An article by Don Wilkinson for South Coast Today.
“Strange angels singing just for me. Old stories, they’re haunting me. Big changes are coming… here they come. Here they come.” — Laurie Anderson
Trinidadian-born painter and collagist Alison Wells was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Edna Manley College for Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica.
Twelve years ago, she moved to New Bedford and attended UMass Dartmouth in pursuit of her Master of Fine Arts degree. Since her arrival, she has always maintained a downtown studio and has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the city and well beyond. Two years ago, she opened a gallery on William Street.
The gallery has been a showcase not only for her own work, but also the host space for a number of significant exhibitions including Pamela Chatterton-Purdy’s powerful series of portraits of icons of the Civil Rights Movement; and “WARP/WEFT,” a provocative and engaging show of the works of five women fiber artists.
Poets, spoken word artists, steel drum pannists, and WUMD’s “Roots Radical Connection” host DJ Sista Laura, spinner of reggae and dancehall numbers, have all performed at the gallery in some capacity. It is a thumping, vibrant and unique arts space and this week marks its second anniversary, which will be celebrated this evening in conjunction with AHA! Night.
Highlights will include an new series of paintings by Wells, an art sale — which ends today — and a performance by the El Caribe Steel Drum Band, featuring Chris Cardise and Jamie Eckert.
Well’s acrylic paintings and collages encompass many themes, including cityscape imagery of New Bedford (including a gorgeous street scene… imagine North End Acushnet Avenue as influenced by Romare Bearden), small scale floral still-lifes, portraits of historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, and some that venture into dense textural abstractions.
Some of the strongest work is that in which Wells fully embraces the multi-ethnic culture and sensibilities of the Caribbean, replete with iconographic and archetypal female imagery. It is a both Afro-pagan and Catholic place, as depicted by Wells, in which goddesses, spellcasters, virgins, seductresses and matriarchs all become one unknowable “She” during Trinidadian and Tobagonian Carnivale.
During the pre-Lent celebration of Carnivale, ordinary people willingly transform themselves into beings of myth. There is the colorfully attired grandiose braggart known as the Midnight Robber, and the Burrokeet, a “donkey-man.” There is the plump and voluptuous Dame Lorraine, also known as Mother Sally, almost always a man in drag. There are minstrels in white face paint, ridiculing the European colonizers of the past. And there are the beings known as Jab Jabs, French Patois for “diable” or devil, who offer temptations of all kind and occasionally wield a pitchfork.
Perhaps most significant are the Pierrot Grenade, scholar-jesters known for their elegant multihued costumes, ferocious fighting ability and love of oratory, often quoting Shakespearean characters. These Pierrot Grenade — clowns from Grenada — are a recurrent subject for Wells. In her acrylic painting “Parade of the Pierrot Grenade,” several dozen androgynous figure, morph and merge together in some sort of crowd-sourced mystical moment.
They stand tall and seem to imbue a power that reverberates with quiet intensity, as if something is about to erupt. Headdresses and hair rise from many of their heads, like tree branches rising from a trunk, further emphasizing an otherworldliness. But is a momentary otherworldliness … as the world reverts back to normal on the day after Carnivale, or Mardi Gras… or Halloween.
“Recent Works by Alison Wells (from the Totem series Shape Shifters)” is on display at the Alison Wells Fine Art Studio & Gallery, 106 William Street through the end of October.