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The selling of standards or the standards of selling?

Posted in Opinion by Adele Todd on May 8, 2008

A highway painter selling his work off the Western main road, Trinidad, West Indies

An artist plies his trade at the side of the road on the way to the newly renovated, multi-million dollar West Mall. They are pastoral scenes of the island, both imagined and real. They are colour by number, churned out, cheap canvases, baking in the sun. A sun perminantly represented in the paintings in a yellow tinge. Anthuriums in bunches flank the paintings, also for sale. The public pass by, some stop for the flowers and idly gaze at the canvases. The artist has been at that lip of road for years and the works vary, but never change.

Switch to a spanking new, million dollar art gallery, where the beautiful are invited to an opening. Cocktails are served by a uniformed waiter and almost no one is really looking at the Art.

The scenes are predictably pastoral, the frames carefully chosen to suit the overall color of the work. Red dots begin to appear alongside and some people check the work against a print out rolled off of a computer, that lists the names, numbers and costs of every piece.

What is the difference?

Environment? Attitude, intention?

Not all work in galleries should be sold on the roadside – they just feel that way.

All joking aside, some of the value difference is obvious. The cost of materials, the artists’ education and experience. So why is it that so much work looks warmed over? Artists say that the public hurt their creativity. When they try to do something a bit differently, the work doesn’t sell.

The cost of art materials always goes up. Framing is mandatory, and all the work you do has to be exhibited, because you never know what will sell well.

So is art in Trinidad and Tobago a crap shot?

There are artists who have come out of the blocks, passionate about their media, like Lisa O’Connor. Her first show was a major breakthrough. She dealt with familiar themes, her heavy layered technique and color usage kept her above the fray. Over the years, she has attempted to continue exploring interesting compositions amidst marriage and illness and children. Yet her first show still stands as her definitive moment.

Nicholai Noel’s exhibition in 2007, Trinidad West Indies

Looking further afield to the work of the young artist, Nicholai Noel. He has produced a dark, sketchy Sandman comics language of serious drawing and painting techniques that may not have sold as well as Miss O’Connor’s has, but he has made his peers sit up and take notice.

There are wonderful moments in the local art world, definate shining moments. Yet they silently go by.

What is needed is writing that really looks at our history, exploring the tastes, styles and techniques of our artists. Serious reviews of their work. Really learn and understand their reasons for why they do what they do. What drives them? What challenges them? Where do they see art going?

I am always dismayed when I write about an artist and want to draw references to the patterns I have observed over time. Apart from my memory and that of other artists, finding hard information is extremely difficult to come by, and so the writing is crippled by lack of such information at hand.

As more work joins what already exists, it is important to understand what drives the market and why. But also, this buying public, do they really influence the art scene so dramatically that the artist is forced to be something other than themselves?

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