“Out of darkness”: Emma Lewis Interviews Richard Nattoo

Emma Lewis interviews artist Richard Nattoo for Global Voices in “Out of darkness, hope: A New Year chat with Jamaican artist Richard Nattoo.” Here are excerpts:

Jamaican artist Richard Nattoo is unapologetic about his need to keep exploring different genres and collecting new ideas and inspirations. He keeps moving, no matter where his subject matter takes him.

Born in 1993 in Spanish Town, where he still lives and operates from his light-filled, 140-square-foot studio, Nattoo was drawn to art while at high school and began exhibiting in 2012. He graduated from the Caribbean School of Architecture at the University of Technology in Kingston and in 2017 completed a residency at the Vermont Studio Centre in the United States. He has participated in several exhibitions at the National Gallery of Jamaica, including the 2014 Jamaica Biennial, as well as the 2016 Young Talent and Digital (2016) shows. Since then, he has continued to exhibit, including Lost in the Echo (2016), Sensory (2019), Fragility (2019) and Fragility II (2019). He is a recipient of the 2020 Prime Minister Youth Awards in the Category of Arts and Culture.

I sat down for a chai with Nattoo in a tea room at Kingston’s Devon House, to find out more about how his work has evolved, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Emma Lewis (EL): Did you really get started as an artist by doing [mini]bus designs?

Richard Nattoo (RN): When I was at Ardenne High School in Kingston, a friend of mine was doing graffiti types of designs, with a T-square. He showed me how to do it, and I started cutting my own designs out of vinyl, the same material my friend was working with. These were stick-ons. I went to a car tint shop, [asked] for a job and went there for the summer. I did a lot of buses there, [including] small decals and stickers, and tried selling them to the bus owners. They liked what I was doing.

They said to me, ‘I want you to do a design for that bus.’ At the time, the big designs were ‘bashment’ [dancehall slang for a party] and ‘Bashment Granny’ [the name of a very popular ‘roots play,’ a farcical theatrical production typically dealing with socially relevant topics].

They were like a franchise really, with about five or six ‘Bashment Granny’ buses running. There was also a bus owner in Waterhouse who had his buses branded as ‘Liquid’. These were the ‘hype’ buses, where there was a lot of music and excitement, so passengers would wait for them. [. . .]

EL: What were those paintings like?

RN: We did a lot of Tim Burton-esque paintings. A lot of my personal stories were in those paintings. I had a piece called ‘Pseudo Happy’—a man with a crooked smile, but inside was dark. I was going through different things in my life at the time.

My work has an element of fantasy. I wasn’t as good at drawing as Michael, though. I looked for a different style that was ‘me’ so that we wouldn’t be compared to each other. While I was an intern at the National Gallery preparing for the 2012 National Biennial, I got to see the work of Jasmine Thomas-Girvan up close. Ever since, she has been the greatest influence on my work. It is powerful stuff! I even did a painting or two with the red strings she used in ‘Dreaming Backwards,’ which won the Biennial.

In my latest work, I have started looking at Francis Bacon. He has that darkness I first explored with Tim Burton’s work; I have taken it a bit further now. I’ve always been interested in exploring the human mind in my art. I have been reading Carl Jung: ‘The Human Shadow’ [and] started to wonder, ‘What does darkness look like?’ So in 2021, I did a virtual exhibition called ‘Teeth’—it was super-expressionist!—simultaneously with two other exhibitions, in September and October.

EL: Tell me about these three concurrent exhibitions.

RN: Recently, I have started painting figures. They have a melancholy feel. I tried to express that the darkness should not cloud your vision. It starts a conversation about fully accepting who you are. [. . .]

[Shown above: “Tread,” a painting by Richard Nattoo.]

For full interview, information on the exhibitions, and photo gallery, go to https://globalvoices.org/2022/01/04/out-of-darkness-hope-a-new-year-chat-with-jamaican-artist-richard-nattoo/

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