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 3)

I think that it is no secret that for such a small country, Grenada produces some exceptional people. Grenadians are scattered all over the world and are examples of excellence; McQueen, Hamilton, James, and Malcolm X, just to name a few high-profile sons of the soil. There are also many Grenadians who are feeding the soil back home and especially with art, able to have a global reach from the island. The focus of this third instalment in the series is to look at how the Grenada art scene is able to interact globally.

(Roberto Diago’s, Burnt City, Cuba National Pavilion, Venice Biennale. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

1.  In Grenada, diversity is strength.
This point may evade visitors or the uninitiated: Grenada is made up of many communities with many backgrounds and no Grenadian experience is qualitatively “less Grenadian” than any other. Sociologically Grenada is a place where you can have a subculture of 12 people. While we have a Grenadian dialect many Grenadians can easily slide into an easier to understand “International Grenadian accent” and which does not account for the fact that most Grenadians can decipher the difference between someone from St. John’s, St. David’s, St. George’s or St. Andrew’s, based on the way they speak. Besides our local affects, Grenada is home to an international cadre of immigrants from Switzerland, the UK, the United States and elsewhere who, even though there are not ‘from’ Grenada are dedicated to feeding the soil and developing our creative and economic communities.

This is an important note for two reasons: 1.) You will find all sorts of people from all sorts of communities within Grenada contributing to the art scene and 2.) Grenada is able to host international artists from a position of strength and does not give up ground. For the 2016 Grenada Contemporary, the Susan Mains Gallery showed work by many local artists but also Khaled Hafez, who was listed in 2016 as one of Egypt’s top 10 artists, Jason deCaires Taylor who is world renowned for his underwater sculptures and Alexandre Murucci, one of the most influential figures in the Rio de Janeiro art scene. Grenada could never host these world class artists if these artists did not see Grenada as a place that was worth their time and investment. To see Grenada showing up on international CV’s not only brings Grenada itself into the spotlight but also Grenada’s artists then are able to network and have inroads to showing beyond our own shores.

(Brazil’s Alexander Murucci with his work, Truth, at the Grenada National Pavilion, Venice Biennale. Photo Credit: Susan Mains)

2. Grenada has made history with its presence at the Venice Biennale
While the immensity of the Venice Biennale cannot be addressed in the scope of this article, suffice it to say that the Venice Biennale is the oldest, largest, and highest stage for international contemporary art. It is also the only Biennale that seeks out national representation. In a sense, each of the more than 80 countries represented have decided that the artist they send are the best their country has to offer and have something to contribute to the global contemporary art conversation. The Venice Biennale really exploded with international inclusion in 2011 which saw the first national pavilion from the Caribbean, Cuba. Grenada had its first appearance in 2015 and then again in 2017 making it the only other Caribbean country to show more than once at the Venice Biennale. While Bahamas had a showing in 2013 and Antigua and Barbuda had its first showing in 2017, both were backed by budgets many times the size of Grenada’s. Grenada’s strategy has been to present a pavilion that is not only sustainable so that we always have a part in the global art conversation but also so that it feeds back into the development of art in Grenada. Grenada raised money for the National Pavilion through private businesses in Grenada who benefit from the more than 60,000 visitors to the pavilion that learn about our country and get a glimpse of what our art is doing. The pavilion also strategised with other artists in order to solidify its position and ensure that over the 6 month course of the Biennale with over 300 visitors a day on average we can turn the contributions of our local businesses and artists into gold that is going to develop and sustain art in Grenada going forward.

(Grenada National Pavilion banner designed by Amy Cannestra)

3. Grenada is responding to the international attention.
This may be one of the most exciting secrets of the series. Grenada is responding to international attention. With more artists with eyes on Grenada, people are coming here to be creative. Illustrator Stacy Byer has been inviting illustrators to Grenada for years to do workshops and interface with local illustrators. Suelin Low Chew Tung has been doing artist residencies in places like Haiti and Europe, sometimes bringing artists to Grenada and always bringing Grenada to the world. Asher Mains has been exhibiting internationally for years and is continuing to not only be an unofficial ambassador for the country but also networking to bring artists to Grenada. Susan Mains just came back from a residency in India where not only has Grenada reached to Rajasthan but 8 contemporary artists sent work back to be shown in Grenada for the 4th Grenada Contemporary exhibit at Susan Mains Gallery. Nico Thomas has finished his Master of Fine Arts degree on scholarship from ISI Padang Panjang in Indonesia and maintains his relationship with the art community there. The list of local artists who are making international inroads can go on. Aside from Grenada reaching out to the world, we have to be ready for the world to come to Grenada.

Artist residencies are a way for visiting artists to create work in a new place and also interact with local artists to teach and learn new skills/processes/techniques. We want to continue to develop Grenada as a creative incubator and where artists from all over the world come to make their work happen. There are many advantages and positive directions for the art scene in Grenada but this point is where it all comes together as far as Grenadian artists having opportunities outside of Grenada and for us to create exponential growth and exposure for our island of art in the world.

(Grenadian Biennale Artist, Asher Mains, teaching a painting class at Art School Greenz in Grenada. Photo Credit: Amy Cannestra)

There have been many actionable points in the last two articles. Here are three more that are directed towards Grenada’s response to international attention in the art world:

1. Create places for people to stay. We may need help from our hoteliers but also private homes. If you have an apartment for rent, consider making it available for an artist to come stay in and make art while in Grenada. During residencies, artists stay for at least a few weeks and paying hotel prices is not a viable option for accommodation. Artists many times do not have a lot of money to work with but they create value through things they do. Contact the Grenada Arts Council if you have a space to host a visiting artist!

2. Work on your web presence! There is a saying that if people can’t find you online, you don’t exist. When people inevitably google “Art in Grenada” we should have as many of our artists available as possible under the search results. This also entails having an updated portfolio, bio, artist statement and CV available for possible gallerists, curators, buyers or other artists to view. You may also consider your use of hashtags for things like instagram and facebook. Hashtags are a way of guiding people towards you and your work and also Grenada as a destination. If you need help with any of these things you can contact one of the artist teachers at Art School Greenz.

3. Respond to calls. Calls are ways that galleries and museums collect artists for shows. Many are made online and require an artist to respond with a proposal or examples of their work. There are a variety of calls to respond to depending on the type of work you’re interested in doing. This is an excellent way of getting your work out into the world and at least for gallerists, museums, and curators to see Grenada popping up over and over again.

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)

What is Art Good For?

One of the topics that comes up frequently is “What is Art Good For?” I believe this is largely because people approach artists as image makers. While recreating scenes and making beautiful things may be interesting and nice to look at – what is it ultimately good for?

One of the ways I talk about art is its ability to contribute to and change thoughts and ideas. This is looking at art from the prospective of conceptual art and the way that art intersects and comments on life. I think that one of the questions an art practice should ask is, “Do you care?”

Whether you use natural materials or incorporate natural processes, once you start to intentionally connect with your environment and things that occur naturally, you begin to naturally care about what is happening in your environment. If your art practice involves people and how they interact, you organically have a heightened sense of awareness of how people *are*. If your art practice involves portraiture or working boats and you are aware that there is a dialogue between the sitter or the maker of the boat, there is a sense that you care about how they are represented.

If your art asks, “Do you care?” it ultimately leads to questions centred around environmentalism, social structures, social justice and the fullness of the human experience. Asking these questions leads to a society where artists are the ones that are at the forefront of pursuing a better life. Artists, as described by artist Tim Rollins, “are literally a diseased people. We live with a condition, a disorder that questions the existing order of things, a disease with the world that cannot be cured but only managed as best as possible.”

Question the existing order of things. Ask questions. Create. Be an artist.

I’ve been in an in between place following the TRIO Bienal in Rio and returning to Grenada to continue my practice. I will be in Grenada for an indefinite amount of time working on my next year’s project of establishing a canon of locally sourced art materials as well as teaching studio classes.IMG_4814

“What were you doing in Rio?” – a summary.

I left Rio de Janeiro a few days ago now and have had some time to decompress and wanted to catch everybody up on what happens when I go off to faraway lands in the name of art.

  1. Rio became a possibility when this man, Alexandre Murucci  who saw my work at the Grenada National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. IMG_4536
  2. Murucci was curating artists for his project, Rio’s first “Trio Bienal”,  an international exhibition of contemporary art around the three-dimensional in his classic scope – sculpture, installations and objects – as well as in all its expanded fields – painting, photography, drawing, video and others medias as three-dimensional research, and will occupy several museums and cultural institutions in Rio de Janeiro, from September 5th to November 26th, 2015.
  3. While Murucci saw my Painted Portraits for Cocoa Farmers project in Venice, he was more interested in my “Sea Lungs” installation that I had exhibited as part of a Grenada Contemporary exhibit in December 2014. IMG_0693
  4. So “Sea Lungs” was packed up and went to Rio where I set it up at the European Institute of Design in Urca. IMG_4599
  5. I had to be there to set it up, but also to talk to national Brazilian TV.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGtfe5ZfmQ
  6. During the rest of the time there were important conversations about the development of art in Grenada and future projects with other artists and curators.
  7. The time in Rio, and during any of these trips for art help me chart my own trajectory as far as what I will be working on with my art for roughly the next year. Every interaction improves the clarity of how the international art scene works and makes it easier to prioritize the use of time over the next year.
  8. When not engaging with other artists or talking about my work, I tried to take advantage of scouting out the city as possible location for spending a residency in the future! Brazil is a bright spot in the world for art production especially in the context of natural processes and how art reflects life.

That’s the summary of my time there! One of the takeaways as an artist is that you never know where one opportunity will lead you to, so take the opportunities that come around! Please contact me if you have any questions!

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Theobromine Pieces

*Update: 3 and 9 are no longer available – get the one you want while it’s still here!

These works are 9″x13″ spray paint on paper. This work references the painted portraits for cocoa farmers project and the figure in the piece is Joanne who works with Belmont Estate.

The background element is the chemical make up of theobromine, one of the key elements to cocoa. I also used a gold spray paint as a way of associating value with this magical chocolate formula. Overall I want to portray the cocoa farmers as a kind of alchemist. Knowledge from oral tradition is passed down and the cocoa is grown and harvested and ultimately processed into chocolate. In this way the farmers are extracting gold (chocolate) from the soil.

These small pieces are available for sale at an affordable price in order to continue connecting people and ideas through my work and also to help fund my ongoing projects. Please contact me for details!