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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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.