With a Caribbean exhibition titled and themed ‘Eden’, you might expect the representations of flora and fauna to be redundant, predictable and unoriginal. But this collection has the very opposite effect.
It looks like Carnival. Masqueraders. Headpieces. Costumes. Skin. Celebration. Vibrance. Colours. Expression. Creativity. But above all, art. This is the mood that three emerging Trinidadian artists; Gabriella D’Abreau, Sarah Burrows and Reuben Gonzales set for their joint exhibition at The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago (2-11 August 2013).
Eye for fashion. Heart for art.
Gonzales takes the lead opening with four pieces executed in his favourite medium, watercolour. ‘White Hat’, ‘Wendy’s Dance’, ‘Emperor’ and ‘Hi Hat’ work together as a quartet, each portraying a different scene of humans adorned by elements of nature. But these ‘people’ are not your typical Adam and Eve.
Gonzales explains: “The form of the human body came in because of Eden itself… They’re just supposed to be the spirits of Eden or the dwellers of Eden; sprites, fairies, these are… who they are”.
‘White Hat’ features the spirit that inspired the rest of his collection. She -like the others- is brown-skinned and unclothed. Wearing a magenta-centred white orchid as a hat, her eyes and nose remain hidden. She evokes something whimsical.
But the process of creating its sister piece, ‘Hi Hat’, was not as easy. After battling with poor lighting conditions and paper that was too thin to cooperate, Gonzales confesses: “[‘Hi Hat’] gave me hell… That’s why I love it; so much hate went into, it gave me so much of trouble, [that] it came out so pretty. I didn’t believe it. It wowed me when I finished.”
Using the eye of a fashion designer and the heart of an artist, Gonzales structures three circular pieces around the same Venetian-inspired mask. He adds dimension with handmade paper orchids, leaves and chaconia flowers for ‘Mask 3: Phalaenopsis’, ‘Mask 2: Angel Wings’ and ‘Mask 1: Chaconia’. He constructs these with such precision that they look like store-bought foam flowers. The flora delicately balances the drama from the masks. The effect is striking.
Inspired by the likes of Dali, and Stuart Hahn, D’Abreau uses her acrylics to reveal illustrative portraits. Her first piece ‘Universal Element’ boasts a rich palate of golds that correspond with the surrounding blue tones. This blue and gold contrast lingers onto the fabric that drapes around a woman’s body.
She holds a crystal ball with her bronze-toned root-shaped ‘hands’. Reflecting colours, swirls and cosmic-like objects, the ball illuminates her pale skin, giving her an icy glow. But she does not look at the ball. With her bright turquoise eyes, thin arched eyebrows and stern gaze, she looks at you. And she lures you into the mysterious side of ‘Eden’.
The 26-year-old artist uses surrealism to blur the good and bad forces of nature. With her personal favourite, ‘Shattered’, the artist describes: “what I wanted to do is -show in the body of work- nature as both a creative force that kind of works with humans and also that could work against humans”.
The Illustration graduate of St. John’s University (New York) portrays a lilac statue entwined with bright green leaves that pierce and crack the statue’s exterior. Its head is broken to bits that scatter and convey a sense of motion. The statue’s eyes succumb to the impact of the leaves. They are destroyed. But as this unfolds, a bright yellow light bursts out like sunrays from the statue’s eyes. The ‘rays’ spread out, touching all ends of the canvas. It creates a spectacle.
Working on multiple pieces at a time, D’Abreau turns the ‘positive vs. destructive sides of nature’ into a theme of its own with primary colour-based pieces like ‘The Rise and Fall’ and ‘Duality’.
Dark to the future
Incorporating more biblical references to ’Eden’ is mixed media artist Sarah Burrows. She invites you to a darker side of the ‘garden’ with life-sized butterflies layered onto 10” x 20” wrap around canvases. The pair, ‘Praises 1’ and ‘Praises 2’ portrays dark silhouettes with their arms outstretched to the air, surrounded by aqua, sky, lime and evergreen hues.
Similar colours accent a larger piece that separates this pair, ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’. On 19” x 25” pastel paper, ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’ bares a cross-section of a tree, so detailed that Burrows considers this to be one of her most challenging works. The Trinidadian artist gets such precision with the help of her go-to media, coloured and water soluble ink pencils.
Inspired by her work as an engineer, she draws the tree’s roots to form circuits, representing future knowledge. These connect to fluid structures that mimic DNA patterns; adding an intriguing variety of components to its roots which form a striking v-shape.
Sarah admits that her past also plays a role in giving this piece a “deeper meaning”. She confesses: “[My mother] passed away recently. During the whole compilation of the exhibition, she was sick.” During her creative process the artist wondered ‘What would the world be without sickness?’ This is the question that went on to inspire more illustrative works like ‘The First Mother’.
She recognises: “When left to my own devices… before I even put form to stuff, I’ll be very abstract and I just use colour.” This is the feeling ‘Purification’ gives you. In the top left corner, the sun displays ornately constructed rays which cast light, consequently sectioning off the rest of the piece. Within these divergent structures, Burrows unleashes her creativity, adding swirly motifs and circular shapes that work to fuse contemporary, modern, pattern drawing, colour field and non-objective concepts.
These young artists may still be developing their artistic styles but their creativity is beyond promising. The 51-piece display pools together Burrows’ juxtaposition of intricate detail and bursts of colours, D’Abreau’s illustrative take on surrealism, and Gonzales’ avant-garde costume-ready textures. They design, paint, and draw Eden in the most imaginative ways.
If you’re as keen about these artists as I am, check them out online and drop them an email for purchasing/commissioning info.
For sale: Reuben’s Eden catalogue
For sale: Gabriella’s Eden catalogue
Society 6: http://society6.com/GabriellaDAbreau
For sale: Sarah’s Eden catalogue