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What exactly is quality in a Trinidadian context?

Posted in Art in the Caribbean, Debate by Adele Todd on April 28, 2008

A David Moore painting, Trinidad, West Indies

Whenever I write, I usually find that somewhere in the text lies the next possible article that causes me to go away and think about an angle to another question. Yesterday it was the idea of quality and what would these standards look like in Trinidad and Tobago. I have been asked on several occasions what constitutes good Art? This question is asked with great sincerity, by most. People really would like to feel that they have a good eye for it. So much so that they are willing to buy poor replicas of works by Van Gogn and Da Vinci or more recent local works like David Moore and Anthony Timothy.

I remember when Mr. Moore was making prints of his Rockwellesque pastiches of disappearing life on the islands. Even then, friends and acquaintances would engage me in heated discussions about Art. The question then was whether he was cheapening both Art and himself by creating such work. Today his work stands as very representative of a period. In some ways, it is a sad testimony of a time, because as far as I can summize, he no longer works in Trinidad or produces work for Trinidad and Tobago. This is from talking to people who know him, but I will still leave that up to speculation and keep this open. He may return at this writing and flood the market place again.

What is clear with the work of Mr. Moore is that he grappled with something that artists are still dealing with in Trinidad and Tobago, and that is, how to represent what interests him about the country in a way that is visually appealing and lasting. My continued concern is in the repetition of these themes. Unlike other places in the world, of the hundreds of artists who make work on the islands, many of them do so in very similar ways, creating similar works.

There is always a market for a painting of a gingerbread house, a pastoral scene, a washer woman walking along a pristine trail to a small thatched house in the distance. Today these images are hard to reconcile. You now see signage along the way, stating, stop the smelter. These signs are affixed to telephone poles that are laden with jumbled wires suited for cell phones and Internet access. That same little house now has no place in a world that demands that such a life is one of poverty. A life that now can only be perceived as quaint on canvas.

So if one can say that we have five hundred landscape painters, four hundred and sixty eight wood sculptors, then we can begin to ask questions like, what engages the wood sculptor as opposed to the metalsmith or the person doing pottery? How much of the work is for high production and how much is made for on special consignment.

But also, once the number of people practicing is known, and this can be done by checking sites like the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago, what has to be known, is, if a number of artists are all painting birds, who of the bird painters are considered the most skilled and why? Is it the photorealism? Is it the composition? The technique? At one point in art in Trinidad and Tobago, this was easy to state. People spoke about an artist’s ability to paint something in such a way that it made you feel that the thing was a photograph. But with the huge advances in photography and the inevitable change in tastes, that ability to create photorealism eventually fell away as the thing to look at. It helped for a moment to distinguish a certain group. The yearly show of artists best work at the National Museum did much for Art, but again, eventually it went the way of the wind.

Today, good art is relative to the press that work gets in the papers. If you want to know who is good or very good, apart from the luminaries who are constantly in the media, the playing field falls away quickly Is it wise to rate artists anyway? I do not believe that what I am suggesting is a rating, but a greater awareness of what is made in Trinidad and Tobago and why? Who do Artists like themselves? Do these artists support each others’ works? If so, how does this support encourage high standards of work in the
future?

There is Studio 66 run by Makemba Kunle and Women in Art run by Frauline Rudder. How much these two examples manage to set standards is unknown. One can also ask the question, how does the work of artists in Trinidad and Tobago impact on or even influence work in the other islands or the other islands on us, if at all?

Ever so often a small group appear on the horizon and tries to set themselves apart with a type of work. Yet
very little is written about this, or followed up. Finding out about one such luminary like Francisco Cabral will lead you to a basic dead end. He’s possibly in Miami. He’s left Trinidad for good. He sparked and now he’s gone.

Of those who stay and keep their names prominent, Jackie Hinckson, LeRoi Clarke, Peter Minshall and Wendy Nanan, to name a few, they are more focused on producing their work, as they should. What you do see, is that the frame shops that are now also doubling as galleries, all artists are subject to spending a great deal on framing their work for show, and that represents a certain value and standard. It can even be argued that the frame influences the sale of the work. – Adele

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3 Responses

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  1. Artist: Wendell Mc Shine said, on May 5, 2009 at 5:22 am

    Well..frames represents a caged mind set of how art is been taught and digested in schools and society, in Trinidad…from my view the teacher´s don´t allow you to think and make original works of your own..its more do it like me and in this set way, no room for experimentation.

    I would say i wasted a lot of time in school, so that´s why i advocate for the kids that coming up now, skip them waste of time school and so call art teachers, and go off on your own and just make art from the heart and soul.

    I see a huge problem…The older Artist are scared to help younger artist grow and expand..i think that they actually, see us as a treat, that to me is darkness, it don´t help our Trinidadian art scene…its just more of the same old same old.

    So that we can actually have a REAL thing that is called ¨Quality Trinidad and Tobago Art¨
    this does not come by via talking art..it comes by actually drawing and painting and upping ones skill sets and having a vision that helps a greater good.

  2. Nandi Keyi said, on February 6, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Greetings to you and your muse,
    I stumbled upon your blog as I prepared to meet David Moore as a potential candidate for a series of “live conversations with Caribbean cultural icons.” The flooding of the market with his work was not his doing. He shockingly (or maybe not) does not own the copyright to his “nostalgia series.” Though his prints hang in the homes of almost every Trinibagonian I have visited in the diaspora, he has not/will not profit. I proudly showed him two prints which have hung in a family kitchen for 30 years. The first was of the woman ironing the blue dress with a black coal pot, fiery coals and a cast iron, the second was of a Tapir house scene with little children playing in the yard, Mr. Moore could barely look at his work – such is this artist’s pain.

    I believe that he is a pioneer of this medium and his work has tremendous value. He is “artist/historian” in the combined, most honest sense of these words. His art has preserved memory/tradition and interpreted the “ole days” for me who came a mere generation later. I know about the “ole days” from elder reminisces – made flesh on a David Moore canvas. In terms of technique, Mr. Moore’s work is detailed. I felt like I could blow on a single leaf and experience its movement. Such is his mastery true-to-life interpretations. He is a national treasure. Whatever value judgement you place on Trinidad and Tobago art, I commend you for referencing Mr. Moore in your blog because who else does?

    You speculated that one day he may show up in Trinidad and Tobago and flood the market again. This is unlikely. The day I sought him out for our chat he was literally disillusioned, and figuratively “collecting dust.”

  3. Nandi Keyi-Ogunlade said, on February 6, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Nandi Keyi said, on February 6, 2012 at 5:26 am
    Greetings to you and your muse,
    I stumbled upon your blog as I prepared to meet David Moore as a potential candidate for a series of “live conversations with Caribbean cultural icons.” The flooding of the market with his work was not his doing. He shockingly (or maybe not) does not own the copyright to his “nostalgia series.” Though his prints hang in the homes of almost every Trinibagonian I have visited in the diaspora, he has not/will not profit. I proudly showed him two prints which have hung in a family kitchen for 30 years. The first was of the woman ironing the blue dress with a black coal pot, fiery coals and a cast iron, the second was of a Tapir house scene with little children playing in the yard, Mr. Moore could barely look at his work – such is this artist’s pain.

    I believe that he is a pioneer of this medium and his work has tremendous value. He is “artist/historian” in the combined, most honest sense of these words. His art has preserved memory/tradition and interpreted the “ole days” for me who came a mere generation later. I know about the “ole days” from elder reminisces – made flesh on a David Moore canvas. In terms of technique, Mr. Moore’s work is detailed. I felt like I could blow on a single leaf and experience its movement. Such is his mastery true-to-life interpretations. He is a national treasure. Whatever value judgement you place on Trinidad and Tobago art, I commend you for referencing Mr. Moore in your blog because who else does?

    You speculated that one day he may show up in Trinidad and Tobago and flood the market again. This is unlikely. The day I sought him out for our chat he was literally disillusioned, and figuratively “collecting dust.”


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