– artist, poet, Honorary Fellow
Arts on Sunday
by Al Creighton
June 29, 2003
Guyanese artist and poet Stanley Greaves is now an Honorary Distinguished Fellow of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Mr Greaves, along with Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor-General of St.Lucia and Mr Anthony Carter (Gabby), calypsonian and musician, was given the Honorary Attachment to the Faculty for the next two years during a formal ceremony on the campus on Saturday June 7.
The three join others who have recently been given formal attachments in a recently developed scheme of Honorary Fellowships at UWI through which the institution seeks to recognize that there are individuals outside of its walls in corporate society, culture, arts, sciences or public affairs who have expertise in a number of areas that might not be available in the university. In acknowledging that all wisdom does not reside in the academy, the campus seeks to enlist the contribution and involvement of these individuals in the programmes and development of the university. The attachments should also strengthen the concrete links between academia and the community. Since Cave Hill is responsible for the intellectual development of the Eastern Caribbean, these Fellows are drawn from Barbados and the wider OECS.
At the launching of “Humanities Week 2003” on the Cave Hill campus, the Dean of Humanities and Education, Prof. Alan Cobley announced that the Faculty was celebrating the humanities because of the very important contributions made by these disciplines to the society. The two-year attachments are further recognition of this, but they will also create ways for these capable members of the wider society to contribute to the programmes of the Faculty. Her Excellency Dame Louisy is a distinguished Educator and while there are no music or fine arts programmes at Cave Hill, the exact nature of the involvement of Gabby and Greaves is to be designed.
Stanley Greaves is among the most accomplished and outstanding of the established Guyanese artists. He describes himself as “a maker of things” and, as a creative mind, he shares with Philip Moore, another leading Guyanese artist, an intuitive base, a style, spirituality, a sense of origin and a mission to create. Both are sculptors as well as painters; Moore came into art through a vision in which he “accepted the tool” to carve from a divine hand and Greaves’ development has been metaphysical with a proletarian orientation, growing with his early preoccupation with the “making of things”.
But in addition, Greaves is a formally trained artist and academic with Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Fine Arts. After leaving his post as a teacher at Queens College, he started the Division of Creative Arts at the University of Guyana where he served as Senior Lecturer and Head of Department before moving to Barbados. He has been attached to the Barbados Community College and has been extensively involved in the cultural life of his adopted society in education, art and administration at a national level. He has won awards, including a major Barbados Prize for his work Blue Soap. He is also a poet and a musician, always close to folk art and music. As a guitarist, he performed as part of a folk-singing group in the annual international Storytelling Festivals during the years they flourished in Barbados.
Greaves keeps close to his native Guyana through his art and poetry. He won the Best First Book of Poetry in the Guyana Prize for Literature for his collection Horizons published by Peepal Tree Press in the UK. It was released in 2002 as his first published volume after decades of writing. In the visual arts, several of his drawings have been reproduced in the journal Kyk-Over-Al and his illustrations have accompanied the poems in two books by Martin Carter. But, particularly in the Selected Poems, they are less illustrations and more interpretations of the metaphysical essence in the poetry, a plane on which both Carter and Greaves meet. He remains an advisor and a committee member of Castellani House through which he has been working with Curator of the Guyana National Gallery, Elfrieda Bissember. Many exhibitions of his paintings are shown in Guyana and he has pieces in the National Collection.
Among Greaves’ most important shows has been the Retrospective Exhibition on the occasion of his 60th birthday displayed in Georgetown and Barbados. Very significant was The Elders, which he shared with Brother Everald Brown, a Jamaican intuitive artist, at one of the leading mainstream galleries in London where art historian Anne Walmsley introduced his work. One of his biggest was There is a Meeting Here Tonight, shown either in whole or in part in different countries including the UK, Barbados and Guyana. These two most recent exhibitions reflect, in their peculiar ways, Greaves’ attachment to the intuitive and the spiritual. The titles are testimony to this. The joint show in London establishes him as an “elder”, the title given to spiritual leaders in spiritualist / revivalist / traditionalist or even Africanist churches in the Caribbean.
While both Brown and Moore are Elders in practice, Greaves is not, but he is a kindred spirit in form, tradition, motif and theme. Although this is by no means his dominant style, since he is a painter of marked originality with other styles that define him, there is a consistent preoccupation seen in many of his earlier paintings with intuitive forms and metaphysics, particularly in his interpretations of wayside preachers, community string bands (such as the one his father played in) and village wayside scenes. From that sort of base he moved into his latest exhibitions, with the deep significance carried in the titles.
“There is a meeting here tonight” is taken from a traditional song used by the faithful in traditional type “Christian” revival church services, many of which are held on the street corner accompanied by drums and chac-chac. The song is commonly known in Jamaica as a “pocho song”, belonging to the Pokomania (Pochomania or pokumina) religion popularly called “pocho”. But it is obviously also a known chorus in other parts of the Caribbean. It is the same kind of church meeting that may be found in Tie-Head Religion, Spiritual Baptist, Shango-Baptist or the Jordanites. First of all, Greaves uses it to pun on the element of “meeting”, since it may be a religious meeting of the type described above or a political meeting, which also takes place on the street corner. But, in both usages, it allows him to deploy his proletarian standpoint.
The extraordinary suite of paintings in this collection, created piece by piece over a period nearing a decade, is a take-off and lampoon of political meetings and, in particular, a profound satire of the politician in the Caribbean. The most dominant motif in the suite is the dog, which he utilizes to be critical of politics in the region. He is especially harsh in his treatment of the politicians as posers, conjurists, showy, performing balancing acts or three-card tricks. It is dominated by a series of dogs in different poses, assemblies, guises and skin colours as if, in a very cynical statement, Greaves is suggesting that politics has gone to the dogs.
Stanley Greaves, the newly attached Honorary Distinguished Fellow, used pieces from this exhibition in his illustrated lecture at the Association of Caribbean Studies, UK, conference at the University of Warwick in 2000. His was a feature presentation at the conference, which he attended as a Bridget Jones Fellow. The Association established the fellowship in the memory of one of its members, Dr. Bridget Jones, late literary critic and specialist in French, formerly at UWI, Mona and then at Roehampton in England. Greaves’ work was studied as a part of a whole course on Guyanese Art offered by Walmsley at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Criticism of his art has been contained in various publications, catalogues and symposia by Rupert Roopnarine, Alim Hosein, Elfrieda Bissember, Al Creighton and Anne Walmsley among others.