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I N T E R V I E W: Camille King

Posted in Artists Interviews by Adele Todd on January 8, 2009

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Q. In 2000 you were working with CCA7 and I met you through the bigRiver residency. You were working with watercolour. Tell me about your work?

A: I love watercolour. It was my first medium in secondary school and never really enjoyed or appreciated any another medium the same way. No other medium allows the exploration of light and colour, the way watercolour does and those areas have continued to be my interest with regard to the medium.
I started out painting still-lifes, which eventually began to include West Indian architectural elements, such as Demarara windows, wooden louvres, and then including landscapes with the still-lifes, such as the plains of Central and South Trinidad.
While living abroad, I began to use the idea of breaking up larger paintings into smaller, fractured pieces. In hindsight, I see that other people saw them as being abstract, Cubist almost, but the idea came from a totally different place. I used to watch the way the glass in the windows outside my office would reflect light and objects differently in each panel. I used that idea to start changing the way I could break up the space on large pieces and then it continued to smaller pieces. After about 10 years working like that, I find myself going back to still-lifes, and enjoying the light and colour again.
One of the main themes explored is that of my space, home, community and self. I’ve used houses, in a simplified form, as a personification of self, in that a house/home holds your stuff, whether literally or figuratively. The body is a vessel which supports all of our emotional, physical and daily weight. Instead of using a body to illustrate, I use one house, or three. Three, relating to the idea of me, myself and I. The symbol of the house repeats often, sometimes very clearly in the paintings, and on other times almost like a secret that no one notices.

Q. I remember that you were not inclined to want to get involved with showing your work in the context of what was seen at bigRiver. How do you feel about being a contemporary artist who does not straddle the more extreme ways of seeing?

A: I sometimes see myself as a contemporary artist and sometimes not. In a way there is a feeling of being looked down on by those who are thinking/saying, “why are people still doing landscapes, portraits, still lifes?” “Why are people still drawing and painting?” To a point, I agree, especially when a lot of artists are dealing with like subjects and tackling them in the same manner. There are so many ways of tackling a piece, so many mediums to explore.
And then, on the flip side, I see my work growing, changing and that the way that I work, and live and breathe is contemporary. My watercolours are abstract according to some people (not moi), and are not ‘traditional’ watercolours, not ‘typical’ landscapes and in an exhibition setting are considered contemporary to others who work in the medium. I am contemporary, or not, according to who I am standing next to.
Q. Where did you study and what have you found working in Trinidad and Tobago has done for you as an artist?

A: I attended university in Miami at Florida International University. I was the only watercolourist in the department. My painting professor said he could not teach anything about the techniques of painting watercolours, he said I knew how to paint, so we worked on composition and thematic elements. Much of my influences, painting wise, have been external to Trinidad. Exceptions being Cazabon, Jackie Hinkson and Harry Bryden. But I adore artists like Winslow Homer and Janet Fish.
Working in Trinidad is a challenge. The creativity and projects of artists in theatre, music and the visual arts are not well supported. I am not sure what T&T has done for me as an artist. I think it is a challenge to show work, get some recognition, especially if you do not show often. Some people manage to show every year and sell well, I applaud them. I do many things that are visual art related but producing enough for a show is very difficult, so it does not happen as often as I would like. And I want to be satisfied with every piece.

Q. Do you think because you work in watercolour, that there is a certain snobbery about what you do as opposed to the Sunday painter and the overtly contemporary practitioner?

A: Lol! Possibly. Watercolour was originally thought of as the medium young ladies used as a hobby, used in their spare time to show they would make good wives and could occupy their days. Thereby came the idea of the Sunday painter. Men used oil paints and/or acrylics. Artists like Winslow Homer, used watercolour for both quick sketches on site during the war, as well as finished pieces. But generally, oil and acrylics are supposedly more ‘real’ and respected media. That bias of medium has remained centuries later, and even now watercolour is not considered as important or credible as oils, acrylics and now infinite ways of working. People choose a medium that works for the finished product they want. If they choose oils, wire, hair, whatever, it’s a choice. My choice is a medium that I adore and gives me the effect that I want.

Q. You teach at the University of the West Indies, how long have you been teaching, and what have you taught?

A: This is my 9th year at Visual Arts, CCFA as a part-time lecturer. I started out teaching a course about professionalism as a visual artist – writing an artist statement, structuring your resume, contracts, copyright organizing your portfolio, etc. Over the years, the course has continued, and changed a bit, but its format is similar. Right now the course is in the Carnival Studies Unit. I share the course with another lecturer, and it is open to all Creative Arts students.

For a few years I also facilitated a landscape painting workshop. We would go to various places and paint ‘en plein air’. Many students had never worked outdoors before, only from photographs, which was amazing to me. The workshop took us to San Souci, Mt. St. Benedict, Blanchiesseuse, Gran Couva, the Botanical Gardens. I also facilitate a Human Figure Drawing Course, with Year 2/Year 3 students.

Q. You collaborated with your colleague and friend Elsa Carrington Clarke a few years ago. What was that like and are you planning any more pairings?

A: Elsa and I work well together. We do not work the same way, but we work well together. We each have our strengths and we can bounce ideas off of each other. I work hard at not letting life get in the way, but its not always possible. So, it works out if we can jointly get enough work to have a show. The last time was four years ago. We have talked about doing something again, but no official plans.

Q. Your work is in the Chancellor’s office at U.W.I. I have always found that your paintings have a poetry about them, as though they could adorn a Walcott work. There is a light and airy feel to your technique. Tell me about that work?

A: You have said that to me before, that they would look great as illustrations. Thank you. Watercolour is about light, and I use the medium to its advantage. The series with the houses reflect the idea of community, of people, even when you see none. The paintings with people and houses tell a story, encourage a story, such as “It still takes a village” and “The Wedding and the Sanctuary”. They give the illusion of ‘all ah we”, of these people can be any community in Trinidad. I like the idea of wrapping or covering of heads. In many communities, people wrap their hair, but it is so common, we don’t notice it. Rastafarians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Africans, Indians, the list goes on and on. I love colour and watercolour allows that richness. Mine are not watered down paintings, I have had people ask me if the paintings are another medium, because they are not what they expect watercolour to be.

Q. Working at CCA7, you encountered many artists doing many different types of work. Where there any artists whose works or theories you particularly held to, or regarded?

A: I learnt from many of the artists. CCA7 was a great opportunity to see how other artists’ work, what issues interest and affect them. I still follow up on the works of people like Peter Doig, Nicole Awai, Nikolai Noel. I loved the energy of Surekha from India and the depressing but intense drawings of Oscar Camilo de las Flores. Many of these artists had amazing stories to tell.

Q. Did these things have any influence on your work, and if so, what and why?

A: Being around, reading and researching so many contemporary artists, in a way became a hindrance to my work. It became my stumbling block. It took a long time to figure it out. I kept feeling or wanting to work in their vein of thought, and that was not my way of working. So I kept looking for ways to produce a contemporary body of work based on other ideals, and could not. I could not figure out why I was not painting and working, because I was trying really hard to be what I was not. I got over it.

Q. What are you working on now and what are your plans for the next few years?

A: I am back to painting what I enjoy the most, and am doing wonderfully naturally lit still-lifes. I am looking at them from a slightly different perspective, but thinking Janet Fish, Winslow Homer, including a lot of glass, reflections and simple, but textured images.

It is wishful thinking that I would like to continue working at my current pace, but life will not allow that. I would like to have a show in the relative near future, and have it critiqued or written about. It is hard to have work written about by people who know. There are few people qualified to write about art, which is a pity. But I would like to get back to working on a regular basis and enjoy the work being produced. I need a proper studio space to spread out in, and experiment more than I am currently able to.

Adele Todd

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