Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 2nd 2014 Contents B38
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 2, 2014
What's your fascination with
I ve had the same leather wallet
for 15 years, and I sometimes pull it
out just to look at it, the frayed edges,
loose threads, smoothed worn
leather. To me there is something
vital and beautiful in that.
Port-of-Spain, whose buildings
the poet and painter Sarah Beckett
describes in a poem as "insults flung
upon the landscape" are, to my
mind, in a constant state of flux, as
are many places in Trinidad.
There are so many buildings and
objects whose facades have the
imprint of the various stages of decay
Likewise, when I first walked up
the steps to 23b Sydenham Avenue
in St Ann s to look at a house, I later
dubbed "the jungalow," I knew this
was the place where I wanted to live
because it spoke to me in the same
way, that is, it was so beautifully
dilapidated it had an almost mystical
quality to it, being simultaneously
hidden by, and entangled with, the
local flora and fauna.
It took a whole year before cir-
cumstances conspired to let me move
in.And when I did, I converted a
room in the back to my studio, and
spent six years living and working
Not surprisingly, from the begin-
ning of our adventure there, it was
a case of, You re on your own , as
gently stated by my landlord and
later, friend, the painter Eddie Bowen.
And he treated the substantial prop-
erty largely the same way, so that
natural processes were allowed to
unfold; that is, the twin engines of
decay and regeneration were left to
exert their free will.
Two 150-foot trees crashed after
heavy rains, walls chipped and
cracked, a vine tree wrapped itself
around a cornerstone foundation
support, travelling up the structural
pillar, wrapping itself around it like
a snake, and forcing its way through
a structural beam and again, climbed
up, up, to the sky, growing some 30
feet above the eave of the building.
I sat under that tree in a chair on
my porch many times.
And there was virtually no attempt
to prevent, alter, or redirect these
phenomena, or improve upon the
circumstances that caused them.
It was largely a case of, to my
mind, an inroad to, and look at, the
Caribbean psyche. What a wonderful
And so, as I began to focus more
and more on my relationship with
decay, my gaze went out further and
further afield, to the north and east
coasts, to other objects, until I
realised I had a wonderful, if not
enigmatic theme for a show.
You've been working on this
series for two years now. How do
the newer pieces fit with the pre-
vious Decay pieces? Has there been
an evolution/devolution in style or
themes over the two years?
The show to me is complete. By
that I mean, I suppose, consistent.
There is a thread that ties all of
the paintings together, and yet
undoubtedly, each piece is different
from the last. But naturally, certain
paintings can and will be grouped
together by viewers.
So, for example, there are paintings
that have a quality of magic realism
to them based on the shapes and
colours I employed in the back-
ground, behind the decayed piece,
wherein I utilised bright colours and
fashioned rounded trees. In others
paintings I have used more somber
colours, like a grey moody sky with
dark green trees of a more anthro-
pomorphic type. In still other pieces
I used ships sunk at sea that have
differing night skies.
There are paintings where I was
interested by female shoes that I
found left, one near a crumbling
wall, another, a blue pair left next
to a burned down house in Blan-
chisseuse. And in others, I used
abandoned cars as a pretext to con-
vey the relationship between
decay/death and regeneration/life,
something that is a consistent thread
throughout the work.
Your experimental thermal imag-
ing pieces, the ninja drawings and
the Decay pieces shown on your blog
are all pencil, acrylic and oil pastel---
but used to very different effect.
What influences your choice of
media, and how you'll manipulate
those media, when working on a
I firmly believe in the adventure
of painting, and in truth each of the
bodies of work you mentioned all
had experimentation in them, and,
if you like, a degree of failure. But
failure only in as much as that led
me to the next step. So not failure
really, but a temporary, necessary
part of the process of discovery. Call
it a process of elimination.
The exciting part is, when I dis-
cover the technique I want to employ,
I can really then start to explore the
piece in much greater depth.
And it is a relationship of give and
take. That is, the more I study and
explore the piece I m working on,
the more I learn about what the piece
might have to offer, which may then
further galvanise or influence me
when contemplating and undertak-
ing the next piece, or next several
But in semi-literal terms, with the
Ninja series my son Gideon was
enamored for a time with dressing
up and play-acting a ninja.
Naturally I couldn t resist. So he
became my male muse.
With the thermal imaging I was
experimenting with a self-portrait,
using a photograph of my outline or
frame, seen from behind, with my
frame facing away looking at BRC
burglar proofing in my studio win-
dows. Somehow that evolved into
portraits of others---I think in part
due to my seeing a retrospective of
the painter Amy Sillman s work in
Boston, USA. I had never seen her
work before, but part of the retro-
spective was portraiture, and it must
have planted a seed in me, because
when I returned to Trinidad I figured
out a form of portraiture that suited
Now that the Decay series is
done---is it?---what's next?
I think the decay series, in large
part, has to be done in order to make
room for other ideas.
Having said that, I believe it is a
part of me and will be with me as
long as I breathe air. How and if it
will show up again is unknown to
me but in some ways, I hope it does-
n t show up for a while. It would
feel like I was cheating myself some-
how. But I also hope I don t cheat
myself out of the possibility of doing
something more with it too, if
that becomes somehow important
to me in the future.
The continuation of the thermal
portrait series is what is next for me
though. I ve completed six pieces
that satisfy me, and I am interested
in doing as many as 20. I think I ve
sort of set that as a target, and I ll
begin once I feel the time is right,
sometime in December 2014 I
Colourist Nicholas Emery has been working on his upcoming
exhibition Decay for the past two years. Born in T&T to US par-
ents, Emery, who grew up abroad, returned to live in this country
LISA ALLEN-AGOSTINI asked him, via e-mail, some questions
about his recent work.
Vive la mort
Decay runs from November
13--December 4 at Medulla Art
Gallery, 34 Fitt Street,
Two pieces from Nicholas Emery's
upcoming exhibition Decay.
PHOTOS COURTESY MELANIE ARCHER
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