By DAVID CAVE
Amid the whirlwind of scandal and bacchanal in the headlines, the tranquillity and solace of the Clayton De Freitas’ art was refreshing. The exhibition, which ran from May 5th to 16th at the In2Art Gallery in St. Ann’s, featured fifty-four small paintings individually mounted and framed. The largest size was nine inches by six inches. Watercolour was the dominant medium, but there were also pieces in acrylic paint.
The Caribbean landscape runs heavily through De Freitas’ art, prompting parallels with the work of other notable Trinidadian artists, among them Jean Michel Cazabon, Karen Sylvester, and Shastri Maharaj.
However, De Freitas’ treatment of the tropical scenery is unique in avoiding strict verisimilitude. The style is loose and relaxed; the attention to detail seemingly not painstaking. Nevertheless,the overall impression is one of work that is effective, with the diminutive size of the pieces providing the viewer with a succinct and elegant glimpse into an ideal and tranquil setting.
For this reason, I will argue that while Clayton De Freitas is described as a realist in his biography for the exhibition, he ought to be classified as an impressionist if one is to conform to the stringent definitions of Art Theory. In his commentary, De Freitas says his art “is of daily life and nature scenes, in a time when many are stressed by what the world is giving or not giving them.” The artist’s intention to offer the viewer a sense of tranquillity and refuge, a small and delicate area of peace, is clear.
Place and time are in limbo here. The images belong to no specific time or place, a point emphasised in the catalogue notes:
“Clayton says that none of the miniatures are of any place that one can locate, as he believes as an artist, ‘I located it in my very being, as I created it on paper or on canvas, it sprung into life for me at that very given moment.’ It is a work that is an inner self-expression.” De Freitas is, therefore, more interested in sharing his feelings and emotive responses to the landscape with the viewer instead of obsessing over details.
It should be noted that De Freitas is physically handicapped, having limited vision in one eye and being blind in the next. Despite this, as the bio-data on him notes, De Freitas paints without the aid of spectacles. Given the sheer volume of his output, De Freitas gets high marks for initiative and tenacity. His mastery of colour is indeed impressive, and the combination of multi-coloured scenes with monochromatic images such as “Solitude” and “Vista” prove that the artist is deliberate in his painterly technique despite the clear physical challenges with which he is faced.
The variation of colour treatments throughout the exhibition creates the impression of a multi-faceted mosaic of art in a pool of calm and possibility.
The In2Art Gallery has taken a bold step in exhibiting work that is so small and discrete. Yet, as in the case of all art interpretation, one must look beneath the surface. Perhaps in doing so, we might see how the calm that de Freitas has managed to achieve to his own life of challenge has been conveyed to others via his art.
It seems many people want a little piece of this calm, judging by the list of buyers that includes clients islands of the English-speaking Caribbean.