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. 

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Insider Secrets of the Grenada Art Scene (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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