Friday, January 05, 2007

Carnival characters - Christopher Cozier

A whimsical display of Carnival characters observed above the streets of Port of Spain, Trinidad.

In the National Museum of Trinidad and Tobago’s main office, artworks are regularly rotated. The office deals with administration and is rarely seen by the public. This month a large, whimsical, colourful interpretation of ‘old mas’ featuring revelers and blue devils is on display. The surprise is that this playful work is the signature of artist and critic Mr. Christopher Cozier.

To come across such a vibrant, light hearted piece done in a brasher, bolder style, akin to Jackie Hinkson and similarly themed to Che Lovelace’s interpretation of devils in 2005, was a pleasant surprise. Mr. Cozier is known for the iconic image of a black man running with a briefcase.

Seeing this work in the museum led me to ponder on a number of issues in the life of an artist. First, the changes of interest an artist takes in subject matter over the course of a career, and the difficult transition some artists have in straddling the line between illustration, design and art. It is an old concern, as many contemporary artists today have successfully blurred the line between these three forms. However I have gotten into many discussions with people who still ask, almost with permission, what makes art, art and not illustration.

This large, expressive work has none of those issues however and is simply a visual delight. From the
shadows that cross the field of the painting to help produce a sense of movement, to the generous raking of colour along the belly of the person behind the red devil. It is very valuable and important to see the variety of work of an artists’ career, and in Mr. Cozier’s instance, his has been as varied and colourful, challenging, introspective and ever changing as the piece that hangs in the museum. - Adele

Christopher Cozier's take on his work;

Okay Folks...someone sent to me the blog entry on the Carnival images of mine from the 80's..A little too might get me scared .a few basic facts though;

There are twelve of them and they were done in 1986 and were my BFA final show which I used to get into graduate school. The are all approximately 6X10 ft of so and are acrylic. There are some bigger ones that are older and on paper and one or two oils. They are all now tragically scattered in international collections except for one or two that are still in my possession.
You are on to something with the issue around illustration as the first local work of art to register on my mind was Atteck's Hosay scene at the Museum when i was about 7 or so. Later,

I was curious as to whether she was illustrating culture or simply using in as a motif or
platform to experiment as a painter. I was interested in the problems around cultural representation/illustration so in this series of mine i was curious about the experience rather than logically/rationally representing "d culture"...I was concerned with my own memories and
encounters with Carnival and pursuing that as best as I could then. I am not sure if it was successful but it was the best I could have done then with available knowledge and skill.

They have titles, were political allegories and were never intended to to be seen as singular a group they create a kind of atmosphere or effect. I was trying to recreate the affect of looking at Carnival as a child from the balcony of my parents office on St Vincent Street in the the early 60's. So they are all like box seats at a theatrical event with an over head view and long shadows..I was also investigating scale...the themes were simple I was not interested in depicting Carnival characters but looking at symbolic things like a dancing woman and a headless man thus Salome but in Creole it meant "he see she and he loss he head" a kind of normal daily event in the Carnival moment. Each carried a kind of social or political reference about things like the camera in Carnival etc etc..

I enjoyed a combination of surface texture and bold strokes ...they were not drawn or planned but were painted directly with no plan listening to Kitchener and samba classics from Rio..I was quite moved by a few scenes from Black Orpheus ...I was also looking at Visconti and Fellini and one image by Van Gogh, Jacob wrestling with well as key Caribbean Carnival Magazine...I never came home for Carnival during the 80's... so apart from memory the compositions can all be found there..I had done a few small studies from those sources. I was also influenced by Matise's thoughts about scale, in other words, one had to work directly and not do a scaling up from a study as the experience of form and colour would operate

They were sent back to Trinidad and stored at my parents who were contacted by Harris etc..and then they were shown as a group ( as instructed) in 1987 or 88 by the Carlyle Chang and the Art Society at the Central Bank - perhaps in the annual November event and interestingly seen by all. I was not here to actually see and that show. But that is how the museum ended up with one thus breaking up the group and the effect...etc..I do not think they were mentioned or reviewed in the papers or anything like that.

They were a lot of fun to do basically. I was younger ( mid 20's ) and could afford to buy lots of cheap student acrylic in the US. All the iridescent stuff had come on the market then etc..Once the series was finished I could not see myself returning to the subject or the method of working. It might even have been lucrative to reduce scale ( a Wong Wong scale ) and let it be my "style for life" on sale at all leading Port of Spain picture shops and thus lived happily ever after with regular appearances on the Hummingbird page etc... This would have made me a real artist and me and or the works "illustrative" if you get the double meaning of that word.

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