Meanings Behind Art

blue swallowtail

“Blue Swallowtail” Mixed media on board. 12 x 16 inches © 2013

Questions, Questions, Questions

I have a monthly art blog, Funny Face Studios. It forces me to keep creating: I paint consistently now; I didn’t before. Last week a visitor to the site asked me two questions: What size is the “Spectre” painting; and what is the story behind its creation? The first question was easily answered and in fact, was already present on the page. I always place the title, description, size and year of creation directly under the photograph of the painting. But the reader missed it and I had to wonder, “Why?” What was I not doing correctly that caused her to miss that particular bit of information? This week I went to an artists’ workshop and asked the question. The presenters had this advice, “Provide a distance shot along with the close up. That way, readers will have a clear idea of the size and scale of your works.” Such simple advice! I knew that I worked in what the art world now considers miniatures, but visitors to my site didn’t necessarily know this. (True miniatures are nazar paintings that Indians used to present as gifts to their Mahajaras.)

Stories, Stories, Stories

The second question was easy to answer as well. The painting about which the reader inquired, Spectre, had quite a bit of personal history behind it and I provided the answers. But by asking these questions, the reader started me thinking about my presentation. It made sense to include the actual stories behind my creations. So for this month’s, and all subsequent issues of Funny Face Studio, I will provide the stories that go with the works. Thank you, Kristen, for making me think more about how I present my works. This post is a re-presentation of my current Funny Face art piece. It is about my “Blue Swallowtail” painting and includes the story behind its actual creation. Any feedback is appreciated.

photo 2I have also included two “to-scale” photographs of “Blue Swallowtail.” Here it sits on my tabletop easel. You can see from the photograph how small (or large?) it is or isn’t. While in width it fits properly into the easel, it isn’t quite large enough to fill up the entire height of the structure.

About the Painting

“Blue Swallowtail” is from the “Appropriations Series.” The young woman in the painting has been appropriated from Iranian graffiti artist A1One (also known as Tanha). She reminds me of my Aunt Carmen as she appeared in an old black and white photograph ages ago. I guess you could argue that like the woman, the butterfly too, has been appropriated (from nature).

The Blue Swallowtail Butterfly

The blue swallowtail is one of many butterflies from my childhood. In a way, this painting is a nod to Jamaica. It wasn’t too long ago that these butterflies swarmed the Eastern end of the island. Today they are quite rare. You can still find them in a countryside area called Rozelle which is close to the sea.  (Rozelle lies between Morant Bay and Yallahs Pond, in the parish of St. Thomas.) A mini-waterfall descends from the mountains and cascades into a culvert by the roadside. Here you will sometimes find naked boys and men soaking up the invigorating, and free, mountainside shower.

More About the Blue Swallowtail Painting

As with many of my paintings, the representations are not literal, not exact. The shapes are in keeping with what is being represented. This is true of my presentation of the blue swallowtail.

Here, as in my “Spectre” painting (September/October issue), I chose to use just a few monotone type colors. If you look carefully, you may be able to see a slight hint of a horse’s head in the top middle of the painting. It is another homage to a childhood friend, my horse, Ghirlie.

blue swallowtail 2

The River Road, Part One

The Morant River in the vicinity of Serge Island, Jamaica. The Blue Mountains are in the background (credit: Claude Fletcher, amataiclaudius)

Morant River (maybe)

I’ve been around rivers all my life. In the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a river ran behind our house and also across the street. It could have been two different rivers or maybe it was one river and the Jamaica Public Works Department interfered with it by running a road across it. I don’t know. Since we lived about twenty miles upriver in the same direction as Serge Island, I would guess that the river of my early memories is the Morant River. Later on, when we moved further down towards the sea, I again encountered rivers, including the one that emptied out into the Caribbean about a mile or two from my first school. That too, may have been the Morant River. I don’t know.

Constant Companions

1987 New Monklands, Jamaica photo NewMonklandsSept87.jpg
Windows from which I used to watch the river as a child. Decades later, my boy plays outside in the yard.

As a small child, I took all these rivers for granted. They were constant companions to play in, get stranded on boulders in, watch from the upstairs rooms of our house, and follow as we drove down the valley to places like Serge Island, Trinityville and Morant Bay. On longer drives, as we made our way down winding mountain roads to Kingston or towards Golden Grove in Portland, we drove past children splashing about as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers washed and dried clothes by the river banks. Always of interest, were the lambs, new arrivals to the kingdom of god, dressed in their flowing white robes and tightly wound turbans. Dipped into the river, they were born anew and welcomed into the fold of believers. There was the occasional Rastaman, bathing and shaking his locks dry, and there was also me, a small girl, skipping over rocks, collecting “beads” from river grasses, following the river to its end by Lyssons Beach. I didn’t realize it then but these things were all my special friends.

Plantain Garden River

My all time favorite river in our home parish was the Plantain Garden River. I loved its name and I reveled in the names of the communities through which it ran. Most of all, I loved that it “walked its own walk,” refusing to run in the same direction that the other rivers on the island did. This river, the Plantain Garden, runs through communities with names like Ginger Hall, Airy Castle and Sunny Hill. Whereas all the other rivers in Jamaica (nearly one hundred of them) flow north or south, my idol flows eastwards. I am sure there is some geographical reason for this but for me, it is its difference that makes it memorable.

1987 Knutts River, Jamaica photo KingoftheWorldSep87.jpg
Standing atop steps that are needed to cross Knutts River during the rainy season

The parish of St.Thomas is filled with rivers. These include the Clock and Roaring rivers, both of which meet the Plantain Garden River in the district of Ginger Hall. As memorable as the Plantain Garden may be, it is the Yallahs River that is most striking. Just about every year this river floods its banks, rages across the land making roads impassable and in some cases, makes lives unbearable and unlivable. During floods and hurricane season, it cuts country off from town and vice versa. It surges in a mad rush, taking crops, livestock, homes and humans with it.

Yallahs River

Yallahs is a heavily mined river. It is valued by the construction industry for its sand and river rocks. It is also valuable to the National Water Commission (NWC). The primary provider of potable water in Jamaica, the NWC designed the Yallahs Pipeline Scheme to divert an estimated average annual yield of 16.4 million imperial gallons of water per day from the Yallahs River. This water is channeled into the Mona Reservoir, a large concrete dam that serves the semi-metropolitan area of St. Andrew. In some ways this undertaking is similar to the construction of California’s Hetch Hetchy Dam and the diversion of water from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay area. In both cases, the corporate area gathers water at the expense of the countryside. To learn more about the Blue Mountain Multi-Purpose Project of 1980 and its possible ecological impacts, access the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources of the Government of Jamaica’s special report here: <http://www.pcj.com/dnn/Portals/0/Documents/SWECO%20PREINVESTMENT%20B3.PDF>

~Please stay tuned for next week’s, “The RiverRoad” part two.~

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