Saturday, May 03, 2008

Between truth and fiction - Tessa Alexander

Street music vendors, Tessa Alexander, Trinidad, West Indies

Through a series of watercolors, Tessa Alexander continues her journey of painting aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture from the perspective of the underclass. Her vistas and observations are up for sale to the buying art public who may empathize with her views, but are they willing to appreciate her stand? Some of these pieces reflect the state of Trinidad and Tobago, in crime, neglect and poverty.

Tess Alexander is caught between this wedge, as she laments on the other, meaning paintings that should be carefully considered. They are a work of art as a social commentary which is not necessarily decorative. The watercolour of the guardsmen protecting the Prime Minister on Mayaro beach could find itself hanging in the White Hall if Trinidadians are mature enough to the value the role of artists, and to their importance to a cultural identity.

Alexander is beginning to improve with her figures, where before she had struggled by overworking or underworking them, Whether this is her style, her foreshortening needs be be better, but this will take practice, discipline and courage.

urban paradise - Tessa Alexander, recent works April 29th - May 12, 2008. Horizons Art Gallery, Mucurapo Rd. Port of Spain, Trinidad.

This article has been revised


Anonymous said...

There seems to be a misunderstanding of the artist and their work or at the very least limited knowledge of her work and capability although I thought this exhibit would have demonstrated such. Opinions are opinions I guess but I don't agree with how this review was written.

Dave Cave said...

I do apologise for finding this blog recently. It serves as an excellent and priceless resource to anyone who is interested in the contemporary art scene in Trnidad & Tobago.

The work by Tessa Alexander is undoubtedly interesting. Artists with a socialist inclination eg. Daumier did countless drawings on the plight of the poor and the lack of compassion dished out from the upper class.

The key problem that A;lexander is attempting to grapple with is how does one create artwork about poverty without celebrating it? What price should the work be sold for? She is clearly profitting from it, but how much should the work be sold for? It cannot be too little so that the work is cheapened and the social purpose of the work is muted, and neither can it be overpriced so as to appear arrogant and flippant in this age of uneven and disproportionate wealth distribution. It is a very difficult subject to address, so kudos to Alexander for making such a valiant effort.

I do have a slight problem with the critique though. Where does a supposedly empowered individual get off on criticising Alexander's technical competence as an artist? With reference to the video, Alexander states that our poverty has become banal, and unnoticeable by the countless commuters who pass impoverished areas such as Sea Lots every day. Her art wants to put the poverty "in your face", therefore perhaps the scale of the artwork should be augmented in order to achieve this purpose.

However, to question ALexander's competence is another matter. The paintings look surprising close to the loose painterly style of Chris Cozier, who clearly wanted to include the visual cues of signage and congestion of Trinidad life. The "realism" or verosimilitude is in the blurry and chaotic images of Trinidad life. This disorder is very hard to photograph, and is usually more effectively portrayed in painting. Tessas Alexander's paintings are as good as it gets for the effective portrayal of the downtrodden in Trinidad and Tobago. Her technique is close to perfect.


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