My work has always had an autobiographical element. It can be in the foreground but can also have a more subtle role.
This dates back to my MA at Camberwell School of Art. My entire body of work produced over two years was a visual diary of my life.
These pieces are often personal and are very rarely for sale.
I have documented all aspects of my life. I have explored themes that include; ancestry, family, motherhood, sexuality, everything else between.
My hope is that people can look at this work and relate to aspects of it as our shared experiences.
I’ve been drawing myself for a year now and I wanted it to culminate in some paintings. I didn’t want to go down a completely traditional route so I am playing around various ideas and compositions.
Painting portraits that say a bit more about me than just my face.
Me, Me, Me
Conversations With Family Passed and Present
‘Conversations with Family Passed and Present’. Started as the quest to find myself in the faces of my family. I didn’t realise it would become more than that.
Painting family has meant, introspection, reflection and retrospection.
I can see the characteristics that we share, is there more? Time spent painting them enables new dialogues to take place. It is a reconnection. Bringing forgotten memories and relationships back into my life in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
I always thought I’d never paint pictures of my children as it’s just not something I’d find interesting. Until I did.
I’m capturing moments of normal life. ‘Cheeky Choppers’ was done on request. They have decided that they want one each of the three of them.
I’ll probably produce them alongside my other projects as they are good to work on whilst I’m waiting for paint to dry.
I’m trying to apply similar mark making that I use in my abstract work. Trying to simplify yet create the illusion of detail.
Black Lives Matter
During the first Lockdown I was horrified by the murder of George Floyd. I felt moved to make some new pieces to capture that moment in time.
The first image I made was the ‘Rising Tide’. Even in a global pandemic there was an uprising. It also reflected back on history and the voices that had been drowned out. On close inspection you will see the faces of strong black voices, and those lost to racist violence. Those two things often overlap.
‘Get Up, Stand Up’ was about the protests happening all over the world. This image incorporates actual signs from protests that took place.
‘Catch A Fire’ depicts the impact that can be felt from people who anonymously post racist comments online.
‘False Profits’ is dealing with the loss of life through slavery, each white cross denotes 10,000 lives.
The statues were all in the news at the time of Rhodes, Churchill, and Colston, they appear as shadowy figures above.
I also included images of African royalty as often they were also taken to be slaves. The history lost is unfathomble.
This work is an extension of my Blackground project.
Blackground – A Discovery Of Identity
True story, when I was at school I used to say that I was half-caste (not the politically correct term these days). I’m not, but people believed me. I thought that if I could be half white then I would be accepted in my predominantly white school. It worked to a certain extent and I was. I think that should tell you something. Even black people didn’t believe I was black. Admittedly I am quite light skinned but that’s just genetics for you.
Thinking about this body of work began when Isaac my son was born. It was important to us that he had both of our surnames. I’d always known that my surname had a dark past but somehow it didn’t really register. I even knew that on the island of St Kitts where my parents are from the phone book is half full of people who have the surname James.
I scratched the surface last year when I produced a triptych called ‘Life Archipelago’ an autobiographical piece that started to look back at my own history but it only went as far as my grandparents.
When I first put pencil to paper I was too raw. I had too much to say and not having a clear idea about how I wanted to say it. It was like having all channels trying to play at equal volume at the same time. This was as a result of reading books and a series of articles about race, St Kitts and its history. I should add talking to my dad. Our family history has been a closed subject, my grandmother refused to ever discuss it. This meant that we only ever knew what we actually lived if that makes sense. What happened before was not up for discussion. When my late aunt attempted a family tree many years ago it caused such huge problems that it was quickly forgotten and never spoken of again.
That being said having all this new found knowledge resulted in an outpouring of all the ideas being merged together almost. It was then that I realised that in order to make something remotely coherent it would mean slowing down to a certain extent. The fervour has had a benefit though it allows me to think more abstractly about the work.
Some of the symbols that recur throughout are from my own personal visual dictionary if you like, the others are from Nigeria and the African continent. There are also a few that were found on St Kitts left by the indigenous tribes that predate slavery on the island.
The work has become all encompassing, as there are so many things that are linked together. It’s when you look back that you start to remember things that you had almost completely forgotten. Obviously when you look further back you discover things that you never knew. It has also led me to ask a lot more questions. The work I have produced is part autobiographical, historical, documentary, exploratory and my own feelings about a variety of issues surrounding race.
It is by no means at an end as there are gaps that need to be filled; I need to spend some time reflecting on how I want to develop it. I want my children to be proud of their African heritage as well as their Anglo/Irish. I also want them to understand it and that knowledge is power.
If you got this far then well done.
Our Journey to 5
How do you draw the thing that changed your life forever?
It took me a few years to think about exactly how I was going to do it. I didn’t want to simply draw pictures of my children, I wanted to dig a bit deeper than that. Explore the emotions we felt, the highs and the lows.
There may not be many instantly recognisable images but they do reflect our journey.
I deliberately chose to work in HB pencil as I wanted to use a simple medium to capture something incredibly complex.
Each drawing represents a stage of the process, including the before and after. I hope that these drawings will resonate with anyone who has had a similar experience and that they also stand on their own as beautiful drawings.