The return of Chapman and Jones
Arts on Sunday
by al Creighton
July 25, 2004
The observation has already been made that the current revival and stepping up of activities on the local stage includes alternative types of theatre and venues. One of these has been an interesting and varied production by an artist returning home. Echoes of Inner Voices by Grace Chapman will have a repeat performance this evening at 8.00 at the City Hall in Georgetown.
Miss Chapman was involved at the beginning of the 'boom' when local plays were enjoying their phenomenal rise at the Cultural Centre. Like Harold Bascom with The Barrel, she began at Lichas Hall in Linden then moved to spearhead that development in Georgetown. Grace Chapman, playwright, director, actress, dancer, achieved her first success in that period with a thriller called The Green Bottle, about envy and spirit possession. She then went to the USA where she developed professionally, with formal training in drama, education and drama in education, becoming, as well, an excellent puppeteer. With the benefit of those fortified skills she has put together a theatrical experience that has entertainment, statements, background reflections, and instructive dramatization for children all in one production.
Echoes of Inner Voices in its composition, structure and styling partly resembles what is called "total theatre", strong in its use of the stage and sensitive to the importance of artistry/creativity and inventiveness. It uses a psychological framework to fashion a loose plot which serves as a cover for the more important explorations in dance, mime, character portrayal, poetry, storytelling and an excellent puppet show. It contains reflection, commentary, humour, covering the comic and the fantastic with effective use of lighting, costuming, make-up and masks.
This dramatic piece is the work of an artist who knows what it is like to write for popular entertainment, to thrill an audience, to weave suspense, mystery and laughter, but who also exhibits her training in theatre, education and psychology. Miss Chapman therefore appreciates the stage as a medium for a wide range of engagements with an audience, a society, and fragments of the fragmented human condition.
Echoes of Inner Voices is not a show to be ignored.
The other performance by a returning artist is in the gallery. It really highlights the role, the work and the continued contribution of the use of alternative space and the function of private professional galleries. There are only two of these known to be active in Guyana, while you have your choice of several good ones in more developed countries. A couple weeks ago the Roots and Culture Gallery resorted to alternative space for an exhibition of recent work in leather by Winston Strick. Now, this weekend, the Hadfield Foundation continues the valued and noble tradition of private galleries in Guyana with a new show, after its history of several important exhibitions by local, foreign and visiting artists.
This forthcoming event marks a return to her place of origin by Collette Jones, whose first solo exhibition, a suite of paintings on the masquerade theme went on show at the Hadfield shortly after her graduation from the Burrowes School of Art and the University of Guyana. In the intervening period she continued her work in the theatre, primarily as an actress, but also as playwright and director. She also had serious development of her professional career, mostly in St Vincent as teacher, artist and writer for children.
The Jones exhibition opens at The Hadfield on July 30. Its title at first suggests a touch of the clichÃ©, but grows in depth and meaning as one studies the pieces, their relation to the theme, and the way the artist uses topic, style and technique. The title is Small Days Still On . . . , taken from a Guyanese folk song "Small Days Still on my Mind" but left incomplete to allow the viewers to be led by the paintings in whatever directions they are taken. This happens with a little help from the artist.
The base is Miss Jones' reflections of childhood memories, mostly from her native Mahaica. The works take from what is clichÃ© and commonplace in normal child-play and move it to something more meaningful in the context of contemporary life. The idea originated while she was writing for a book of children's stories called Mahaica Memories, soon to be launched. It is illustrated, and while she was working on that aspect of it, the drawings started rising out of place to be more than secondary art, to assume their own life with greater dimensions.
This inspired the paintings, which begin with childhood memories, but use them to satirise present lifestyles, mainly highlighting the degradation of society. For example, she employs children's games and symbols such as the playing of marbles and images of dogs to depict man in a fallen state of moral degradation. Jones takes on the problem of truancy in Skipping School, dominated by a schoolgirl in the foreground with a skipping rope engaged in the normal delight of childhood fun. But the expression on her face calls attention to itself as a significant factor in the work. The bright laugh becomes haunting, even diabolic. The girl seems to be skipping at the gate, facing out with the compound and buildings in the background behind her so she could be heading out of school. There is therefore a pun on "skipping" as the painting recalls the more serious issue of skipping school, a former childhood prank growing to become a serious national social problem.
Another with a clumsy title is Tug of and War depicting boys playing the normal game. But the painting transcends fun and frolic; the boys are straining, truly locked in a grim battle to survive on what seems like dangerous terrain. There is an ominous dark shadow falling on a set of steps leading up to a scaffold in the background. It is a comment on real war, a continuing tug of combat in the contemporary world where the fun game of tug-o-war is no longer peaceful.
Jones' medium is mixed - oil and acrylic on canvas with some in acrylic. The exhibition contains abstract pieces, most of them from an earlier show, Reflections, mounted in St Vincent. That was also based on the past but more spiritual, reflections on states in life experience with a stress on turmoil. These pieces have titles like C'est La Vie, Enigma and Characterizations. The newer works move away from the abstract into other forms that Jones finds more challenging and intriguing. They are mainly surrealist with scope for being mischievous en route to serious satirical commentary.
The Collette Jones in this current exhibition is a much more formidable painter than she was in her debut at this same gallery. She has returned with a more mature accomplishment as may be seen in Country House, the most peaceful scene in the whole collection. It has a touch of the Impressionistic in its use of colour, blends and landscape, while in all the other pieces she certainly has a greater command of form, anatomy and realistic detail where necessary. She has gained more of the confidence as a colourist like Doris Rogers and the meticulousness of a satirist like Stanley Greaves.
Small Days are Still On . . . opening at the Hadfield Gallery on July 30, is a suite of paintings both good to look at and provoking.