By DAVID CAVE
In a world of frightening uncertainty, it is comforting to know that there are a few unwavering constants in Trinidad and Tobago: political drama and the Annual Art Society Members’ Exhibition. This annual display of the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) comes around like clockwork every November and has remained a relatively permanent fixture on our cultural calendar- at least for the last ten years or so.
Whether deliberate on the part of the ASTT’s organisers, one doesn’t know, but the Art Society’s exhibitions over the years convey a sense of brutal honesty that is rarely seen anywhere else. The title of the show never changes; it is always the “Members’ Exhibition”, plain and simple. As someone who has seen more than his fair share of superficial fluff and fancy in art, I am extremely grateful for the pragmatic, Spartan approach to art as displayed by the ASTT.
My first opportunity to critique the Art Society’s “Members’ Exhibition” came three years ago, in November 2008. Indeed, I will continue to insist that I was extremely impressed with the quality of the art at that exhibition. However, so good was the quality of art on display back then that I really felt that the exhibition itself did not do justice to the members’ who showed in 2008. It was chaotic and haphazard, like someone had vomited paintings on the wall and coincidentally created an unfinished jigsaw puzzle from hell.
The 2011 Exhibition, which was launched on Friday, 18th November, did not suffer from this crisis. All of the two-dimensional artwork was neatly laid out in horizontal rows, free of clutter and confusion. This new layout allows the viewer to take in and contemplate upon any key pieces that may stand out and catch his/her eye.
Indeed, there were many notable works. Displays from the older, more seasoned artistic stalwarts such as Donald Jackie Hinkson and his watercolour piece entitled Lambeau Breeze, did not disappoint. Other notable paintings in this exhibition were Cynthia Mc Lean’s richly textured acrylic work called Wash Day, Mary Adam’s piece entitled Savannah With Tents, Roberta Stoddard’s little oil painting Ugli Fruit, Garth Duncan’s beautiful watercolour My Hills, Wulf Gerstenmaier’s The Reader and the stunning realism of Shinnuey Ho’s oil painting Cocoa. Not only did these paintings display amazing and meticulous rendering skill; the variety of subject matter and technique was truly a sight to behold.
In addition to what one mighty consider to be traditional paintings, this exhibition also showed that many artists are also taking the initiative to break out of their comfort zones and create mixed media art. In works such as Marcus Gooding’s Away Red and Habib Jahoor’s Anahata Sacred Heart, the artists augment their paintings with the use of wood and steel. The works have now become three-dimensional and the viewer is provided with a more intimate connection to the art.
This technique was not so prominent three years ago, and appears to be catching on. The results, as shown in the work of this exhibition are very convincing and well-executed. Hopefully, the ASTT artists will continue to delve into the mixed media genre of painting, and this combination of painting and sculptural elements will not become a passing fad and overused to the point where the medium surpasses the importance of the message.
The consistently high overall quality of the artists who are invited to exhibit at the ASTT’S Annual Exhibition has proven, time and time again, that they are worthy of praise and recognition. This exhibition offered a significant improvement over the showings of previous years. Other works that did not make it into this exhibition were placed on the ASTT’s website where they still can be viewed and sold.
Ever since the 1930s or thereabouts, the ASTT has been the de facto organisation that represents the cumulative art experience for art and artists in our twin island nation. Due to its rich history, current members of the organisation must be cognisant of the great burden of responsibility that lies on the ASTT with respect to displaying and promoting local art. The annual ASTT Members’ Exhibition needs to be treated with a high degree of reverence. It ought to be clear that this is the premiere art show in Trinidad and Tobago; a display of the best of what we have to offer with respect to our Art.
The austerity of the exhibition leaves one with a number of questions, among them: Is this the best of what we have to offer or is this exhibition a mere starting point from which ASTT Members can the public’s reception of their Art? There is no doubt that the exhibition is good, but can it be better? ASTT’s Annual Exhibition needs to display unquestionable excellence, both in the quality of the participants’ art and in the quality of the layout, preparation and cataloguing of the exhibition.