Recently, I have been taking a look back at some of the work I did in my early 20’s. I am closing in on my 40th birthday, so I thought it would be fun to do a countdown, I’ve been posting a painting a day on my Facebook page, as the cover image.
The paintings featured in this blog post are from the series I did in my last year of my BA in Art at McMaster University in Hamilton. When I exhibited the series at Gallery on the 4th, Hamilton Public Library, I named it “Caribbean Imagery”. It was my first solo exhibition in Canada.
Nicole was a Trinidadian girl I met in Psychology 101 at McMaster, she was one of my bridesmaids. I actually had her put on my blue wrap & took reference photos of her against the white door of my room in the student house I was living in. Then I just made up the background.
Not long after I did this painting, the shoreline was wiped out by a hurricane, and some of the residents had to be relocated. Many people commented to me that I had recorded a piece of history, and this painting was one of my most popular of the series.
The collector who bought it had a large collection, but said that this one always drew comments from visitors, and when he relocated to the United States, he took it with him. We happened to meet a couple years ago & he showed me a photo of it hanging over his fireplace, next to it was a painting by my high school art teacher, Sir Dunstan St. Omer.
This painting was included in our graduating exhibition at McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton in 1997. It was placed on a feature wall which was painted the same yellow as the buildings in painting.
This was the first painting of the series, one of my favourites, so I’ve held on to it.
I apologize for the quality of the images, I did get professional slides made of the series, but I still haven’t scanned those slides in directly, so I’m not sure but these could be scans of photos of the slides, or worse yet scans of photos I took myself. Regardless, they are darker than the original paintings.
I knew when I was painting “Coalpot” that I’d made a breakthrough in my work. This series is why I graduated from my program with Honours. Up until that time I was just full-filling requirements on my assignments, trying to get good marks. This series was more personal.
Also, up until this series I worked in a variety of media, but I only did one oil painting that year, I realized that acrylics suited me best. I could get brighter colours, which suited my tropical subject better, and I could work 12-16 hours straight on the same painting because I didn’t have to wait for it to dry. Then the next day I would do writing assignments, classes & household stuff … basically everything except paint. So that by the time I got back to my painting I was refreshed. I have always worked best this way. But I’ve never had as perfect a set-up as that last year of school where I shared a large studio on campus with a handful of other students, and had no other responsibilities but to do my best work.
This painting was bought by someone working in the St. Lucia Consulate in Toronto, and the Prime Minister of St. Lucia saw it hanging there & asked for me to contact him about , etc. etc. I am not sure who owns it right now … but I believe it was resold in St. Lucia.
The men are playing dominos on their lunch break. The man with the hat has passed away, but he was the father of the man in the painting further down in this post, called “Friends”.
When I was choosing what I would paint for the year, it occurred to me that I may be marrying my boyfriend, and that would mean I’d have to stay in Canada. This series was me exploring the question of what St. Lucia meant to me. I worked on 2 paintings at a time, one figurative and one landscape, and by the end of the year one of the things I’d learned was that I was happiest paintings landscape, especially foliage. You can see in Vivian I was experimenting with how abstract I could paint foliage & have the painting still read as realistic. This was the basis of my next series, Jungle Rhythms.
Her dress was always my favourite part of this painting, but when I painted the flowering bush I really tasted the freedom possible when painting foliage. Up close it’s dabs of colour, but further back they come together to form an image.
These were people I worked with in the summer, they weren’t a couple – he walked by when I was taking the photo of her & just made himself at home. I thought it made for a great composition though. It also says so much about how laid back West Indians can be, even at work.
Each work of art, even if I’ve just had it for a short time, has a story … or a history, made up of several little interesting stories. One story that sticks with this painting for me, is its “adoption” story. I took it in to Arts Etc. Gallery Shop & Art Rental, in the Burlington Art Center (now the Art Gallery of Burlington), and someone rented it for 3 months, then another 3 months before returning it.
At some point I brought it back to my studio, where it sat while I travelled in Europe. Six months later, I got a call from the gallery – the man who had rented it for his office (a city planner) wanted to know if it was still available to buy. At that point I was either in my last trimester or had a newborn, regardless, the painting was still sitting in the studio.
I read years later that the man had taken a position in Thunder Bay, and I always thought that was a curious thing … a Carnival painting in a very northern part of Canada. Then again, I never met the collector, maybe that painting was a way for him to stay connected to/express his roots. That’s just a part of the story that will remain a mystery to me. I might create the paintings, but when I let them go, they take on lives of their own.
It is so strange for me to look at this painting, and realize that the little boy in it is probably about 20yrs old himself now! I actually photographed the two of them at a beach party, watching as our friends played an informal game of cricket, and the background is a view of Pigeon Island causeway in St. Lucia.
This is a large painting, and there is quite the story that goes along with the tear on the bottom right corner (not seen here). However, I’ll save that story for when you visit my home studio & see it in person!
Meanwhile, please follow my countdown retrospective on Facebook, until my birthday on July 8th.
Although I was just doing this for my own amusement – and hopefully yours- I actually did hear from someone who wants to add one of these paintings to her collection. A few of them hang in my house, and a few in my parents’ house in St. Lucia. They are signed with my maiden name, Donna Gomez, and a couple as Donna G. because I thought I was being clever. There were a couple other paintings in the series, but they aren’t available anyway. If you see something you want, let me know.