how to navigate the Grenada art scene that I was unable to condense it to one article. In Part 1 I talked about what the art scene may look like, in Part 2 I want to share a little more to help you thrive in the art scene whether as an artist or an art appreciator!

1.  Everything exists because someone is making it happen.
There are places in the world where the art scene has been set in motion, is well funded, and everything moves like bureaucratic clockwork. Museums open every day, high profile gallery exhibits are set years in advance, and creative directors are appointed by boards and councils. One wonders, in art environments like this, whether we’ve mechanised the art world following the corporate, capitalist model. Every piece of art one sees in Grenada is hard fought and exists because someone wants it to. There are virtually no grants or funding for art in Grenada and so the work that exists is made possible because someone willed it into existence. The art created in Grenada is organic and passion driven and the sale of it goes directly towards a living wage for artists.

This is true of exhibits and exhibition spaces in Grenada as well. Spaces such as Susan Mains Gallery or Art Fabrik have been in continuous operation for 15 and 31 years respectively because they have been able to convert art sales into a sustainable business. Overhead in Grenada is extremely high and so what spaces like this have done is used sound business practices in lieu of other funding to create spaces where art can be shown. Without publicly funded spaces or places with rent low enough to just show art, the Grenada art scene depends on businesses that are able to synthesise the commercial aspect of art while also keeping in step with a contemporary art environment.

While this may sound potentially discouraging, the other side of the equation is that if you have a good idea and are driven to make it happen, you are free in Grenada to make it happen. Art doesn’t happen in Grenada unless it is self-determined, sustainable, and because someone really wants it. In a way, this makes art in Grenada feel more closely linked to the human condition than a large bureaucracy which preserves and moves art along.

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(People in St. Paul’s using locally made art materials during Independence celebrations. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

2. You need less permission.
If you want to have a show with your latest work at your house, go ahead – Grenada does not have the same zoning laws as other countries that would prevent commercial activity in a residential area. Do you want to set up easels and have an exhibit or work on paintings outside? Go for it. At most you would need to clear it with the owner of the property if it isn’t a public space. Jason deCaires Taylor wanted to set up concrete sculptures on the ocean floor in Moliniere Bay and he acquired the appropriate forms and permissions that fit tidily in a slim folder. Need someone to give you permission to call yourself an artist? No you don’t. American artist Kara Walker is quoted saying, “There isn’t a piece of paper in the world that can make you artist”. You don’t need permission to call yourself an artist or to think outside the box and the permissions you need to paint a wall, have a pop-up exhibit, write about art in Grenada, collect things on the beach, submit your work to shows, have an art event at a social spot, etc. are minimal to none. Many places in the world, all of these things are more highly regulated. Brazil has a 60% tax on the sale of art. Germany and France both have laws restricting movement of art in and out of the country. The US is finicky about who can sell what, where, and how. In most, more developed places, an artist would need a filing cabinet of forms and permissions to do any kind of art in public spaces. While we may lack some of the traditional art materials that can be easily acquired in “first world” countries, we make up for in Grenada with almost absolute freedom to make art happen.

Vicissitudes_Grenada_growth_Jason-deCaires-Taylor_Sculpture (Vicissitudes, Moliniere Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada. Photo Credit: Jason deCaires Taylor)

3. There is a movement brewing.
Something has been happening with art in Grenada; especially in the last few years. Even though there is virtually no funding for art and young people are generally discouraged from pursuing a career in art. Even though only 5% of secondary students took Visual Arts for CSEC and of those 125 students only 3 got grade 1’s. Despite not having a national museum for art or any of the traditional infrastructure for an art scene – more and more people are getting involved. Enrolment in art classes at St. George’s University is up. Art School Greenz, an alternative art school with short classes for working adults is burgeoning. While the Grenada Arts Council has a mailing list of about 300 artists, this only accounts for artists who have shown during the Annual General Exhibit. Grenada has a growing cadre of photographers which includes Andy Johnson (7,000+ followers on Instagram), Haron Forteau who was recently an official photographer at the IAAF games in London, or Arthur Daniel who has been working for years documenting public life in Grenada. Grenada has digital designers and artists such as Alleyne Gulston who started Allyday Creative Projects and Kijana Romain, founder of Hexive Creative Agency who are bringing businesses into the foreground with their brands of visual communication. We have artist Vanel Cuffie exploring digital painting and marketing his work through an app and Franc Roberts who is hands-down the best young tailor and designer on the island. There are murmurs about activating under-utilised and abandoned spaces for art. And all of this is just what is happening locally. In Grenada, there is no real tension between “folk art” and “high art”, we don’t really have the infrastructure or institutions where those distinctions are useful or productive. All these different avenues and specialties and focuses are happening amongst each other; symbiotic and complementary. There is no reasonable way in the scope of this article to mention every creative who is contributing to the art scene, suffice it to say there has been a boom in recent years and it is happening despite the lack of institutional support and infrastructure.

17814593_1902986806613034_6406975157038152894_o(Young creatives at the Sea Lungs preview, photo credit: Alleon Gulston)

While the Grenada art scene has a lot of positive things going for it, especially in relation to larger art systems in the world, there are lots of things we can do as artists and art lovers to support each other. Here are a helpful reminders to get you deeper into the art scene in Grenada!

1.    Buy some art
Most artists are producing art while working another job. They do it because they love it and would love to continue being able to express themselves creatively. One of the things artists use money for is to get more art supplies but also it really can simply help an artist live. We don’t have artists in Grenada who are wealthy from their art sales and grants and funding are rare to non-existent. If you like what someone is doing, purchase a piece of their art and have the peace of mind that you are enabling an artist or creative to keep going.

2.    Volunteer
The Grenada Arts Council is a volunteer, non-profit organisation that currently has less than half a dozen members doing all the heavy lifting. If you are not able to purchase art or create your own, consider how you can support an artist by helping to hang a show or volunteer to give them a boost on social media. There are lots of ways you can help with just a little bit of your time. Ask an artist you know if they need help with anything or contact the Grenada Arts Council to see how you can get involved.

3.    Imagine the possibilities
You may not be artistically inclined yourself but if you have an idea and possibly a budget – get some creatives involved. You may be one component to a multifaceted project, collaborate and get others involved. We are needing people to step into the role of curators – imagine what could happen and orchestrate the people you need to see it happen. Even if you’re working on your own, think big, think broad, think local as well as global – we have a lot of advantages to being able to be creative in Grenada, let’s consider how to take advantage of all the possibilities!

Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 1)

Grenada has long been a mysterious place, particularly to outsiders. Most streets don’t have street signs, so if you arrive in Grenada and try to get your bearings using conventional methods, you may not find your way. Grenada and its art scene is a pulsating, fluid riddle which offers treasure for anyone willing to abandon their preconceptions of what an art scene looks like. Here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching art in Grenada!

1. Gallery is a loose concept.
Grenada does not have many galleries and the galleries that do exist aren’t typical if you’re used to the spectrum of galleries in the US and Europe. Alternative space would be a useful way of describing them because that is how nearly all of them function. The Art Upstairs Gallery in St. George’s is really part gallery, showing many local artists and part museum showing work of past Grenadian artists such as John Benjamin, Canute Calliste and Richard Buchanan. This is the one of the only public spaces where one can take in some historical Grenadian art. The Susan Mains Gallery (AKA Art and Soul Gallery) in Grand Anse is also a dynamic space that is sometimes commercial gallery, sometimes minimal contemporary shows, sometimes a site for critical discussion and education, and always a place where creative people congregate. This is one of the best spots to find art supplies and get advice on how to use them but also one of the only places that sells locally made charcoal, ink and bamboo quills; an emerging cottage industry in art supplies. The Yellow Poui Art Gallery recently moved from Young Street in town to River Road. The owner and gallerist, Jim Rudin holds the distinction of the first commercial art gallery in Grenada which stayed open for over 50 years. Rudin now shows work in his new gallery close to his home on River Road in what reads as a subversion of the physical gallery and the economic reality of overhead. Freddy Paul has a gallery in town, the “Artistic Art Gallery” and has been working on his craft for nearly 20 years. Close to Paul’s Gallery on Young Street is Art Fabrik, celebrating 31 years of business and employing up to 45 home workers and contractors to create beautiful batik pieces. Only the initiated would know that there is a lovely secret art gallery “backstage” in the courtyard behind the cashier’s desk. Across the street, Grenada House of Chocolate is not only a celebration of the artistry of the local chocolate scene but also has chocolate themed art. The world’s first underwater sculpture park in Moliniere is an exhibition space that requires the viewers to get wet in order to see the work of Jason deCaires Taylor. If you’re ever at the Maurice Bishop International airport there is a gem of a gallery upstairs called The Waving Art Gallery with rotating exhibits and a view of the runway. There are several small galleries featuring an individual artist’s work but probably most notable are the roadside exhibition spaces of artists like Doliver Morain in Levera, St. Patrick and the Ashanti Footprints community sculpture garden in Upper St. John, St. Andrew. These two sites feature wire and metal assemblage sculpture figures which play out narratives in the form of a reggae band or a story about water in a community. All this to say – Grenada’s art scene is almost entirely alternative spaces.

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(Artist credit: Doliver Morain, from Uncover Your Caribbean)

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(A piece done by Ashanti Footprints, Upper St. John, St. Andrews. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

2. We are rich in resources.
While there is little financial support from government or institutions in Grenada, we boast an abundance of materials to work with. Materials and our environment communicate about our identity and having so many materials to work with means that the ‘linguistics’ of how we describe ourselves can be complex and exciting. As far as the canon of fine art materials, we are able to make our own charcoal to draw with, we have an array of pigments in the earth to paint with, and we have seaweed and leaves that stain. We have shells and stones to arrange and seeds to collect, sticks to pile and metal to bend. We have carnival; a rich feast for the eyes, ears, nose, and entire self as we collect the memories of oil and paint splattered to music during J’ouvert and the pageantry of costumes during “Pretty Mas”. Our eyes are constantly calibrated to different shades of greens and blues depending on the time of day and whether we are facing inland or out. It is a privilege that when your neighbor is burning bush it has a spiciness to it and when it rains the earth sighs with pleasant smelling breath. Our minds can be calmed by the waves, healed by the sea, and all of the feet shaped imprints that we leave in the sand collect in our creative consciousnesses. We have cultural phenomenon that is still undocumented, aging heroes that are still uninterviewed, materials that have not been fully explored and ultimately a sense of being local where in regular life we may not see as remarkable but in the context of art it is our life blood.

3. There are opportunities for artists.
But first, you have to know what opportunity looks like. We are blessed to have a community of artists where everyone can get to know everyone. In some art communities there are so many people and so much competition for attention and shows that it is hard to get noticed. One of the advantages to being in a small community is that before long, you are the best at what you do around. This doesn’t mean that an artist shouldn’t keep improving but if you wanted to be the best at a particular style, technique, or medium you can put the work in and before long help others. Our community is small enough to really focus on art movements. If a few artists got together because they were interested in a particular way of working, they would immediately be noticed and have a voice from that perspective in the community. With all of this and the global in perspective, many “art centers” in the world are looking to the periphery (or places that are not tradition sites for art) for new art and artists and favour artists who choose not to leave their home countries and can still contribute to the critical art conversations happening globally. The Grenada art scene is young enough that we are still growing essential nodes of the community such as art writers, models, influencers, etc. Any of these roles are waiting to be filled by people who are passionate about seeing art develop! Aside from our size being a strength, Grenadian artists over the last few years especially, have been developing networks internationally. Grenadian artists have been invited to different countries to show their work or to spend time in another culture. This professional network means that Grenadian artists have a direct line to international shows because of the work done by their peers. Every local exhibition is an opportunity to show what you are working on and potentially set yourself up for more exposure. Not only are there 5 – 6 shows a year put on by different groups and organisations but Grenada is a scene where if you want to organise your own exhibit, you are encouraged. The Grenada art scene is extremely supportive especially in comparison to other, larger art scenes. The general tone of the art scene in Grenada is that the tide rises for everyone and so it is beneficial to support each other. You are encouraged, as an artist or as a member of an artistic community to develop your practice and flourish in a setting where you can be noticed and be the best you can be.

While navigating this or any art scene one may wonder how to enter into an apparently confusing or alternative art community. Here are a few suggestions for getting involved!

1. Go to art openings, art talks, and art events!
This is where you will meet other artists, art enthusiasts or people who are curious what it’s all about. These are usually very social events and new faces are always welcome as well as continuing conversations with regulars to art events. Check social media for upcoming events.

2. Take a class!
This is a great way to practice your skills in a safe, non-judgmental environment but more so, it’s where you can start to build community with people who you can resonate with. Art School Greenz offers short classes designed for working adults. More information can be found at www.artschoolgreenz.com but you should also look into anywhere where you feel welcome and comfortable!

3. Jump right in!
Get together with friends and draw or paint! Work on an idea, glue some things together, find an artist mentor and see what you might want to do next! Submit a piece to a show, respond to a call or imagine what you would do if you had a show with all of your work. Offer to model for an artist or write a blog post about a piece that struck you. Start and see where it takes you!

IMG_4116(Students from St. George’s University, after taking Painting 1 from Asher Mains, during their final presentation at the Susan Mains Gallery. All of the students did very well and are ready to contribute to the local art scene. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

IMG_3267(Local artist and recent MFA graduate, Nico Thomas teaching watercolour at Art School Greenz. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)