Ron Savory 1933-2019: An Obituary by John Robert Lee

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An obituary by John Robert Lee for Repeating Islands.

The death has occurred of Ron Savory, the Guyanese artist long resident in Saint Lucia. He died on Monday morning February 4th.

According to family members he had been ailing for a while, though still up and about. I last saw him, not that long ago, as we waved at each other going in and out of a supermarket.

In the words of a well-known Guyanese writer and friend of Ron, he was “one of the great ones” of Guyana art alongside Aubrey Williams, Denis Williams, Stanley Greaves and others. He was contemporaryof, and friend with, leading writers like Wilson Harris, Martin Carter, Ian McDonald, A J Seymour and others as well as theatre persons like Clairmonte Taitt, Ken Corsbie, Marc Mattthews. An “extraordinary generation” indeed. He had also worked in Guyanese radio.

With no prejudice against my Caribbean friends, I have always found Barbadian and Guyanese persons intellectually compatible, have formed long friendships with many and been intrigued by their conversations and points of view. I think the Guyanese bring a large, continental view to matters, different from our other smaller-island perspectives. And yet, the common Caribbean spirit is also very apparent. As a younger writer, I got to know many of these Guyanese writers and artists because they were clear in their commitment to the Caribbean as home-space to us, no matter what parish of island or continent we came from. I met many at the first Carifesta I attended in Guyana in 1972, and was privileged to learn from them over the years. They inspired me as they did many of my own age-group of writers, artists, theatre persons.

I may well have met Ron Savory on my first visit to Guyana in 1971 as part of a Barbadian theatre group led by the venerable Daphne Joseph-Hackett. I certainly met cricket commentator Joseph Reds’ Perreira then (also long resident in Saint Lucia), Marc Matthews, Clairmonte Taitt, Johnny Agard, Henry Muttoo and others. Carifesta 1972 was also a great meeting place for the leading Guyanese and Caribbean writers, artists and intellectuals of the time. On my visits to Guyana I became aware of and saw the art work of the great Guyanese painters and sculptors. So when Ron moved to Saint Lucia I already had a background against which I appreciated his accomplishments and his modest, low-keyed movements as an artist.

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I am looking forward to tributes from those who knew Ron in those Guyana years, tributes that will place him more clearly, in retrospect, in the Guyana art and intellectual context.

I knew him from his first days in St. Lucia, sometime in the 70’s, helped him set up exhibitions and met him often at his studio and at exhibitions of other artists. He was always passionate about Caribbean politics, history, the arts. I remember he was an enthusiastic promoter of Ivan Sertima’s book “They came before Columbus” and ordered copies that he could sell or pass on to friends. He loved the BBC, and was a jazz and classical music aficionado. Ron was part of that generation like Derek Walcott who, while passionately anti-colonial, appreciated the best of Western civilization. Like the artists of his generation, and those of us who sat at their feet as younger arrivals, he mourned that the Caribbean never moved beyond its weaknesses and the endemic disease of colonialism, to develop its great potential as a people who could manage their affairs in a more productive and efficient way. He also regretted the perennial neglect of the arts by successive governments. He had long given up any faith in Caribbean politics or politicians. After experiencing the Guyana of the Burnham years, after the tremendous promises of that turbulent period in Caribbean society, he and many Guyanese artists, and indeed citizens, lost hope in political change as a way to a more mature society and self-respecting civilization. So I read it all anyway, no doubt adding layers of my own younger-generation disillusionments.

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He did not have any high profile in Saint Lucia. He was known and respected by fellow St. Lucian writers and artists; his studio also served as a framing shop for many St. Lucians who wanted art and photographs framed. He worked away steadily and quietly over the years, transposing, I thought, his memory of Guyanese landscapes and forests and interiors, on his appreciation and crafting of images of St. Lucian banana fields, the mountains, sea birds, the Caribbean sea, masquerade characters, architectural vernacular, petroglyphs. Along with other forms he worked much with a collage style. He seemed to be always learning and expanding his range.

It was a pleasure to go visit him at his studios and to listen to his somewhat iconoclastic views. I brought him copies of my new books as they came out and he surprised me once by giving me a painting he had done of my childhood home in Vide Bouteille, just outside of Castries.

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Ron and his generation of artists, male and female, out of the mixed races of our history, have left us a great legacy, many signals that we have it within ourselves, to make our Caribbean a better place. More than ever today, with all that is happening everywhere among us and in the world, with more fragmentation than we imagined, we need to remember, appreciate and value their self-effacing, sacrificial, committed work.

Condolences to his family from all of us, at home and abroad.

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