Christina Leslie's Portraits

N.L.S., A New Local Space

Deborah Caroll Anzinger's artist run residency and exhibition space in Kingston


Leasho Johnson's Provocative Re-interpretation in 'Canopy Guild'

Light Sensitive

Marlon James' black and whites

Annalee Davis: ON THE MAP

Caribbean Political Documentary

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thanking Petrine

Skype screenshot from virtual Artists Talk with Petrine's Cornell Uni. course., 2006. Source

Yesterday, I received the news that Petrine Archer-Straw had passed. This news dis take me by surprise. My connection with Petrine was mainly as a mentor for my artistic and academic work.  Throughout this period she showed great generosity in encouraging my artistic practice, academic pursuits and especially this blog. I first met Petrine when I had my final exams at Edna Manley College in Kingston. She was one of the examiners of my final year Painting Show. I remember her for insistence that I shouldn't settle for the easy pathways in my work.

Later on I had the chance to work with Petrine on her website Diaspora Dialogs by providing discussions and artist talks with her course at Cornell University. Throughout that time my interaction with Petrine as a young artist made me feel that there was something of importance in my work. When I last connected with her it was to ask her to be an external supervisor for my doctoral thesis in Japan. For administrative reasons this didn't work but she allowed me access to her writings to help guide the way for me. It therefore hits me with the weight of the news that one day after handing in said thesis that there will be no more chances to connect with Petrine.

I want to therefore thank you Petrine for encouraging and supporting me in my endeavors. I also want to thank you for contributing so much to the arts and understanding of culture.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I found on Twitter: Tallawa

Screenshot from
I just found this website this morning where you can see designs like the one above. They have a new Spring Collection with really eye-catching textile designs. The team consists of a husband and wife team  John and Hillary, who are based in New York. They use the Jamaican Patois phrase 'we likkle but we tallawah' meaning 'we are small but strong' as the inspiration for their brand. The site features not only a clothing line but various images they seem to have collected and made appropriating other images. There is a real link that can be seen between the aesthetic tastes of the designers, the art they make and their fashion designs which indicates the Tallawa concept. Their interpretation of 'tallawah' seems to be a small group with bold and diverse creativity. What do you think of the Tallawa designs?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tokyo Story: Creative Culture in the City

The last part in an interview with Marcus Bird about his fascination with Tokyo and its creative life. He has spoken about his ideas about lifestyle branding and art activities he participated in while living there. This time he speaks about the multitude of influences and visual stimulation. From Harajuku to Shibuya to Vuitton and being out there. His words out remind me of a documentary Pharrell Williams did last year called Tokyo Rising.

Tokyo at night, Below Jamaican Kingston dayscape courtesy of Silvio Luz

Kingston - Jamaica

You taught yourself design and have worked in design in Tokyo, what is the creative culture like in Tokyo and what future plans do you have for your creativity?

Oh man can I talk about this for days! A real creative culture to me is one with enough people actively doing stuff that can inspire other people and also give people an idea of how far they can reach in whatever field they are trying to break into. Over thirty six million people live in Tokyo, so that’s a lot of artists, architects, singers, sculptors, painters and graphic designers. In Tokyo I was able to see art that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world (except maybe Berlin) and there is a sense of a creative “pulse” in certain areas. In Omotesando you can see the uber-upscale but wonderfully creative ideas used in the high end stores like Louis Vuitton and Burberry, and then a few blocks away you see some really awesome shirts, shoes or accessories stores in Harajuku. But its not just that. Lots of people in Tokyo experiment with different kinds of fashion, so the regular way of dressing and what I call “thinking modes of creativity” are more acceptable. So if I want to wear spinach green boots and skinny jeans with my character shirts on, I don’t feel like I’m going “out there” with it. I love that feeling; where you can step out of your apartment in a crazy getup, or walk with the knowledge that you have access not only to creative works, but a creative mindset. Plus, in such a densely populated city, advertising is different. Stores use more art and media to grab your attention, buses and taxies have a bit more colour and attention to detail. It’s like as you breathe creatively, the city breathes too.
Kingston is much, much smaller and much, much, more chill and the art you see around naturally reflects that. It’s very “folky” if that’s a word. You’lll see lots of landscapes and scenes from the country and portraits of women with baskets on their heads. You’ll see stuff with beaches and rivers and canoes. That stuff is great, but it doesn’t make my mind get buzzing. My mind isn’t flooded with stimulation the way it is in Tokyo. It might seem obvious that It reflects island life and that’s cool, but you wouldn't’ get the same stimulation in a city with skyscrapers and high-speed trains.

Don’t get me wrong, Jamaicans are ridiculously creative people, but I don’t think we’ve embraced our prodigious talents much in the area of the arts. I even wrote about this recently in a local paper, asking “Where is Kingston Harajuku”? Because we don’t really have an art district in Kingston. That’s what I mean when I said in Tokyo you can “see where creativity can take you”.
I wasn’t working creatively on a full-time basis in Tokyo, and I was completely fascinated by the idea of having a constant creative purpose in such an awesome city, or a city of a similar size. There were days it blew my mind just to even be in Tokyo, because years before I had off-handedly said to myself “I’d love to launch my clothing at some point in Tokyo, or live in Tokyo”. But my will was definitely tested there. My Japanese was moderate but not super fluent, and on top of hustling with photography, odd little “baito-batio” (part-time work) it left me with little energy and often little motivation. But back to my original point about the things you see around you, this is what would make me get up in the morning and still try. I would walk around and see some cool photography at a gallery somewhere, or visit  some bizarre exhibition in Shibuya, or see some amazing advertising artwork in the subway, or I’d go to to some odd shop in Mid-town. All these places would remind me that the shops, the items, the advertising, everything was created by “out there” creative thinkers. So even if my motivation was low, I could “plug in” to a lot of art in a lot of places and be reminded that creativity can actually take you somewhere. So I’d love to be doing a project with my work, or media in Tokyo that I’m doing all day, everyday.

I don’t like comparing places really, but Jamaica doesn't have that sort of creative pulse, mostly I believe because there are only 2.6 million people in Jamaica and Jamaican art is a little different. If you checkout the average Jamaican gallery, there are tons of landscapes and scenes from the country. It reflects island life and that’s cool, but you wouldn't’ get the same stimulation in a city with skyscrapers and high-speed trains.

Where do you think the creative pulse is in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries?

Watch Tokyo Rising here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

N.L.S., A New Local Space

Deborah Anzinger's own studio space
 I met Deborah Anzinger the way I meet most people in the Arts these days, via Facebook. She spoke about a new arts space that was opening up in Kingston soon. This was great news as I can't tell you how many times when I was a younger artist working in Jamaica's urban metropoilis that I longed for some kind of arts culture beyond exhibitions and galleries. I always felt there was never enough focus on the process of art-making outside of the art school environment and that the art scene was designed to privelage the collector. I suppose inveitably many of my colleagues and myself left the country seeking this opportunity in other larger 'art circuits'. I asked Deborah to tell us more about herself and the new art space project and plans.

What is NLS and what is the aim of this project?   
NLS is an artist-run initiative, consisting of a gallery program and an artist residency program, scheduled to open at the end of 2012.  NLS aims to effect a culture of relentless experimentation and intellectual accessibility in the visual arts by: 
1. Promoting local artists and curators that are already working hard in this way 
2. Strengthening the local and international community of such individuals 
3. Building new audiences for these artists

The name NLS, functions as a point of origin for an endless initialism that is constantly growing.  So far the name has grown to be: Nuclear Localisation Signal, New Local Space, Natty's Loquacious Stylings, Nerds Love Serpents, Nobodies Loving Something, Now Look Sideways, No Longer Single, Notable Love Stares. Consequently, the name is not only interdisciplinary in context/origin, but has been contributed by a group of individuals. The activation of the name in this way is a metaphor for the tone of the programs that NLS embodies:  an open, collaborative and organic environment in which different disciplines freely mix and push boundaries through experimentation, play and constant work.
How did you come to be involved in this project? 
I came to be involved in this project in a very organic way.  The ideas behind NLS are ones that I have been in the process of documenting for about five years and they revolve around my experiences as an artist in various situations such as my studio, being a member of an artist collective, a gallery artist, an artist-in-residence, and manager for a non-profit art gallery in Washington DC.  Throughout these situations, I’ve noted recurring circumstances/environments that correlate with periods of creative breakthrough, high productivity, and rewarding career relationships.  
When circumstances lined up for me to relocate to Kingston I was very ready to take advantage of the opportunity to start NLS. The people with whom I’ve started this, Mandilee Newton, Chajana denHarder, Simon Benjamin, Richard Lyew, are persons whose work I admire and with whom I have formed meaningful relationships through work along the way. 

How important is the site's location in Kingston to the aims of the project and what kind of space/s are you planning to setup?
Some renderings of the future arts space.
The site’s location in Kingston is significant and convenient for me on a number of levels.  The site for NLS is at 190 Mountain View Ave— about 3 blocks from the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing arts, from which recent graduates like you are doing great things.  Notably, we are sharing address with Creative Sounds, a recording studio that’s been around since 1982.  We are very fortunate to be able to start NLS somewhere that is not only geographically convenient, but also located within a hub of creative activity and talent.  And because we have easy access to the recording studio any artist-in-residence of NLS wanting to include sound as a component in their project can do so readily as part of their residency.
NLS is going to be operating out of its own building that houses the exhibitions, studio space and resident artists. The ground floor is going to be a 640 square foot exhibition space, that functions as a studio space during residencies, and is going to be equipped to show video and sound art as well as work in more traditional media. The second floor includes the administrative office and sleeping quarters for three artists-in-residence.

I think of Kingston as being a place where the desire for nowness is palpable and has led to inventiveness. For me this is most easily demonstrated by the speed with which new musical genres have developed here in the last 50 years. I also think there is an inherent inventiveness that comes out of urban environments where life moves faster.  I love being around that and I like tapping into it. There is also a wide breadth of walks of life in Kingston, and I’m of the opinion that the power to invigorate and move people has something to do with usurping a space across class and other boundaries; this is something NLS aims to do through visual arts.   We want to open up the conversation to whoever is interested in accessing the energy and new ways of thinking and looking that the artists in our program have to offer, and we want to give these artists the support that will help them bring their novel ideas and vision into fruition, however large or small.

There is mention of three artists residencies being planned, how do you see these artist residencies as being an important catalyst for the things that you hope to achieve with NLS and in the contemporary art scene?
By providing studio space, a stipend and room and board we are giving support to visual artists working in ways that might be ahead of what the general public knows or understands of art, without artists feeling the need to compromise singular ideas worth exploring. While we believe the commercial gallery system is valuable, it can encourage artists relying on an income to make work with which the public already feels comfortable.  We believe that an aspect of art is a constant two-way conversation, between artist and public, about progress.  The support NLS offers gives artists a stronger voice that can be heard in this conversation. 

We also want to give the public the opportunity to see, understand and appreciate these new ways of seeing/thinking.  Therefore essential parts of NLS’s programming are planned studio visits open to the public of the resident artists’ workspace, as well as panel discussions during the run of exhibitions; all part of a mechanism for creating a strong culture around visual arts.

Part of the outline of the program is to have a mix of local and international artists during each residency cycle.  This is to facilitate a larger network, a larger conversation, and really allow local and international artists the opportunity to see themselves in different contexts, as well as adopt and borrow things they may never have imagined on their own…these are things that are valuable for creative breakthroughs. 

Visit NLS site to find out more. What hopes do you have for a new art space in Kingston?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

@The Armory Show: 297 Niggas on Linen

297 Niggas on Linen
Photo by Sandra Stephens
 In viewing The Armory Show in a flash, in the blur of the huge market/ showcase for 'serious' contemporary art a few works definitely caught my eye and some made me laugh. Some made me stop and some I had to go back to again and again. One of the ones I really enjoyed was Devin Troy Strother's '297 Niggas on Linen'.

What do I respond to in this work? I saw the work from a few feet away and was drawn by the pattern of flat black squiggles on a neutral tan textured ground. Moving in closer to admire said pattern, a mass of tiny stylized/ stylish black figures, the mentioned '297 Niggas', burst forth. In various poses and facial expressions suggested by different dots representing eyes and smiles, vaginas, nipples and anuses. The work is so tongue in cheek and delivered with an eye wink it wins you over. I went back to see it again and laughed.  I see it as standing in the legacy of Kara walker's work, which though brilliant, always makes feel slightly bad about myself.
Work from Strother's The Coloured Series

In visiting Strother's site I found a series of even more playful works tilted for example: 'The Coloureds Series Part 4: "Gurrrl I'm just talking about that composition, Gurrrrl what'chu know about that post abstraction?". The Nigga's, Coloureds, black shapes, or whatever is more comfortable to refer to them as when framed against art history and modern painting  is like a punchline that makes me stop after laughing and say 'Hold on, wait, what?!'
See more of his work here

Lifestyle Branding

This is the second part of jamaicaninjapan blogger, Marcus Bird's Tokyo Story. He spoke with me recently about his fascination with the Tokyo creative scene and the various opportunities he has had. Through his experience of living and working in Japan he has evolved as designer. One of the stories he shared was about his interest in how designers use characters and branding to shape lifestyle in Japan.

You spoke about lifestyle brand and wanting to get involved in that direction as well as to take some of your influences in Japan and adapt it for Jamaica. Can you explain what lifestyle branding is and the ways you have been creating lifestyle brands?

For me a lifestyle brand encapsulates the dominant aspects of a culture or a movement and allows people to a new way to participate with this brand through ownership of what that brand provides as a product. I lived in D.C for a while, and there I really saw for the first time kids and people who had investments in different brands that allowed them to make a statement about their kind of day to day life. Like skaters, the “indie” crowd, gamers, and so on. These folk wore more edgy shirts, or stuff that represented what they loved, like T-shirts with Nintendos on them. I found myself at that time embracing my gamer and geek side more, because when I was in Jamaica, there wasn’t so much of a serious geek culture, or people who represented lifestyles they liked with their style of dress. My current set of characters are a fusion with aspects of Jamaican and Japanese culture that highlight what I like about both. Jamaica is vibrant and colourful; Japan to me sounds clean and smooth. After I got the idea a couple years back, I took steps towards learning design to see if I could make it real and came up with my current set of characters.

Living in Japan revealed to me more about marketing and consumer behaviour than giving me tons of new influences. I say that to mean when I was in Japan, there weren’t a ton of shops I’d always frequent or clothes that I’d search for. Since I had my own concept, it was more a matter of feeding on the energy around me to keep feeling like my stuff would make it. I saw that in Japan, people aren’t afraid to pay for product they like, expensive or otherwise. So I saw the proof that lifestyle brands survive because people ravenously support them. Whatever you make has to fit where you are coming from, or fit into what people already like. Hello Kitty is the best brand that represents tenets of Japanese simplicity and cuteness; it “fits. This seems to be universal across the boards for all brands that I’ve seen of this variety. You might have to adapt slightly different business models depending on where you live, but at the end of the day its those ravenous fans or people that love how your stuff “fits” with them that count. If you can model that, you are gold. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tokyo Story: Creative Potential of Pecha Kucha

Marcus Bird delivering his Pecha Kucha. See the video here
Marcus Bird of the Jamaican in Japan blog spoke with me recently about his fascination with the Tokyo creative scene and the various opportunities he has had. This is the first part of three in Bird's Tokyo Story. Through his experience of living and working in Japan he has evolved as designer. One of the stories he shared was about when he presented his creative ideas and character designs at a Tokyo Pecha Kucha night. He found that it is a strong way of networking and sharing his unique creative thought. He explains the presentation format here.

ART:Jamaica: I saw your blog where you presented a Pechakucha presentation in Tokyo. What is Pechakucha and how did you come to be talking about your ideas in Tokyo?

Marcus Bird: Pechakucha is a creative forum where everyone has to present in the same format. So you get twenty seconds and a limit of twenty slides. So you get a little over six minutes to talk about your ideas, projects, a philosophy, anything. I was able to present because I met this guy named Jean who runs a monthly meetup for creatives called Pause Talk. He is responsible for Pecha Kucha in Tokyo, and after going to his thing a few times I decided to pitch an idea to the Pechakucha team. They said it was cool, and luckily for me it fell right in Tokyo design week.
Talking about Tokyo, I have to say that the city right now is the  biggest representation for me of me trying to actualize my creative concepts. I was living in a small town in Shizuoka when I first went to Japan, and trust me, I wasn’t inspired by living there at all. My first trip to Tokyo a few months afterwards was … how do I say this? EXPLOSIVE! (laughs) After a year of being somewhat disgruntled where I was, I just decided to go. I moved to Tokyo, found a place and then started getting into the scene. If you are a creative person, Tokyo is a place constantly overflowing with ideas, colours and sounds; like a living battery. The more creative people I met doing things in Tokyo, the more I started to envision myself doing stuff creatively in Tokyo as well. Pecha Kucha was a representation of that; me doing a presentation based around the same questions I was asking myself about my creative journey and where I felt it was going. That’s why I called it “Untitled Design”, because that's how I think about stuff you want to achieve that isn’t clear yet. It has a form, a shape, but its still untitled until it is ready to be revealed.

Check out this video on how Pecha Kucha works and the format. Has Pecha Kucha night happened in Jamaica? I wonder how we could use this format as contemporary artists as a way to effectively convey our ideas to anyone or as a creative medium itself?

Next: Bird discusses his ideas about 'Lifestyle Design'

Monday, January 30, 2012

Contemporary Art in Stores

The Kyoto BAL building's use of artist mirocomachiko's painting and
reproductions to create enticing tasteful window displays for
their New Year sale
The possibility of exposing art to the public is great if you utilize spaces that are less traditional. It is not uncommon to see reproductions and paintings and drawings of local artists used in banners, window displays and dedicated in-store displays in some of the trendy Japanese department stores. The image of the store benefits from the eye-catching, unique imagery of the artist and the artist benefits from the increase in appreciators and earning potential.

In arts cultures there is the stigma of watering down the seriousness of one's artists' persona by indulging in commercial activity to earn a living. This attitude perhaps became ingrained because the inability to live from your art could indicate that the artists work has not reached the level of development to attract committed collectors and dealers. In an age however when an ever increasing number of students are choosing to study media, frequently use Photoshop, engage in fan art and keep art schools thriving, it may call for reconsideration of attitudes toward fine artists pursuing commercial activity.

Window display using painting and graphics from mirocomachiko
On the ground, art dealers are charging larger percentages for access to gallery spaces and use of mailing lists while the public is reaffected by recession and tastes for collecting art decrease. It perhaps is time for artists to look to alternative avenues for diversifying their creativity. As an artist myself, I can also imagine getting my hands on window displays in stores in the city capital to create narratives and worlds which utilize the displays of the store.

What ways do you think artists can apply their talents to create diverse opportunities and reach new audiences?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Free Up

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

I want to be able to speak about Art in whatever way I choose. I wan to use media and the internet in the way it was meant to be used: freely for all. With SOPA and Protect IP this wouldn't always be possible. How do you feel about this?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Art Student at the Zoo

The zoo as a place to encourage creativity, is rich in intriguing delights. There are so many animals from the region and far overseas which literally become captive subjects. Apart from the obvious socialization and entertainment students of art can engage in with their peers and the animals, it is also a great method of expanding life drawing skills.

Two days ago, I went to the Kyoto Zoo and reminisced about my own art school days when we had a chance to leave the studios to go and sketch skylines and foliage at Hope Gardens in Kingston. Just as the university students of Kyoto made their way in groups to each exhibit, we also wandered the grounds of Hope Zoo to capture in quick studies, the movements of our small collection of wild animals. Many of us on those trips improved the fluidity of our line and growing confidence as artists.

I wanted to write about this zoo visit partly out of nostalgia for those days and with the hope that it will encourage us to find creative benefit in life that we don't usually study. The other reason is what occurred to me as I observed the students sketching the animals in two particular exhibits.

The brown bear was a large mammal who though fascinating as a subject,on looking closer, had very little standing room in his area. There was a large enough pool for him but in the freezing Winter climate, it did not look at all inviting. There were also high structures for climbing but the actual flat standing room was barely enough for him to turn in. I noticed this while the student was sketching. The next exhibit was a shock for me because though I have spent hours fascinated by them on YouTube, I had never seen this animal in life before.

On entering The Zoo's Ape Sanctuary I came immediately face to face with The lone Silverback gorilla peering at the students with his face pressed up to the glass. There was an invaluable interaction between the gorilla and students that would undoubtedly produce very animated drawings but immediately I couldn't stand to see the animal's face as he sat inside a concrete enclosure not much bigger than my first apartment.

It was very hard after that to objectify the animal as a willing model when I knew that this wasn't the case. Undoubtedly zoos are great resources but in keeping with newer thought about how we understand ourselves in relation to our fellow animals I wonder about the reasons we have zoos.
In thinking about whether it was the existence of the zoo or the way the animals were housed that bothered me, I realized it was the latter.

Newer zoos concepts are more like wildlife parks such as Twycross Zoo or Whipsnade Zoo in the UK. This concept makes me feel a bit more comfortable with holding animals in captivity as we can see them in close to wild habitats and social groups. Our understanding will not be limited to the capture of animals for amusement purposes only but for fostering respect for our fellow creatures. I can also remember in my art school zoo visits where particularly empathetic students would leave saddened by the state of the two lions at Kingston's own zoo.

What do you think about the zoo as a place for drawing? Do you have memories of drawing live animals?