Art Buzz (January/February 2004)

A year's worth of art; and Bill Grace creates monuments to optimism

Photo courtesy Bill GracePhoto courtesy CLICOPhoto courtesy CLICO

A calendar of their own

An artist friend once told me the two things he needed most were space to paint and money with which to do so (it seems the plight of the artist hasn’t changed much since the days of Virginia Woolf). He needed a patron of sorts, the kind on whose shoulders the great Renaissance masters stood. For without patronage (which at the time came from the Catholic Church and assorted princes and dukes), chances are the Renaissance would never have happened.

But what form does the patron take in the 21st century? Speaking at the launch of the 2004 CLICO Calendar Art Competition, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott (himself a watercolourist and former CLICO calendar artist) spoke about the business of philanthropy in the arts. “The vision I had when I was very young was of a society that did not only think of money, but if it did think of money, would think of money and art as being synonymous . . . philanthropy can be an art of imagination.”

For the last 12 years, CLICO (the Colonial Life Insurance Company) has been commissioning Caribbean artists to create the images for its now very popular annual art calendar. Over the years, major Caribbean artists like Eddie Bowen, Irenee Shaw, Jackie Hinkson, and the late Carlisle Chang have all painted scenes to adorn the 365 days of the year. Just as movies have become essential for commissioning works of classical music and sharing that music with a wide audience, so too have calendars like CLICO’s become a medium through which contemporary works of Caribbean art can reach the homes and offices of people who otherwise might never see a Walcott watercolour.

In recent years, the CLICO calendar has featured the work of Haitian and Spanish Caribbean artists, and the 2003 edition, Fresh Perspectives, introduced a younger generation of talent to art lovers. To find the images for the 2004 calendar, CLICO devised what may be the biggest ever region-wide art competition, with a prize of US$25,000 awarded to each of the 12 winning artists. I reckon the average artist could paint — unencumbered by rent and grocery bills — for a good long time with money like that.

As you cross off the days until the next holiday, or your best friend’s birthday, or the end of exams, there’s a work of art hovering just above the rows of days and weeks — reminding you that there’s beauty to be found in all sorts of places. Meanwhile, in a small studio somewhere in one of the Caribbean islands, someone is able to put that smudge of yellow on the canvas in just the right place to make you think of sunshine or poui blossoms in the dry season.

Monumental grace

“Gathering and weaving ancestral fragments and scattered rainbows with persistence, forgiveness, balance, and optimism, we build inner calm, family, and friendship.” Thus does Barbadian master ceramicist Bill Grace introduce the monumental clay, coralstone, and stained-glass sculptures in his new show at Bridgetown’s Zemicon Gallery. Created on an outdoor scale, Grace’s works dominate Zemicon’s intimate spaces like wandering monoliths.

Returning runs at the Zemicon Gallery from 11 to 30 January