Introducing même bête: The Art of Bag Making

Taribba Hinkson and son

Taribba Hinkson is a 29-year-old development professional. She was raised in St. Lucia and studied in Canada. She has an undergraduate degree in International Development and an MBA in International Management. She also has a professional International Project Management designation. After working in the not-for-profit field, aiding businesswomen to obtain export markets in North America, she decided to use her knowledge to start up a business of her own. 2009 saw même bête’s humble beginnings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The idea was to create an East meets West vibe by combining the best of Ethiopian leather with the most energetic African traditional cotton. même bête currently works on custom orders for weddings and fashion shows as well as for wholesale orders.

The name même bête comes from a St. Lucian Creole saying that roughly translates to we are all the same. The name also creates a loose pun on the various types of leather used, ox, sheep, goat and cow.

Natalie d’Auvergne: How did you get into the bag making business? What was your initial inspiration and how difficult was it to get your business off the ground?

Taribba Hinkson: As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. I needed some extra cash and was racking my brain thinking of something

Kwéyòl couture!! All styles available in traditional St. Lucian madras!!

I could do to supplement my income. I was already familiar with the local artisans and the materials available, due to my work with trade businesswomen in Ethiopia, so I thought it would be interesting to put a new twist on the typical Ethiopian leather bag. The local leather is abundant and very high quality and I’ve always loved the vibrant colors of the West African Dutch wax. I put two and two together and the rest is history. I have recently branched into making bags with madras as well, which is very popular with my African clientele.

Getting started wasn’t too difficult because I already had so many contacts with local artisans who were able to guide me and assist me whenever I got stuck. I started off at the many bazaars and craft fairs around the country and I have now built up a strong enough clientele that people seek me out when they are looking to buy. I mainly sell custom and wholesale orders from my home now and do the occasional crafts fairs.

d’Auvergne: A major distinction between art and craft is the notion of “art for art’s sake” as opposed to the practicality of craft products. Your pieces  accomplish both; the beautiful bold patterned fabrics are artistic, while the structural design of each handbag offers functionality for everyday use. Tell me a little about the creative process. How do you balance aesthetics and practicality?

 

 

Bold Print compliments même bête

Hinkson: Well, I really want my bags to be functional so I stick with clean classic designs. I leave the art aspect to the makers of the cloth who put a lot of tradition and history into their designs. The color combination between the cloth and the leather is also very important. I try not to make the leather outshine the cloth but rather compliment it. I stick to muted shades when the cloth is vivid and more brilliant colored leather when the cloth pattern is more subdued.

d’Auvergne: How involved are you in the entire process? Do you have a hand in the actual construction of the pieces or are they factory made? Do you design them yourself?

Hinkson: I do everything myself. I design, purchase my materials, make the bags, do the marketing labels, selling… everything. I am a one- woman business. When I have large orders for trade shows etc., I outsource some of the work, especially now, with a ten-month-old son; balancing work and motherhood is difficult.

 

d’Auvergne: You were raised in St. Lucia and now live in Ethiopia. How similar or different are the two cultures and how have your experiences influenced your designs?

Hinkson: Ethiopian and St. Lucian cultures are worlds apart, from everyday nuances to the food and music. In my opinion, the  two cultures have absolutely nothing in common. Most of us as Black-Caribbean people tend to identify more with West-African culture as we are descendants of West African slaves. I am still adjusting to Ethiopian life four years later, and still find myself lost and sometimes lonely. Many people have never heard of St. Lucia and I spend a lot of time explaining how St. Lucia and Jamaica are two different countries!

d’Auvergne: How does your everyday life influence your designs? For example, now that you’re a mother, do you have any plans for a baby bag or something specifically designed for the hectic lives of new mothers?

Hinkson: Yes, of course, I am selfish with my designs and tend to make bags that I would want. Then with customer feedback, I tweak designs to incorporate their suggestions. I find that, being a mother, I appreciate a longer strap on my bags, like a messenger style that will keep my hands free to grab a fast moving baby. This has sat well with my customers.

d’Auvergne: If you were to compare your designs to any existing line what would it be, why or why not?

Hinkson: I don’t think there is an existing line like mine. I’m hoping that African print and madras can be seen as trendy all year round and not just a seasonal print.

Interested in learning more? Visit même bête at http://www.meme-bete.com/

or on facebook  at www.facebook.com/meme.bete.

Place an order at http://www.etsy.com/shop/memeb​ete (worldwide shipping) 

même bête is also available in St.Lucia, contact Taribba Hinkson at  (758) 450-1326

Art with a Purpose: An Interview with Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell

Mitchell- image compliments Advocate

Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell graduated from the Art Institute of Houston in 2001 with an Associates Degree in Graphic Design and earned a BFA from Southern University of Baton Rouge. GHOST is an acronym for God Holds Our Souls Together and Genocide Hinders Our Survival Tactics. GHOST also refers to the fact that this artist’s art and poetry is designed to ‘haunt’ those who are guilty of oppression and injustice.

Natalie d’Auvergne: While studying your pieces I found that they don’t simply tell a story but seem to frequently have a message. Do you create individual pieces to guide viewers to ‘get’ this or that from a piece? Do you ever create pieces just for the hell of it?

Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell: Exploration of my art begins with self-knowledge. Earlier pieces like The Maafa: Afrikan Holocaust/Crucifixion for instance, were created as I was beginning to learn about Afrikan and Afrikan-American History. These pieces certainly were created to prove a point.  More recent works however, such as Won’t You Help to Sing Songs of Freedom, They Don’t Really Care About Us, and Whose Blood?, were created to guide the viewer to a discussion of certain critical issues.

I do feel I am a vessel for those who cannot speak what they feel—a sort of “voice for the voiceless” (that’s my shout out to Mumia Abu Jamal) —wink! However, I do create art pieces for the hell of it, though not as often as I would like. The “UNI-5” piece based on Bone thugs-n-harmony for instance, was a strictly “for fun” piece. Creating it took me back to a time when I was inspired by Bone. I found then that I could simply…draw.

d’Auvergne: You use pencils on most of your pieces. Why pencils and how did you develop your technique? I’m particularly interested in the “backward technique” you used in “UNI-5” piece and the “Afro Blue” collection.

"Afro Blue" pencil featuring "Backward Technique"

Mitchell: Wow, that is a great question. I’ve been using pencils for as long as I’ve been drawing. I’m 29, so that amounts to about 25 years of working with pencils. Pencil, rather than paint, was the easiest utensil to get a hold of. Pencils, I could afford. When I enrolled at Southern University of Baton Rouge in 2002, I took my first Advanced Drawing Class under Robert Cox, my current mentor, and cultivated the DISCIPLINE of the Pencil.  When using a pencil, because I draw from realism, I have to really concentrate on getting the correct tones by applying the correct amount of pressure. Holding the pencil “hard” creates harder and darker marks, while holding the pencil “soft” creates the softer and lighter marks. I view the pencil as the armed revolutionary views the Gun: It’s the power of the Pencil that I use to bring the Revolution that will NOT be televised. The revolution will be carried out with a #HB and #3B pencil. Lol!

The “Backward Technique” is something that I learned while attending the Art Institute of Houston back in 1999 to 2001. In 2000 I took a drawing course where the instructor took Black and White photos of each student in the class. We then had to use a white Prisma color pencil on Black paper. Unlike working on white paper, where the hardest mark one makes is the darkest, on black paper, the hardest mark one makes is the lightest. Thus, what the artist renders are the highlights and light tonal values.  It is a pretty interesting technique that is one of my favorites.  The Afro Blue series, which is a rare painting series, is similar to the “Backward Technique” in that the canvas is painted a dark blue then I paint the highlights. I do still use black paint to paint in the dark tones as well.

d’Auvergne: Black women seem to be your preferred subject matter. You do have images of Bob Marley and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, but I noted the lack of images of ordinary men. What about us inspires you and do you not get the same inspiration from black men?

"Songs of Freedom"

Mitchell: Queen, Black Women are my heart and soul. I grew up around mostly Black Women, so the internal and external beauty of Black Women help me deal with my strengths as well as my convictions.  I have always, and will always have love for Black Women, but it wasn’t until I began learning about Afrikan and Afrikan-American history that I came to realize that the physical attributes of Black Women are greatly unique, and deserve to be thoroughly imitated by my art.  Our sisters represent many visually appealing aesthetics; they come in such diverse shapes, sizes, skin-shades, hair textures, ect. In many of my pieces, when I do use Black Women directly, I aim to inspire Black females, from the youngest to the oldest, to recognize their beauty. I am one man showing them something that they should already know.

That is a great inquiry about the lack of images of ordinary men in my work.  I haven’t seriously thought about that myself, but I think its safe to speculate that the lack of depiction of ordinary men in my work has much to do with the fact that I did not grow up with a full time father at home. HOWEVER, I’ll admit that I don’t give Black Men enough honor. I realize that when I am around men who care for their families and other responsibilities. These men include my uncles, my father of course, my older brothers, my male cousins (who are like brothers to me), many of my visual art and spoken word poetry comrades, and the many positive males I witness daily.  Hopefully one day I can produce works that focuses on males, other than my artistic and revolutionary heroes such as Bob Marley, Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X.

d’Auvergne: Your wife posed for the “Hero” series, what is it like to work with her and how does she feel about having her image analyzed and discussed all over Baton Rouge?

Mitchell: Ha! Believe it or not, in many of the works that have my beautiful Queen as a model she had little or no idea that those photos would become some form of visual artwork.  The HERO series, she did pose for; I took three different photos of her. The first was the pose that I used for HERO III: Power to the People, which was actually the very first in the series.  If you notice, that one looks a little different from the others because she was actually sick during that period.  The pose of her for HERO I: Throne of Fidelity, a favorite, required that I set the timer on my camera. She sat on my back and it came out perfect on the first try. HERO I is a depiction of Queen Nzinga of the Matamba People in Central West Africa. Queen Nzinga led many successful campaigns against the Portuguese during the 16th or 17th century and the pose of my wife sitting on my back depicts a story. One of Queen Nzinga warriors offered his back to her as a seat after Portuguese councilmen refused her one during a meeting.

"Hero-I"

As far as my wife’s image being analyzed and discussed all over Baton Rouge, she has neither negative nor positive feelings about it. It’s just one of those common things for her. Lol! To be truthful, my wife is my best and probably most honest critic.  I tell folks all the time: I DID NOT marry a groupie! And I’m happy for that! She will tell me if she doesn’t like a piece or does not agree with a certain idea. She does a great job reeling me in if I’m ever tempted to let my emotions rule instead of my mind. Lol!

d’Auvergne: Your work has been touring area Libraries. How does one go about organizing a tour and what did your tour entail?

Mitchell: Well, I have to say, compared to New Orleans and other places, Baton Rouge is a little behind on the “Afrikan Culture” front as far as artistic celebrations is concerned.  We do have our cultural leaders here who work hard at educating others about Afrikan culture. For instance, the Africentric Focus/Ma’at Study group, which I artistically and poetically participate in, hosts a yearly Kwanzaa program and we have a lovely store in our Flea Market called Harambee that sells a large collection of books that focus on Afrikan/Black history and experience.  I believe Southern University of Baton Rouge has produced, and still produces, the BEST artists in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, aside from all of that, there seems not to be too much mainstream support for the “progressive” work that I create. That could sometimes be frustrating, however, I refuse to let myself get down because of that.

The libraries in Baton Rouge, particularly the Scotlandville Library Branch, hosted my first exhibition right after I graduated from Southern University in May 2007.  I found that the Library was a great starting ground for a grassroots following. That is something that I’ve now acquired and am happy to have.  I’ve noticed that many Black people in Baton Rouge, for various reasons, don’t go to Art Galleries or Art Museums. However, many of those same people DO frequent libraries. So, in a way, library visitors are forced to see my work—works that may appeal to them because someone who looks like them creates them.  Hell, I didn’t know about famous Black artists—American or Afrikan—until I enrolled at Southern University in 2002 and by that time I was 20.  It therefore becomes a mater of making people aware.

"Afrika Unite"

As far as the Artistic Vagabond Tour, I simply went to each library and asked. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do a month-to-month exhibition at different locations and also to observe myself as I dealt with any restriction that a library may, or may not, have.  I also tried to use the different libraries in purest sense of a “tour.” I wanted to expose my work to those who may not have seen or heard about GHOST or the types of artwork that I create. It was very challenging physically and mentally.  Some exhibitions were very successful while others weren’t.  However, with the help of family, close comrades, and many that I look up to, the tour ended perfectly.

d’Auvergne: You’re branching out with a spoken word album soon to be released, Shoe Art, Digital Painting and of course commissions. How do these different mediums relate to each other and how do you remain efficient with all these different branches of your creativity?

Mitchell: I’ve been doing Spoken Word Poetry officially since 2002 when I enrolled at Southern University and began frequenting a weekly Wednesday reading called “The Mocha Room Poetry Reading.”  Eventually I would frequent a once weekly, now monthly, open mic reading called “The Eclectic Truth.” These are places where I learned, from many of my poetic comrades, how to perform and develop a style of my own.  I’ve been writing since I was about ten.

"Eymbrace Together" Digital Art Piece

I released a local Spoken Word Poetry album back in 2007 called “Gye Nyame Warrior,” which had a more African-Centered feel to it with underlining Revolutionary activism.  This current project called “2013: The GHOST Story” is a mixtape that I have recorded, arranged, and produced myself with whatever time and equipment I have.  This project is almost an autobiographical project that very slightly follows the mixtape tradition (where pre-existing music is remixed into the DJ/MC’s version) and is a compilation of new poetry, as well as past live performances and past poems never released.  I also created the graphic artwork for the album. I think one thing that makes me a little more unique than many other independent music artists/poets is that I have the ability to market myself by using the Graphic Design skills that I have.

The Digital Painting is my ‘fun work.” I have always been a huge fan of comic books and anime and those genres are actually my escape from the more serious issues I tend to convey in my works.  It’s basically painting in programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter.  Creating a comic book series and/or a Graphic Novel is something I have wanted to do ever since I was eleven years old.  Comic books such as X-Men and video games like the Final Fantasy series keep me inspired.

Mitchells’ work may be viewed on his website: http://www.poeartry.net

Mixtape available here: http://www.poeartry.net/ghoststory.html and online store: http://www.poeartry.net/store.html

Daddy Issues and Allison Joseph’s “My Father’s Kites”

My Father's Kites Cover Page

Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites is an intensely intimate collection of poems that dissects the poet’s relationship with her father. The opening piece “Bio Note” suggests, by repeating the line “Tell me about the poet,” that the speaker has lost a bit of herself with her father’s passing. The collection therefore  seeks to restore the poets identity by analyzing and scrutinizing every aspect of her relationship with her father. Art and the creative process become therapeutic and by the end of the collection the poet has reconnected with herself and is able to assert her right to speak on what she has not been able to speak when her father was alive. In “A Daughter’s Villanelle” she states:

Allison Joseph (image compliments dancingpoetry.com)

If you could read these words, I’m sure you’d damn

the talent that I waste trying to scan

the junk of memory for what I need.

I write about your life because I can, (lines12-15)

The collection does indeed scan the poet’s memory, revisiting her childhood, her college graduation and the dreamlike moments directly following her father’s passing. The poems reveal a strained father-daughter relationship, as the poet remembers and recreates, in metered verse, the significant moments of her life, moments when her father was absent or fell short of acting as she thinks a father should. Through the act of writing, the poet comes to realize how these moments have influenced the way she views and presents herself in the roles of daughter and artist. In revisiting moments when her father had failed her, causing silence, distance and resistance on her part, Joseph manages to show how her father’s story is inseparable from her own. Presenting a dynamic image of her father, we get to see him as neglected son, “black man fighting for his dignity (Defrerred, line 3),” widower and diabetic.

At once her father is the kite-maker whose contraptions would “grab ahold of the wind to sail/ into the sky like nothing in our neighborhood” only to end in a “collapse of grocery bags.” Her father, the man who would “sing/a made-up tune to show the world how proud he was of [her],” the man who called her sister “stupid” and her “clumsy,” the same man who was “the advertising man,” “the real estate exec,” “insurance man,” and “nurse for hire.” The man who lost a part of himself when his patient, “a boy with sickle cell, kidney disease” died.

Fallen Kite (Image compliments Rajasthan Jaipur)

Even as daughter paints a picture of father, the poet demonstrates that she is aware that she can only share her version of the story. She reminds us that the vision of the man we’ve encountered in these pages is heavily colored by a daughter’s subjective perspective, by her emotions. She admits that she may failed to play the perfect role in their relationship. In “On Not Wanting to Write a Memoir” Joseph states, “My memory is insecure. I have no proof/ that what I claim is true. There’s always doubt” (Lines 4-5), and in “Dereliction” she states “I wasn’t there to help you when you fell (line 1).” Then, in ” My Father’s Hand Mirror,” she even identifies with her father saying, ” I hold the mirror as my father did,/ see imperfections, blemishes, and lines…now I glimpse the lines under my eyes,/ can feel that doubt he knew begin to rise (lines 1-14).” In acknowledging her limited perspective, Joseph allows herself to note the similarities between herself and her father. She is finally able to erase the distance, seeing his reflection in hers, knowing that they share a story. She is now able to reveal what she couldn’t when her father was alive ( I suggest you read the collection to find out).

Sprinkled throughout the text however, is the underlying fact that her father was from the Caribbean, the island of Grenada to be exact, and by the third section of the book we learn that her father’s own father, her grandfather, might have had a hand to play in who her father was.

My grandmother remained behind as he

departed to make money in the States.

She later learned my grandfather begot

A secret shame: another family. (“Father’s Lineage “Lines 11-14)

This aspect of the work is what stuck me as most poignant, for I too have a complicated relationship with my father. My father left my mother in her sixth month of pregnancy with me. He went to the States in search of a better life, promising to return to us or send for us to join him. As so often happens however, he begot another family, and the two of us still don’t have the kind of relationship I always imagined we could. This absent parent is not an uncommon occurrence in the West-Indies though. It is rather common for one parent, or sometimes both parents, to migrate to the States leaving children to grow up in single parent homes, with grandparents, or sometimes with other, more distant relatives. To grow up in the shadow of this absence is not easy, it affects one’s self-image, for as a child it is difficult to understand how a parent can choose to leave one behind.

Daddy and I at the wedding

As I participated in my father’s wedding last Saturday, the day when he finally made “his other family” official, I couldn’t help but remember Joseph and My Father’s Kites. In telling her story Joseph made it easier for me to share my own. I dare say that we share this story with countless other children who were “left behind” by West- Indian parents, who promised to return, may have wanted to return, but never did, or did too late. I still have hopes of cultivating a closer relationship with my father, and  My Father’s Kites has played a role in helping me understand that he is only human, as I am human. I accept that one only evolves as one has experiences and that one works through the process as Joseph demonstrates with this collection. My father may never be able to reveal his full story, but I can see a bit of it in my story. I think I can understand him better through analyzing myself.

Works like My Father’s Kites make me aware that the perfect relationship may never be a reality, but sadly, or not so sadly, I am okay with letting things run their course. I admire Joseph’s courage in speaking out on such an intimate issue and look forward to hearing her read on Tuesday Nov.4th  as the final guest reader for Tabula Poetica’s annual poetry reading series.

A Lesson in Reading Rae Armantrout’s Pulitzer Prize Winning “Versed”

Rae Armantrout

The more you study poetry, the more you realize that each new collection requires the development of a new set of reading skills and a complete submission to the work at hand. You must approach each with an open mind and suspend everything you thought you knew about the world. The rules are different with each collection, yet you may find if you submit, that there are endless possibilities as to what you may experience. A skilled poet can create a world in which certainty of anything, even your own existence, could hinder your enjoyment and experience of their work.

To read Rae Armantrout’s Versed, you must first say goodbye to your family, friends and busy schedule, any potential distraction, and focus. You must comfortably sit or lie in a quiet place, and when I say quiet, I mean to the point where you can hear wave after wave of your own thoughts dissipating into the air and out to the universe and the collective consciousness. You will need to be alone with her thoughts, sorry, your thoughts, for an hour, maybe two, or three…. Let’s just say as long as it takes to “get it” (I assure you each new reading will produce fresh interpretations). Once in solitary, you will have the opportunity to study the front cover.

Is that a face? A hostile planet? The curve of a right breast?

This book has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2010, National Book Critics Circle Award, and

Versed

was a National Book Award Finalist, yet here it sits in your hands.

This a little ambitious, a bit overwhelming? What on earth could she have she written in these pages?

Don’t you dare drop that book! You haven’t even read the Table of Contents, maybe that will give you some clue as to what this is about, but all you see is a list of mostly single word titles, all seemingly unrelated. After all, what does Results have to do with Name Calling have to do with Heaven have to do with Take Out?

Okay, so this is about Reality TV. Wait, She won a Pulitzer Prize for a book about Reality T.V?

The second stanza has nothing to do with Reality TV: oxidation…digestion, and … anteater?

Wait a minute! None of this makes sense.

You have to keep reading if you’re ever going figure this out.

Maybe this is above our heads, maybe we should have gotten high before….Whoa! Above …head…high,…floating …anteater. What if Armantrout, in her genius, has created a world, based on her own rules? Rules which allow her to successfully captured and recreate all those qualities of consciousness in written verse? What if the swift change of subject from stanza to stanza recreates the fleeting yet connected quality of thought, while the asterisks floating midway between stanzas, both separating and converging, recreates the effortless leap from one thought to the next, like electrical impulses zipping through synapses in the brain? What if…


Rea Armantrout is scheduled to read at Chapman University as part of Tabula Poetica’s Annual Poetry Reading Series at 5 p.m. on September 14th 2010.

The Creative Process as a Path to Self-Discovery: An Interview with Donna Grandin

Donna Grandin, Artist

 

Donna Grandin often paints close-ups of tropical foliage, landscapes, and sometimes incorporates figurative or still-life elements. Donna received an Honours B.A. in Art from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and has had solo shows at Toronto City Hall, Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton, and at the Hamilton Central Library. Group exhibitions include McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, Burlington Art Centre and St. Lucia City Hall. Donna is currently represented by The Inner Gallery in St. Lucia. Her paintings can be found in private collections in the Caribbean, Canada, the United States, England, and Australia. She received the Newcomer’s Award in the Visual Arts category at the M&C Arts Awards Competition in St. Lucia in 1996, and the Gold Award in 2001. In 2009 she was commissioned by the city of Toronto to paint a mural which was then installed at 400 McCowan, Scarborough, Ontario.  

   

Natalie d’Auvergne: Hi Donna, thanks for doing this interview with me. Do you ever think of the creative process as a spiritual journey?  

Donna Grandin: Natalie, thank you for contacting me for this interview. Right now, as I near the end of one series and prepare for another, I’m in the “writing stage” of my creative cycle. I am working through my thoughts on paper, so I welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you. I agree, the creative process is a journey, a path to self-discovery, but I’m not anxious to reach the destination. Reaching the destination represents death for me. As an artist, whether I’m working on a painting, or just appreciating the world, life is my inspiration. Something as simple as sunlight shining though paper-thin petals, creating dramatic yellow green patches on leaves that are otherwise in the shade, inspires me. With all the external stimuli however, remaining on my path becomes the challenge. Making it to the end of one series represents a crossroad and beginning another represents a path chosen.  

"The Light Within" from the Hibiscus 'n Bananas Series

 

d’Auvergne: When did you first recognize your artistic ability? Did you have family members or friends, who were artists and did they encourage you to pursue your dreams?  

Grandin: Others around me recognized my artistic ability long before I did. I spent most of my childhood reading, even entertaining the idea of becoming a writer, but there were times when my artistic talent was apparent. I remember being so taken with a black & white illustrations of a young woman in renaissance-style clothing that I copied the  drawings. I was surprised when other people liked them because I thought they looked squashed. I took Art as my ninth CXC subject at St. Joseph’s Convent, which entailed two years of drawing class with Sr. Claire along with watercolour painting with Sir Dunstan St. Omer.  There was also my maternal grandmother, who dabbled in oils in her youth, but ultimately chose a successful career in finance instead. I saw the still-life paintings in her house and although they were good, I also noted that she displayed no desire to pick up a brush. She played a pivotal role in my artistic development when she gave me a set of acrylic tube paints on my twelfth birthday. Many of her family members in Barbados are artistic, but I only realized that after I had identified myself as an artist. When my parents got to accept the Art Award from St. Joseph’s Convent on my behalf, though they have always been supportive of me, I imagine that the award provided confirmation that I was on the right career path.  

Donna Grandin in front of "The would-be twins"

 

d’Auvergne: Your St. Lucian/ Caribbean heritage is immediately apparent in “the abstract rhythm[s] and patterns of light and colour” you employ in what you refer to as the “controlled chaos” of your style. How do you stay connected with that part of yourself now that you live in Canada?  

Grandin: Regrettably, my art is one of the few links I have to my Caribbean roots now that I live in Canada. I’ve been assimilated, and I suppose it’s my own fault. I knew when I chose to pursue my art degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, instead of York University in Toronto, that few people there would share a similar cultural background. At the time I thought I was only committing to four years of my life and wanted to be completely open to experiencing a new culture. The first six years there I made regular trips home for the Christmas and summer holidays. Now, every other year or so, I return to the Caribbean for at least a month to reconnect with family, friends, and the place itself. I usually have some idea as to what I want to photograph once there, but in preparation for those spontaneous shots, I carry a camera with me always. Back in Canada, I sort through the digital files, looking for themes, in terms of subject and how I feel about the images and I  paint from my own photos because I have an emotional connection to them  

d’Auvergne: Most of your paintings capture nature with “close-ups of tropical foliage” and “landscapes,” but some pieces, a few in your “Caribbean Imagery” series for instance, include human figures and tell a story. Do you consider yourself a storyteller and exactly what was it that inspired paintings like “Soufriere,” “Domino Players,” and “Just Friends?” Were they based on real life experiences?  

Grandin: Yes, each painting was painted from my own photographs taken in the summer of 1996 as a part of the Caribbean Imagery series I painted in my last year of University. I was engaged at the time and realized that I would probably be remaining in Canada.  With that series I was asking, “What does St. Lucia mean to me? What am I giving up?” I realize now that I got my answer because I painted the land, the people, and the light! The very essence of St. Lucia. On another note, I haven’t really addressed the artist’s role as a storyteller yet, but I do realize that my art has a way of making my life an open book.  

d’Auvergne: Art is communication, a sort of dialogue between artist and viewer. In viewing your pieces I felt like I was having a conversation with you, a little piece of your soul, or perhaps your worldview shines through. Do you approach the canvas with something to say, or do you try to remove yourself completely and simply let the pieces speak?  

The artist's studio, May 2010

 

Grandin: Of course I am saying something with each painting. The way I manipulate the paint, the composition and the colour says a thousand words about the themes I’m working on in a series. The finished product communicates how I feel about it, how I feel about the act of painting even, however, the real interesting thing is that during the creative process, the painting has a dialogue with me. It communicates what it needs saying, “this edge is too hard, that green is altogether wrong, needs more lemon yellow.”  The current painting for instance, is telling me, “you need to work bigger, need more space to breath, to stretch.” In some ways, the painting is a mirror, reflecting who I am at the time of creation, it is a snapshot. Each new painting comes to represent the person I was when I painted it. Not just in terms of my technical ability, but also in terms of my attitude towards painting, and my interests at the time. A commission might be different, but for my personal work, I open myself up to the viewer, inviting them to get to know me, and years later, when I look back at a painting, I get a whole new messages, by then I am a different person.  

d’Auvergne: From a writer’s point of view, I’m curious as to how you choose your titles. I especially enjoy title like “Banana Peel (Striptease),” ‘The Light from Within” and “ The Lullaby,” as they tend to guide a viewer’s thoughts. Halle Berry, when asked what she had decided to name her unborn baby, said that she was waiting to meet him/her before choosing a name. Is the naming process the same for you? Do you have to complete a piece before naming it?  

Grandin: Yes, the names usually come after the painting is done. Sometimes the name pops into my head before completion, and at other times a name that I initially liked just doesn’t stick. With the Hibiscus ‘n Bananas series for instance, I sat with a bunch of the finished paintings and just looked at them. The first words that came to my head were the right ones because they expressed what I saw in the paintings and maybe even what I saw of myself in the paintings.  

d’Auvergne: Each of your collections express something different about you. Your most recent collection “Hibiscus ‘n Bananas” gets up close and personal with nature. This collection doesn’t seem as abstract as some of your other collections because of the “blown up” or magnified quality of the pieces, and the absolute attention to detail. These pieces are drenched in lively green hues, and big, bright, bold, blooming colors, which force the viewer to get intimate with nature, as some of her most private and delicate parts are on display with a playful sexuality. In the “Caribbean Imagery” collection you use deep dreamy night and water scenes bathed in blue dancing hues, and that dreamy quality makes these pieces a bit more abstract. However, I also noticed that you do something completely different with the “Madras” collection. The color theme and pattern there seems to introduce new rules and guidelines to your creative process. Is every collection a self assigned challenge? If so, what inspires these different “seasons” of creation?  

"Flower Forest" from the Jungle Rhythms Series

 

Grandin: Uh… yes, yes, and yes … you’re good at this! In each series I pose some questions to myself, and go searching for the answers. All my series are related because the common thread is me. Each new series marks the next step in my development as an artist because a breakthrough in one leads to the creation of another, which means that, the imagery in my paintings, for example a red hibiscus, is not really my subject, it’s just a vehicle.  

d’Auvergne: While studying the pieces I realized that certain of them,“ My heart light” and “Spiritual Landscape” for instance, were marked as “Artist Collection Pieces.” How do you choose which pieces to keep, and why keep any at all?  

Grandin: My own collection sort of just grew, two pieces from the Jungle Rhythms series were damaged when “we” were overzealous with a drill, putting in the hanging hardware. Another 4’x5’ painting flipped off the top of the top of our VW station wagon when the bungee cord snapped as we drove up the Hamilton escarpment in rush hour traffic. I made the decision not to sell damaged paintings so I kept them. Then there are some that are my favourites, and I think worth holding on to. One day these will form part of the legacy that I pass down to my sons. And speaking of family, please let me just acknowledge the support my husband has given me since we met almost fifteen years ago. He makes it possible, on so many levels, for me to pursue my passion, my creative journey.  

d’Auvergne: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring artists, especially in St. Lucia where artistic ability isn’t as supported and encouraged as academic excellence is?  

Grandin: Young artists are at an advantage because today’s technology allows access to all sorts of information about artistic techniques, tools, career development etc. They can study art history, or look up contemporary artists because the world is at their fingertips. Even for people without Internet access, the libraries surely are much more up to date than they were when I was younger. Having a formal art education like mine is not even necessary. By making art regularly, and continually seeking ways to improve, an aspiring artist can find their voice. The second part of the equation is getting their work seen, the art world in St. Lucia is small, visit the galleries, seek out other artists, build a network, share tips on where to buy supplies, how to present your art etc. If artists treat each other as competition, then divided they will fall, if they see each other as being on the same team, then they will find that the quality and quantity of art produced by St. Lucians will continue to improve.This in turn will lead to a more art-literate St. Lucian public and a wider base of collectors. Also, I am always willing to connect with other artists. I can be contacted by e-mail at donna@bluerootsartstudio.com, and while you’re at it, take a look at my work at www.bluerootsartstudio.com.  

All images compliments www.bluerootsartstudio.com.

Connectivity in Lynne Thompson’s “Beg No Pardon”

The beautiful Lynne Thompson

Reading Lynne Thompson’s Beg No Pardon is like running into an old friend and falling right back into the easy groove of deep and meaningful conversation. Thompson, a Los Angeles poet with Caribbean roots, definitely speaks my language, and I am happy to have met her earlier this summer. Her spirit exudes the same genuine warmth I associate with my godmother, so it’s not surprising that I felt an immediate connection to her. She greeted me with a smile and a hug when I showed up at her reading in downtown L.A,  and I knew then that we were cut from the same cloth, or as she says in To Blacnkness, “cowrie shells and krobo beads [were] sewn into our fading fabric.” Lynne embraced me like I was family, the way only a fellow West- Indian can, and, as I sat before her, a member of the small audience gathered in the intimate exhibition room at LA Artcote, I was ready to listen to whatever she had to say.

Surrounded by art pieces from Italy and L.A, which set the mood for what I now think of as a guided meditation, her naked voice, unmodified by microphone, filled the room and the sound washed over me. As Robert Pinsky says in The Sounds of Poetry “we sing all day to one another, when we speak,” and well, Lynne sang to me. I followed the dancing rhythms of her Caribbean lilt as she read How I Learned Where We Come From, and I was  introduced

Mangoes always take me home

to her Vincentian heritage as she mentioned things I know well, “curried goat, sticky-wicket,” “pigeon peas, mangoes,” “cassava root, callaloo, very little sugar cane” and “Rasta and Bob Marley for us young’uns.” Lynne allowed the audience a glimpse into her childhood, with Back Seat, a true story, and spoke directly to me with Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize, as I recognized my own desire to understand my Caribbean roots, a desire to have known my great-

grandmother, who was also a Carib. I enjoyed the brash chatter of women in The House of Many Pleasures; heard their voices over brass, bugles, blues and Louis’ horn. Lynne’s voice expressed all the intended meaning, rhythm and motions that the written word can’t. Sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged, always fitting, her voice guided me through a meditation on words. Her voice, her presence, her warm energy all added to the enjoyment of the experience, and when I got the chance to study the full collection, I had the memory of that voice with me.

I welcomed the opportunity to read silently, taking a little longer to think about the deeper meanings of words, or meanings hidden in structure, and form of the individual poems and the collection as a whole. At the reading, images had sprung lively and vividly to mind, but in reading and studying the poems alone, silently, I recognized layers of meanings that gave a fullness and richness to her words. At the reading I had focused solely on recognizing our Caribbean connection, but on closer examination, I realized that connectivity is a major theme throughout the text. Although the collection is divided into three distinct parts, the parts form a cohesive whole as the reader gets to witnesses the speaker’s evolution from childhood right into womanhood. And, as the speaker discovers and reveals herself, so does she form endless connections with people, things, places and the reader.

Joan Miró’s Dog Barking at the Moon. Photo compliments RasMarley on flickr.

In I Ask the Malagasy, one of the first poems in the collection, the speaker asks, “Where are my ancestor’s buried” and “How do you remember me?” and also, in this first section, Imperfect Ghazal for an Unknown Mother, demonstrates a connection between the living and the dead, as she says, “because memory lives beyond death.” Then, in Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize, the speaker demonstrates that sometimes the only tool for making  a connection with our ancestors is our imagination, as she says, “The other grandmother I composed from myth/and half-told stories.”

In the second section, a physical connection between the speaker and her lover is expressed in Firestorm as she remembers the feel of a lover’s burnt flesh “a startled tenderness that is sparked by communion between/ souls as well as bodies.” In Raffia the speaker says of connectivity, perhaps more clearly than in any other poem, “Relatively speaking everyone/ is connected, Grandmother explained.” Lynne also demonstrates that one can even have a connection or strong bond with a special item of clothing as expressed in Elegy for the red Dress, “ the slip, the silk of the sleeve;/molten to my hips, my breasts,/the drum of my heart.” And, as if to demonstrate the extreme extent to which one can become connected with all things, the speaker, in part three, ironically becomes an inanimate object, the canvas, in Canvas Reluctant to Become Joan Miró’s Dog Barking at the Moon, and even an island in I Am Grenadine.

Both Lynne and her poetry demonstrates that no matter what we’re experiencing at the moment, it is always comforting to know that we are all connected. The warmth and friendliness she displayed that evening, and what I felt later, as I read through the text, gave me hope that there are still people out there, perfect strangers even, who will embrace you like their own. So, if you’re looking for an evening out, trying to decide where to go, how about something different? Find a local poet doing a reading near you and make it an evening of poetry and meditation, something that will broaden your mind, put you in touch with yourself, and who knows, you just might make a connection.

Lynne Thompson will be reading at Chapman University as part of the Tabula Poetica reading series on October 12. If you can’t come hear her in person, do take a moment to enjoy her written and audio works online at Fishouse: http://www.fishousepoems.org/archives/lynne_thompson/index.shtml.

Indecision, Not Procrastination

I hadn’t realized the effect indecision had on my writing until I read a passage in William Wordsworth’s The Prelude earlier today. Having chosen to discuss Chris Abani’s Song for Night in my first blog, I began with a general idea, nothing too precise, and assumed that the text would be easy to analyze. After all, it had been a quick and enjoyable read. However, what should have been an easy analysis somehow became a major challenge in decision-making: do I write about the confusion of adolescence amplified by civil war, or do I address the issues of politics and post colonialism? Maybe I should write about love, religion, spirituality, Greek mythology, character development, or even structure,  all issues addressed by the text.

My first blog was to be monumental; I wanted to make it outstanding. So, I put off writing it until I could decide upon something that would represent both the text and me. A few hours of indecision quickly turned into a day, yet I remained confident that I would eventually figure it out. Then the day gave way to a week, and before I knew it, I had completely lost track of time. It wasn’t that I was procrastinating, for it was always on my mind; I thought about it while I did the dishes, read other works, watched movies, walked in the park, but I eventually started to doubt myself. What if I had nothing interesting to say?

"locks every function up in blank reserve"-Wordsworth

Until I read Wordsworth’s The Prelude, I didn’t understand that the difficulty was created by me wanting to say too much. I was blocking my creativity with indecision. It was The Prelude, a centuries old text, which assured me that I wasn’t alone. When Wordsworth writes of his indecision in the 18th and 19th centuries, he talks about being unable to decide whether to write a Romance, a History, praises to “high-souled” ordinary men, or simply “invent a tale from [his] own heart.” I found that I could relate and even  appreciate the fact that he doesn’t immediately conquer and overcome his indecision. He instead comforts himself with the hope that “mellower years will bring a riper mind/And clearer insight,” and in doing so, he suggests that indecision isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it’s simply a mental process, the way one figures things out. If that is the case, then one shouldn’t be too hard on oneself if one cannot instantly decide what to write about. An active mind and imagination are a writer’s most basic and important tools.

I was only reading The Prelude in preparation for the MA exam, but I came to realize that this is precisely what makes the text still relevant today; Wordsworth offers invaluable insight into the craft of writing and the mind of the writer. So, Be patient with yourself no matter what decision you’re trying to make right now. Trust that you will eventually figure it out, but keep in mind you may have to wait for “mellower years.”

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