Colorful, Witty, Noisy: A West Indies Mélange

The New York Times has reviewed “Rockstone & Boothheel: Contemporary West Indian Art,” the art exhibit at Real Art Ways that we wrote about initially last month (see Rockstone and Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art). It is quite a good review, which is great because the exhibit is wonderful and it showcases a lot of young Caribbean talent. Here are some excerpts, with the link to the full article below.

Every now and then a show comes along that takes you out of your comfort zone and into a strange new world. The ideas and imagery in that world can be difficult to appreciate at first, but the more you look, the more you begin to understand the local references and cultural concepts involved. Slowly and surely the beauty and sophistication of the art come into focus.

In so many ways, “Rockstone & Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art,” at Real Art Ways, is such a show. Presenting the work of 39 artists from a region that, for many people, is a blank slate, Kristina Newman-Scott and Yona Backer, the show’s intrepid curators, have put together a mind-opening selection of artwork that is by turns colorful, messy, playfully witty and downright noisy.

. . .

The artists in “Rockstone & Bootheel” range from roughly their mid-20s to mid-50s and work in all media: painting, sculpture, installation, video, drawing and more. Some of them live and work on the islands, while others are based in the United States, Canada, Germany and England. Many of them share a degree of African ancestry, and close to two-thirds are showing in the United States for the first time. Quite a few of the works were created specially for this exhibition.

There is no thematic arrangement to the show; works are hung according to where they look best. That makes the show a little hard to navigate, for there is no real logic to the display. It is also hopelessly overstuffed, a case perhaps of the curators’ being overly ambitious with the material. But none of this matters, because the overall quality is so good that you are bouncing from one great work to the next. It is an exciting ensemble.

Some of the artists showing here are well known, including Nari Ward, Renee Cox and Jayson Keeling. All three are represented by fine work, especially Mr. Ward, whose found-object sculptures greet viewers entering the gallery. But what makes the show special and indeed invaluable viewing for anyone interested in contemporary art is the depth and variety of work by new, young artists, some of whom I predict we will be hearing a lot more about in the future.

Several videos stand out, including “Banksy: The Rock” (2008), a work by Peter Dean Rickards about the preservation of a piece of urban graffiti near a roadside saloon in Kingston, Jamaica. The end of the video shows an eBay posting of photographs documenting the process of retrieving the graffiti piece by cutting it out of a free-standing wall. The eBay listing promised that anyone who bought the photographs would get the piece of graffiti free.

Then there is “Discovery of the Palm Tree Phone Mast” (2008), which shows a cellphone tower that has been disguised as a palm tree — a common practice in the English-speaking Caribbean. Created by an artist from the Bahamas known as Blue Curry, the piece is satisfying and silly at the same time, the artist creeping up on the fake tree, approaching it from different angles, as if it were a living thing.

The exhibition’s title — “Rockstone & Bootheel” — comes from a Jamaican dub metal song, but is also a colloquial expression that means “taking a journey.” It is apposite, for a lot of the work deals with journeys of one kind or another, ranging from migration to or from the islands in work by Annalee Davis and Christina Leslie to the difficulties of coming out as a gay man, explored in works by O’Neil Lawrence and Lawrence Graham-Brown.

. . .

The full range and complexity of the work in this show must be experienced to be properly appreciated. “Rockstone & Bootheel” is a brilliant mélange of sights, sounds and stories, through which the colorful culture of the West Indies springs alive.

“Rockstone & Bootheel: Contemporary West Indian Art,” which includes the work of artists like Ebony Patterson (see image above) is at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street, Hartford, through March 14. Information: realartways.org or (860) 232-1006.

For the complete article go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/nyregion/06artct.htm

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