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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.