Fruitful 2004 Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton

Stabroek News
January 9, 2005

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A year that came alive with the bounty of art, ended with three prominent exhibitions that in their own ways, reflect the lively output of a fruitful 2004. Castellani House opened its gallery late in December to A Christmas Exhibition showing New Contemporary Abstract Paintings by Terrence Roberts and Derek Callender; the same gallery hosted the work of Winslow Craig in a memorable show called JuxtaPosition, while, simultaneously, Natural Inspirations opened at the Hadfield Foundation. All three collections in this bountiful store of les beaux arts have carried over to begin the New Year on a similar high note. Roberts and Callender's A Christmas Exhibition runs for another week until Saturday January 15; JuxtaPosition and Natural Inspirations will also both close on January 15.

So, while Castellani House continues its busy traffic, The Fine Art Gallery of the Hadfield Foundation at the other end of town is very much in business with a show that very deliberately exhibits this bounty of art, ideas and inventiveness. The Hadfield describes Natural Inspirations as "An Exhibition of Home Accessories inspired by the bounty of nature" showing the work of Liz Deane-Hughes and Arthur Thijm. It is a collection of colour and infinite variety displaying a tasteful assortment of objects of art, utilities and decorations. According to the literature distributed by the gallery, both artists belong to a house called Dean-Hughes Designs, and, from the evidence of this exhibition, it seems an establishment with a talent for turning utilitarian home accessories into high art.

This particular preoccupation was in evidence a few years ago when the Guyana Women Artists mounted their annual exhibition at Red House. It was observed that a number of the women were creating various designs in textile, fabric, ceramics/pottery, embroidery and a range of home accessories that transcended the notion of art for art's sake, and were turning pieces of fine art into utility items. Patrons could buy exhibits for practical use in their homes. Liz Deane-Hughes was a part of that group of artists, and of particular note in the show, was her collection of creations that were items of furniture. Then, and afterwards, her designs have included fashion, clothing and much else. Meanwhile Arthur Thijm extended his capacity by completing a course in bamboo-making conducted by the Governments of Guyana and China.

Now in 2004-2005, Deane-Hughes has teamed up with Thijm to produce tables, wall hangings, lamps, pictures and decorative accessories, but each piece, whatever else it might be, is distinctly a work of art. While this cannot be said for all, many of the exhibits are not just artwork, but exquisite pieces of exceptional beauty and pictures of magnetic attractiveness. Of relevance to this exhibition is the fact that this art of producing decorated furnishings and household accessories is a strong tradition in many African cultures known for their carved stools, doors and utilities that are not just fetishes. Although it is by no means the defining feature of the show, this African influence is evident in a number of factors including the uses of kente and other distinct fabrics, prints, and styles such as that used in at least two of the tables and, especially, in the drawing/painting titled High Priest.

What is more outstanding as features that define Natural Inspirations are the factors which helped to give it its name. The pieces have been created almost entirely from natural material literally taken from nature. The artists' leaflet explains that "we have gone to Mother Nature to drink from her bounty... we have been called back to the source from which we all came." Thijm works with bamboo, a natural medium well known as traditional material whose use in religious and other artistic works has come down to the present time from Indian indentured workers in the Caribbean. "We have used seeds, beads, shells, leaves, bamboo, metals and other children of Mother Nature" and "earlier in the year when all the Flamboyant Trees in Georgetown were in bloom Liz was inspired by the vividness and intensity of colour."

Some of the most outstanding pieces in the exhibition bear testimony to this. First of all, there is the fact that many pieces are kinds of collages and mosaics literally made from seeds, dried leaves and other material named above taken from the natural vegetation. Some titles reflect this, such as Seeds, Beads and Shells in addition to Seeds, Beads, Sand and Leaf, which are among the best smaller mosaics, and Sand and Shell Path. Then there is the manner in which these are imaginatively used to contribute to the high degree of innovation that characterizes the show. The vast majority of exhibits are mixed media, even multi-media, using paint, dyes, small bits of fabric, batik, tie-dye, bark, fibre and whatever else to create different textures and visual effects in designs, images and pictures.

This is evident in Mozaic, as it also is in one of the outstanding works, Jungle Retreat, in which media other than paint are used to fashion a virtual painting of an enclave in the forest. But it is also utilized to create a number of abstract pieces, again, virtual paintings, notably the fascinating Spirit of A Woman as well as Dorms and Pathways.

These last two are also outstanding as illustrations of another of the most noticeable defining characteristics of Natural Inspirations, which is its excellent sense of colour. Colour strikes the audience in the exhibition hall. The artists have a very precise eye and deploy hot colours as well as warm blends effectively. It is this quality that makes Blue Path, especially, and Flamboyant Series VII two of the best items in the show.

The most outstanding pieces among the best include Circle Mosaic, which owes its quality primarily to colour. However, the two others in this category combine colour with all the other factors that define the exhibition. Mud Kente Table is a bamboo centre table whose top is a design encased in heavy glass. It takes its title from the kente material used in this design. Kente is highly regarded in Nigeria as an intricately woven cloth with its distinct design, a favourite for regal ceremonial dress. Here, it lends its class to this table, which stands as one of the signature icons of the exhibition.

The other signature icon is Jungle Retreat II, which exudes power as a mixed media work also encased between two panes of glass like its companion piece, Jungle Retreat. It depicts a sanctuary ensconced in a pocket of the rainforest, the very kind of natural environment approved by the artists' main preoccupation in this exhibition. It demonstrates what these techniques can achieve in creating a scene eloquent in its mood and excellent in its communication of colour and texture.

That these works are collectors' items in great demand is confirmed by the speed with which many of them have already been sold. To further seal the issue, they carry relatively high prices, suggesting that the Deane-Hughes/Thijm artwork is marketable or that good art is an inelastic commodity. Indeed, in this exhibition, the possibilities for making art out of home accessories are as endless as the degrees of creative inventiveness that it shows off are high. The overarching concept that informs the work reinforces the poet Sidney's assertion that Nature is the supreme artist creating beauty that is unsurpassed. It demonstrates that nothing will beat nature as a source of material, inspiration, of colour blends, colour and its spectrum.

Like Mark McWatt, who observed that the river "was that inspired page/I had sought to write" in his Poem at Baramanni, the poets agree; the store of images, and the inspiration that reside in the art that is nature are bountiful.