You can’t steal creativity.

It has been a few months since reporting Sea Lungs as stolen and I wanted to put an update out there before moving on. I appreciate the outpouring of support and concern regarding the state of the 8 pieces in the installation. I have had many one on one conversations about the work having been stolen and I’d like to put these conversations to rest. I can confirm that Omar Yehia Donia took my artwork out of malice and I don’t have hope of seeing the work again. As I stated in the past article Donia had the motive, means, and opportunity to take the work and in a world that relies on trust and professionalism he demonstrated not only malice but reckless disregard for the artists in the Grenada National Pavilion.

Omar Donia, who is the founder of Contemporary Practices Art Journal, also recently contributed Middle Eastern artwork to the United Nation’s World Food Program via Christie’s Dubai, for which, unfortunately I skimmed to make sure my work was not being ‘donated’ in that lot.

Being careful not to disclose more information than is prudent or can be objectively verified, Omar Yehia Donia has been identified and reported to the Art Theft Unit of the Italian Police and the hope is that some sort of material justice can manifest.

In moving on – I realise that there are these sorts of people in any industry, in all corners of the world. I also realise that while he may have been able to take work of mine that took months to make and had a monetary value, he is unable to steal my ability to create. You can’t steal creativity. I will be working on recreating this series in an effort to 1.) nullify the value of the first series as it is in a contentious space for now and 2.) to reclaim the essence of the work for myself but also Grenada art history. The fact is that Omar Yehia Donia tried to injure Grenada and myself as an artist but he has done far more damage to himself. I do not want my career to be defined as “the artist who had his work stolen in Venice”, Donia has done nothing to take away my ability or creativity. As a result of this experience, I am counting my losses and hoping that karma/justice comes around. Otherwise I am still making new work and I am looking forward to a long career of creating art! I am proudly living and working in Grenada where this work was conceived and produced and where I continue teaching and practicing my art!

 

Advertisements

Review of New Work at the Waving Art Gallery

Asher Mains

Grenada Arts Council and Grenada Airport Authority have just opened the second exhibit for the year at the Waving Art Gallery at Maurice Bishop International Airport. “New Work” by John Henry, Kristianne Buxo, and Fred Grissom is a vibrant and encouraging expression of how these three artists are able to create a robust conversation with their work, despite their varying styles and techniques. John Henry, primarily a representational painter, rendered beautiful portraits and a seascape that transports sea mist and salt water into the gallery. Kristianne Buxo and Fred Grissom, a married couple that often collaborate, not only create visually striking non-representational work but also artwork that is a journey into their individual and collective psyches. Without looking at the labels, a viewer deciphers and decodes the individual components to each painting and the line between where one artist ends and the other begins can be a riddle. While these 3 artists may sound like they would not exhibit well together, part of the joy of the exhibit is noticing subtle similarities and points of convergence in the work. John Henry’s drips in his portraits, the polygons in Fred Grissom’s paintings and the reference to nature that all three artists make means you may have to take more than one lap around the gallery to fully appreciate how all the paintings work together.

IMG_0352

These three artists were brought together as part of a continued effort on the part of Grenada Arts Council and Grenada Airport Authority towards the development and promotion of art in Grenada. Asher Mains, who is volunteering to facilitate the rotating exhibits, says of Henry, Buxo, and Grissom, “One of the common threads with these three artists is that you can see in their work, when they finish a piece there is the question, ‘where can this go next?’. The other important common ground between them is that they are always working on their art despite having busy lives otherwise. This commitment to their art practice and always asking ‘What’s next?’ is what sets these artists apart and what makes a dynamic exhibit like this possible.” John Henry in his statement notes that it has really only been since 2014 that he has been giving serious attention to his art, yet his paintings have improved by leaps and bounds in such a short time. Fred Grissom is also showing a bench he constructed from scrap pieces of milled wood, a beautiful piece and a testament to the many abilities and talents artists accrue through their compulsion to create. Kristianne Buxo’s large scale painting, “Lilies and Lace” is just as much an ode to patience and persistence as it is a fresh look at ginger lilies and floral depictions. The white dots comprising the lace seem to hover and move on the canvas if looked at for too long and creates an atmospheric, mystical effect.

IMG_0337

The public are encouraged to view this exhibit while it is up for the 6 weeks. The Waving Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the Maurice Bishop International Airport, is open during airport hours, 6:00am to 10:00pm, 7 days a week. Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to credit the artist’s work if taking pictures and to use appropriate hashtags including #wavingartgallery, to help the social media presence of these artists and the gallery. The Waving Art Gallery can be liked on Facebook for updates on future shows and an archive of recent exhibits can be seen on the website at http://www.wavingartgallery.wordpress.com. Interested buyers are encouraged to contact the artists directly concerning sales. The contact info for the artists is posted at the gallery. Come by and see this exciting new exhibit and feel free to leave comments for the artists on the Waving Art Gallery Facebook page!

The artists extend a hearty appreciation to local sponsors who provided refreshments for the opening, Grenada Bottling Company, Independence Agencies and Bryden and Minors. Corporate support of the arts in Grenada goes a long ways towards the continued development and promotion of visual art.

fullsizeoutput_d98

Update: Sea Lungs, Stolen

By Asher Mains

It’s not the way an artist expects to wrap up an exhibit, especially an exhibit on the world stage. It was with a heavy heart that I let out the initial information that my work, Sea Lungs, which was shown in the Grenada National Pavilion at the 57th Biennale di Venezia was missing. With more information and evidence secured I am sharing the unfortunate news that the installation, consisting of 8 paintings on sail cloth, was stolen. At this point, the suspect is not responding to communication, I do not have hope of recovering the work and so I feel that there is nothing to lose in telling my story about Sea Lungs being stolen from the Grenada National Pavilion in Venice.

For purposes of the ongoing investigation by the police in Italy, particularly the art theft unit of the Italian Police, I don’t think it is prudent yet to release his identity, although it shouldn’t be long until we should be able to. What I can relate are details as to how we know unequivocally that there was an individual involved who maliciously stole Sea Lungs. The suspect was someone who worked closely with the Grenada National Pavilion. It takes many people to have a successful exhibit at the Venice Biennale and it is impossible to know ahead of time who is working towards the betterment and development of art and who is working to forward their own agenda. We have made many contacts in Venice who have proved invaluable allies to Grenada and our art. Additionally, the Biennale organization and the guardians for the pavilion had been beyond helpful and cooperative and we are grateful for those in the art world who have been our allies.

This person however, is not an ally. Besides being difficult to work with and unprofessional, this person was someone who makes a good first impression and then quickly devolved into their own egomania. They made costly decisions without conferring with the other decision makers in the pavilion. This person also shirked their duties for much of the duration of the Biennale, being uncooperative and non-communicative. One of my last face to face interactions with this person showed me someone who was unhinged and I felt that an apology was in order. I never received an apology.

The final weeks of the Biennale saw the re-emergence of this person as they had work to do at the Pavilion. This was two weeks before the Biennale was closed and before my representatives were there to take down my work to send back to Grenada. During this time, still not communicating with me as an artist or representatives of the Pavilion he verbally accosted and intimidated our guardians and told numerous lies ranging from his title/position to the date the building was legally leased until. In a petty instance this person even took money that was set out for the lady who came into the Pavilion to clean. It is hard to determine whether this person was always planning on taking my work two weeks before the end of Biennale or if it was an afterthought – a spur of the moment decision like I am sure stealing the cleaning lady’s money was.

The irrefutable evidence came when this person intimidated our guardians and then changed the locks on the doors, ensuring that anything that happened from that point on was the sole liability of this person and their representatives. He had two people working on his behalf as the person in question then left Venice. These two people had to be contacted in order to collect the art work. Milton Williams’ work was deinstalled and these two people made it available to him. Jason De Caires Taylor’s work was to be packed by a person who I also gave authorisation to pack up my work. There were other representatives present and the professional who packed De Caire’s work is not a person of interest and in fact emailed the suspect 3 times asking where Sea Lungs was. No response. The people who worked on behalf of the suspect claimed they did not know where the work was and were hostile towards representatives of the Pavilion.

The suspect in this art heist is still at large. At this point we’re not sure if they are going to try to sell the work to make a profit, destroy the work to be vindictive (and to not be caught with the evidence), or try to use my art work as a way of extorting money. This person claims that he is owed money by the Pavilion but is unable to produce receipts or invoices to justify their ever-changing amount owed. It is possible that taking the work, which has an undisclosed value, was a way of getting money out of the situation – like a hostage situation. Without yet divulging the person’s name, suffice to say that we have a person who had means, motive and opportunity to steal from me and ultimately Grenada and who is the primary suspect in the art theft. At this point I do not have much hope in recovering the work, I have not seen this individual act with benevolence. I do not want, however, for this person to profit off of stealing my work and I want to ensure that anyone else involved with this individual knows that he is a poor example of a professional and should be avoided at all costs. With any luck the formal investigation will conclude quickly and we can all move on with the assurance that the art world is just a little safer from people who are out there for their own gain at the expense of artists and facilitators.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com.

Grenada National Pavilion’s “Sea Lungs”: Missing

By Asher Mains

For the 57th La Biennale di Venezia I had the privilege of representing my country as part of an Official National Pavilion at the world’s oldest and largest stage for contemporary art. The event, lasting from Mid-May to late November 2017, saw hundreds of thousands of the world’s most attentive visitors as they came to this sort of “Olympics of Art”. The Grenada National Pavilion welcomed over 60,000 visitors who made their way away from the central Arsenale and Giardini to see and dialogue with Grenada and its contemporary art in this global conversation. I showed proudly along with fellow Grenadian artist, Milton Williams and our headliner for the pavilion, Jason deCaires Taylor who is world renowned, of Caribbean descent, and the creator of Grenada’s Under Water Sculpture park. Our offering of art on behalf of Grenada as a nation was noticed and commended by many international publications and we have been received warmly by the international art community. Sea Lungs, my installation of 8 pieces of sail cloth measuring 5’ x 8’ each with figures sprayed onto them and made complete with a sea fan to represent the figures lungs, were highly visible on social media and a visitor favourite.

A lesser known fact about such high profile art events is that while it is an honour and a privilege and prestigious to show, it is also costly. The venue has to be rented for the 6 months as well as attendants (called guardians) to make sure it is open every day and to answer any questions visitors may have. With up to 500 visitors a day, our guardians were on their toes and we appreciate their multi-lingual abilities and interest in art! There are also regulatory costs to comply with Venice codes not to mention variables like getting literature printed, a banner in front of the pavilion, advertising in Venice, cost of equipment and equipment failure etc. This is all besides the cost of actually making the art and bringing it to Venice. All of the sail cloth I used, spray paint, paper to cut stencils, time and energy cutting stencils, and “model appreciation” of course comes out of the artist’s pocket before they have to buy a plane ticket to Venice to show the work! All this to say – there is a lot of investment and I am grateful to the institutions in Grenada who contributed including Grenada Ministry of Tourism, Grenada Tourism Authority, National Lotteries Authority Grenada, Laluna Resort Grenada, ACT Art and Design Grenada, Art and Soul Gallery Grenada, Century 21 Grenada, Grenada Arts Council, Insurance Consultants Ltd. Grenada, as well as several individual contributors and a few international funders who made it possible!

Grenada is the 11th smallest country in the world and appearing 2 consecutive times at the Venice Biennale is a feat matched only by it’s much larger Caribbean neighbour, Cuba. I personally feel a sense of this smallness as my personal income has not exceeded $11,000 USD a year in the last 6 years. We do not have institutions in Grenada for art such as museums or cultural agencies that ensure Grenada’s consistent involvement at the highest levels of cultural dialogue in the world. Everything we are doing at this stage is an investment and with intention to develop our own art scene as well as the art scene of the region. We are Davids in consult with Goliaths. Even the theme of the unified work of Williams, deCaires Taylor and myself deal with the very real and pertinent issue of our planet as David – the impact on our coral reefs as a result of varied environmental realities. My figures were posed as if to personify the reef responding to its own demise and then creating the correlation with the sea fan to remind us that our own breath begins in the sea and the life of the reef is correlated to our own life. In spite of the cost and investment involved in showing in Venice, our artists still drew humble attention to the reality affecting our marine ecosystems, showing a form of activism through art at the highest level that it could be consumed.

All of this is what makes it sting that at the end of the Venice Biennale, Sea Lungs is missing. While reflecting on it, maybe this is a bad omen for the state of our reefs that the work that was created as a symbol of the reef would disappear like our reefs if nothing changes. I had multiple people who were responsible for packing up the art and returning it home to Grenada but when they arrived to the locked pavilion the work was not there. I would not have been able to afford to travel to Venice myself and so I relied on locks, keys, and agents to secure my work.  Aside from any monetary value that the work may have, (sale of work is not typical or expected at the Venice Biennale), I am missing the hours of labor that depicted these figures, many of them people I grew up with, and the actual art work that I would not be able to propose to any more shows or exhibits. Regardless, Sea Lungs represents critical work in the art history of Grenada and the region and no one is sure if it is in a basement, the bottom of a canal in Venice or staged to sell at an art fair to an unaware buyer. My hope is that we can get to the bottom of this art heist because while it is a personal loss it also feels like a fight against something greater. We are fighting for the Davids of the art world to continue to exhibit and create waves. We are fighting for awareness and personal/corporate responsibility as far as the life of the reef and marine ecosystems. One of the most apparent fights is to encourage young artists to continue to strive towards greatness in their field, artist or not, without the fear that their work will go missing or plagiarised or any number of professional deplorable reactions. What has not gone missing from me as an artist is the ability to continue to work, continue to question and to imagine a better way for the world to be. While I originally directed the models in Sea Lungs to pose as if they are going through the 5 stages of grief, looking at the images of the work now they look like they are longing. These are faces I recognise and materials I know and when I look at them now, they look like they want to come home.

Sea Lungs consists of 8 paintings on sail cloth or ripstop measuring approx. 5 feet by 8 feet. Each figure has a corresponding sea fan to represent the lungs of each figure. Sea Lungs was last seen on Nov. 14th in the Grenada National Pavilion at 417 Dorsoduro, Venice close to the Zattere vaporetto stop. We are clear that this is not the fault or liability of La Biennale di Venezia or our hard-working and professional guardians. If you have any information leading to the reclamation of the work please contact me at ashermains@gmail.com. Below is a gallery consisting of each piece of the installation. 

We have materials, we have stories, we have Godfrey Luke

By Asher Mains

On Friday, November 17th at the Waving Art Gallery at the Maurice Bishop International Airport, here in Grenada, we saw a very special opening reception for Godfrey Luke’s solo exhibit. Visitors were welcomed by figures and vehicles made from found materials around Luke’s community in Upper St. John, St. Andrew’s. The figures, made of armatures of cables were padded with natural elements like coconut fibre, banana fibre, and coconuts. The vehicles, a motorcycle, car and helicopter were more reliant on recycling material that would otherwise have been discarded. Luke’s paintings round out the exhibit giving both a sense of a physical and conceptual environment.

The presence of Ashanti Footprints, a cultural group from the community that consists of a couple dozen children, highlighted what makes Godfrey Luke “100% Amazing”, per the title of his exhibit. This is art. Well constructed objects based on a good concept is typical of what make a good individual artist but Luke goes further than that and incorporates the collective knowledge and experience of the community into his work. This socially-based art practice makes the beautiful sculptures secondary to the amazing level of cultural, social, and educational infusion that the community is getting based on his determination and creative spirit. What I think is important to understand in the context of Luke’s work is that in a society that prioritises functionaries of a system over human actualisation, to engage in activity that makes us more human is subversive.

Looking first at his materials, Luke uses things that are familiar and common to his area. I heard many remarks as we were setting up as people saw materials they recognised and recounted stories based the memories they had associated with the material. This is the mnemonic and empathic quality of using materials that are our own, in our own art. When we see certain things we are familiar with, the material or objects “tells us” about ourselves. Many times corporations try to sell you products, services, or even movies with the intention that their audience will identify with what they are selling. If part of my identity is wrapped up in “Apple” products then the company has a loyal consumer and as an individual I have associated with a company that I perceive as representing my own individual interests. Materials and objects in our landscape have what Jonathan Chapman calls, “emotional durability” and tell us not only better stories than corporations are able to but ultimately, the materials tells us stories about ourselves.

We step away from the mechanism of industrialisation when we are able to take control of our own stories and the articulation of our own identity. Further, we free ourselves from multiple cycles of capitalism, not only because in this case Luke didn’t necessarily buy his materials but also because if we are in charge of our identity and our story there is nothing that someone can sell us because we are not “enough”. I believe we should celebrate anything that is done outside the grasp of capitalism especially in a place like Grenada where so much money leaves the country regularly because of corporate interests (re: Sandals, Digicel, Flow, IGA, Grenlec, CXC, not to mention a general high cost of living, the list goes on…). Godfrey Luke, along with Judy Antoine and Ashanti Footprints are making a statement about deriving our humanity and identity through the things we are able to learn, make, and express rather than buying the latest technology or having to have lots of corporate support before moving forward. By making art in this way, Luke imbues these objects with value that goes far beyond the price on the label.

Aside from the material used in the sculptures there is a definite narrative quality to each sculpture and to the exhibit as a whole. The sculptures themselves mirror life in the community. In figurative work, whether drawings, paintings or sculptures, sometimes the depiction of the human form can come across as sterile or even clinical. Luke’s figures seem frozen in mid-sentence, in mid-dance, or even sculpted while working. The characters compel the viewer to read a narrative into them and then as they are set up in the gallery they converse; they commune. When I first saw Godfrey Luke’s sculptures it was outside in Upper St. John in December of 2016. They were set up for the holiday season and many of the figures had signs next to them narrating what they were doing. There was a Santa Claus on a motorcycle lit with Christmas lights and otherwise the whole scene was surreal. These sculptures have never been disconnected from the overflow of human experience and community that is Luke and the Ashanti Footprints. Even the vehicles have containers on them with different coloured fluids which are naturally half empty, referencing the fact that in another reality the motorcycle or the car had to burn a little fuel to make it to the Waving Art Gallery.

The fact is, there is no place in the world where it is easy to be an artist. In Grenada sometimes people complain because we don’t have museums or big art supply stores but elsewhere in the world, art funding isn’t what it used to be and if you are in one of the “art world centres” the competition to be noticed for your art is fierce. It is not easy being an artist in Grenada but seeing Luke’s exhibit gives hope. We have to work with our advantages and minimise our disadvantages where ever we are in the world. In Grenada we have a lot of freedom to work and we have a lot of natural resources and materials to incorporate into our work. With some technical understanding of how to work with these materials we can make art work that cannot be made anywhere else in the world. Our art should look like we made it during a certain time in history, in a specific place and among certain people. We are taking control of the conversation about who we are and what we make when we use the things that are readily available to us. Making art in Grenada is not easy but when great, contemporary artwork like Godfrey Luke’s comes down from St. Andrew’s, we should take notice. There are many reasons people give for why they don’t make art, or buy it, or even like it, but the example Luke shows us is compelling. Engaging with our landscape and the people in our community is making us more human. In Grenada we have materials and we have stories – thank God we also have Godfrey Luke.

Godfrey Luke’s exhibit will be open at the Waving Art Gallery at the Maurice Bishop International Airport until Mid January 2018. This exhibition has been made possible by the partnership between the Grenada Airport Authority and Grenada Arts Council. Godfrey Luke can be contacted directly at godfreylukeartist@gmail.com.

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

15977319_1854932951418420_8008242091139368450_n.jpg

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.

17021995_1878408302404218_1438586438763001422_n.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

aboutpic.jpg

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!

ART SCHOOL GREENZ.png

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!

LaVanda Mireles, Evidence of Connection

By Asher Mains

The Susan Mains Gallery at Spiceland Mall International in Morne Rouge was filled last Thursday night with art lovers and supporters of LaVanda Mireles as she launched her first solo exhibit with her large scale cyanotypes. In Contact Lens Mireles explores concepts of isolation and connection by making pieces of art that feature material and process. Cyanotypes are the product of a process invented in the 1800’s in order to copy architectural drawings by exposing chemical layered material to sunlight. The sun turns the chemicals blue except where the sunlight is blocked, creating perfect imprints of the technician’s, or in this case, artist’s content. Cyanotypes are beautiful and are an exciting inclusion in the contemporary art scene. Anna Atkins made stunning cyanotypes of organic forms shortly after the process was invented in 1842. Man Ray made his ‘rayographs’ in the 1920’s with a similar process. Then Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg revisited and revived them in art in the 1950’s. In 2016, there was a museum exhibit in the US called, “Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period” which chronicled some of the early works until now. This year at the Venice Biennale in the Arsenal (the curator’s picks), artist Thu-Van Tran showed large scale cyanotypes against an enormous backdrop, proving that the process is still exciting and relevant in contemporary art today. LaVanda Mireles has taken her place in a long and exciting tradition, particularly of women artists, who have taken art, science, and the human condition, with the help of the sun, exposing us all to the beauty of the everyday.

IMG_6596(Cyanotypes and objects by LaVanda Mireles at Susan Mains Gallery. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Mireles talks about her process saying, “The environment in which I make this type of art is evident in the prints themselves. Most of the objects used were found in and around my house or washed up on various beaches here in Grenada.” Grenada is a place rich in material resources and for artists like Mireles, walking the beaches or anywhere on the island is like walking through an art supply store. She goes on to say about the figures in her work, “…the figures I depict seek connection with other beings and their environment. By looking through a lens, the figures are protecting themselves yet at the same time searching.” Material and environment have been shown to contribute and communicate about a person’s identity and by taking a process that was originally intended for technical or scientific use, Mireles draws an intriguing parallel between aesthetics and analysis. In some ways, the cyanotype pieces could be read as a sort of journal or diary of process and experience. In a tropical environment it is extra-fitting that we rely on the sun and water to make these processes, memories, and experiences evident.

IMG_6595.JPG(Cyanotypes by LaVanda Mireles at Susan Mains Gallery. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Mireles is relatively new to Grenada but she wasted no time in using art as a way of connecting and experiencing her new country. Mireles reflects Grenada’s strength as a creative incubator and someone who immediately started to feed the soil. In 2016 Mireles declared a sort of artistic bankruptcy – clearing out her entire body of work to that point when moving from Denver, Colorado, United States with her husband who is a medical illustrator at St. George’s University. This series represents a rebirth, a fresh start, a narrative of what can happen in a place like Grenada when you come in with empty hands but an open and receptive mind and heart. Mireles volunteers some of her expertise with artists during classes at Art School Greenz and has otherwise been an active participant in her new art community. This is connection. The isolation of her figures find moments of memory and narrative in the impressions of the objects in the piece but connection happens when we start connecting these disparate points into a whole. Brene Brown talks about disengagement as a form of betrayal. Elie Wiesel is famously quoted as saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.” In both these cases, besides her beautiful execution of her process, Mireles’ work is about new beginnings and hope. Her work shows engagement and by extension, love and relationship with her new found home. We are fortunate to see these tangible musings and are privileged that Mireles would share them with us.

img_39841.jpg(LaVanda Mireles on far left in front of her work at the opening of Contact Lens. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)

Asher Mains is a Grenadian artist and art educator who is committed to continued development and excellence in the Grenadian art scene. For more articles visit http://www.ashershares.wordpress.com and visit http://www.ashermains.com to find out more about Mains’ practice. 

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.

IMG_2919

(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.

Photo-6-1024x683

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

IMG_2159

(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)