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Fitzwilliam Harries 2012

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4: Tanning Girls

5: Beach Bums

6: Bliss

7: Retired Ladies

8: Nude

9: Fishing

10: Tobago Lagoon

11: Petit Trou Point

12: Savannah Departure

13: Wine Time

14: Red Canna Lily

15: Savannah Pinks

16: Ajoupa Garden

17: Young Poui

18: Botanical Flambouyant

19: Mille Fleurs Cry

20: Tobago Croton

21: Pink & Red Torches

22: Red Fig

23: Fuschia Oleander

24: Mayaro Seine

25: Young Coconuts

26: Seagrapes Again

27: Jug of Gingers

28: Croton and Rio

29: Cocoa Shed

30: Wild Fowl Trust 1

31: Plantation View

32: Purple Patrea

33: Petit Trou

34: Wild Fowl Trust 2

35: Tobago Plantation

36: Red Croton

37: Red Cocoa

38: Canna Lillies

39: Lily Pads & Wild Fowl Trust

40: The End of the Seine

41: Ixoras on the Lagoon

42: Central Landscape

43: Red Heliconia

44: Seagrapes

45: Shady Araceae

46: Pineapples 1

47: Pineapples 2

48: Pineapples 3

49: Pineapples 4

50: Wild Flower Park

51: Red Coconut

52: San Antonio Ruin

53: Cordyline

54: Peeping Reds

55: Bamboo Lights


68: The Paintings of Bev Fitzwilliam Harries By Lawrence Waldron, Ph.D. September 2012 | Why are there lavender shadows on fresh green grass? Why is the sky behind Mille Fleurs that impenetrable red? The answer is not a singular one. Part of that answer is a combination of an artist’s knowledge of colour theory on one hand and nearly unbridled emotional impulse on the other. Bev Fitzwilliam Harries is an expressionist—a painter who shoots from the heart when it comes to colour albeit with a kind of trained spontaneity. Hers are not “realistic” colours but emotional ones. The sky over the Magnificent Seven is not actually the colour of the Red House, but is figuratively red as Mille Fleurs (and Boissiere House) are threatened by the collective, bloodied axes of developers who lust to tear them down and put up poured concrete hotels. The shadows on the green grass are hues of purple because in the blazing noontide sun of the Caribbean, if you look at a thing then shut your eyes you can still see the thing on the backs of your eyelids but with the colours inverted—so that a sour green becomes a serious mauve. And if you then filter that vision through your longing for the shade, the colours might shift yet again to a purplish colour at once cool but light, promising even a soothing fragrance—like lavender. | Purple Patrea

69: In theory, Fitzwilliam is not so much a painter of complementary colours (i.e., opposing colours like yellow-green and mauve) but a triadic painter. Her palette typically consists of triplets of colours located equidistant on the colour wheel that art teachers make their university students create and study in their first year: true yellow meets ultramarine blue meets true red; an orange meets a turquoise verging on Prussian blue and then collides with a maroon; a sour green meets a bluish purple then meets a red verging on orange. But her colours are always a little off this perfect colour arithmetic, like a garden growing a little wild, and charming in the process. So in her painting “Seagrapes” the violets in the ‘violet-green-orange’ triad vibrate between blues and reds, dazzling like that blinding illusion on one’s sunburnt retinas; the greens vibrate between that of a young mango and the pale cerulean of shallow seawater; and the orange dips in and out of deep hibiscus red. | Colour Wheel painted by British entomologist Moses Harris in the 18th century and adopted by colour theorists in the subsequent century. | Seagrapes

70: As with many Trinidadian artists, the development of Fitzwilliam’s education as a painter can be traced back to her schooling abroad. In her case, these foundational years were the three spent at Fanshawe College of Applied Arts & Technology in Ontario, Canada back in the late 1970s. In Trinidad, university level training in the visual arts (whether applied arts or art history) has never reached the degree-granting level of Jamaica’s Edna Manley College or Cuba’s and Puerto Rico’s Artes Plásticas institutes. Even founding members of the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago such as Sybil Atteck back in the early twentieth century had to migrate to receive their foundation training and sadly this has not changed as contemporary artists such as Christopher Cozier and Dean Arlen can attest. Since her college years as a painting major in Canada, the ever-curious Fitzwilliam has diversified her knowledge of art techniques at a variety of watercolour, ceramic and other workshops in Canada, Trinidad and Barbados, giving her increasing insight into her own theory of colour, light and texture. Fitzwilliam’s ‘mad’ colours are thus anchored in a theoretical method known to trained artists such as herself, but of course with her own masterful departures and flourishes—the artistic license of one of Trinidad and Tobago’s finest and highly regarded nature painters. | The ‘mad’ use of colour is a distinctly modern approach and earned its earliest exponents the name “Fauves” (i.e., Wild Beasts) in early 20th century France and Germany. But while the Fauves imposed irrational colours on the otherwise drab urban environments and wintry forests of Western Europe, Fitzwilliam has seen at least some of her ‘mad’ colours with her own eyes in the riotous tropical environment that she pursues in her landscapes, still lives and occasional figure paintings. Hers is not as ‘beastly’ a departure from representational colour as that of, say, Andre Derain’s kaleidoscopic paintings of the otherwise monochromatic Thames River. Fitzwilliam’s project involves a more equitable exchange between her florid Caribbean environment and her passionate response thereto. She straddles the empirical and the emotional. Nevertheless, the horizontal painting “Wild Flower Park” is quite reminiscent in its colours and design of Fauve works that Sybil Atteck might have seen during her studies with the German Expressionists. And a painting such as “Red Fig” or “Red Cocoa” is as wild a beast as any in its complete substitution of leaf green with red, sky blue with pale yellow or bark brown with blue. | Wild Flower Park

71: Unlike the early twentieth century Fauves, Fitzwilliam paints in acrylics not oils. The quick-drying quality of these coloured polymers lends itself readily to the artist’s plein air approach. She sets up somewhere in nature, paints for a few hours, and finishes before the light changes too much. She can sit in the Savannah, capture a particular moment in her quick-drying pigments, toss the dirty brush water in a drain, and be on her way without smudging a still-wet painting. Her concern with capturing the ephemeral qualities of daylight is evident in paintings such as the architectural “San Antonio,” and the landscapes “Petit Trou” and “Purple Patrea”. Her almost Monet-like, Impressionist refusal to use black paint causes even her shadows to have an inner life, much like the midday shadows of the Caribbean that find themselves assaulted by reflected light from all sides. In addition to their plein air expedience, the bold, somewhat flatter colours of acrylics lend themselves to the partial abstraction that can result from Fitzwilliam’s painterly technique, one which revels in the buttery qualities of opaque paint and the lyrical trails of brush hairs. This is painting that doesn’t seek to fool the eye with convincing naturalism but rather encourages the viewer to enjoy the presence of the paint, and the instantaneous decisions and confident brush-craft by which marks were laid down. | Red Fig | Red Cocoa

72: Assisting, and sometimes containing all this wild colour is a lively sense of composition wherein intersecting diagonals and curves are often pressed together and/or cut off by tight framing. In paintings such as “Croton and Rio” and “Shady Araceae” one has the choice to let the eyes scroll around endlessly in the vibrating picture, like a bachac ant who has lost his way, or expand our view through imagination to some greater landscape of which this is simply a busy little corner. A particularly beautiful example of these internally rambling landscape close-ups is “Central Landscape” which deftly evokes the soft hills of Central Trinidad even though they are painted purple and barely visible through stands of boundary plants. Only still lives, such as “Pink and Red Torches” and Red Heliconia,” even attempt to fix us for any time on a featured object, even though these too derive tension and movement from the asymmetrical location of the subject and myriad shadows and/or reflections. | Croton & Rio

73: There is a rugged angularity in the forms of Fitzwilliam’s subjects, not at all geometric but rather heavy and robust in the manner of wood-carvings or ceramic sculpture. This is because the artist draws directly on the canvas with her paintbrush rather than fussing with pencils or charcoal beforehand. The thick, sometimes shaky outline can give a “Cordyline” or “Canna Lily” a slightly macabre quality despite its exuberant chroma—not unlike an old-time Carnival costume. Surrounded by the works of Fitzwilliam, one is eventually struck by the red under-painting that lurks beneath her images, peeping out from around the edge of leaf or palm frond here or down in the shadows of a tree or even a breaking wave there. The artist explains that she primes her canvases red as a mid-tone and builds paintings out of this unusual base colour, going lighter or darker than red as the need arises. Thus, red is used to inspire and anchor the wild colours that ‘ramajay’ on top of it. | Central Landscape

74: Painting nature in the Caribbean is a decision to court or cleverly avoid cliché. The 19th century Caribbean painters, such as Michel Jean Cazabon in Trinidad and Estéban Chartrand in Cuba, helped to construct notions of nationhood around the depiction of the landscape, its flora, fauna and native people. Since then, landscapes, and nature painting in general, have often been mired in a stagnant nostalgia which at once longs for a picaresque simplicity that can be described politically as “colonial” and adopts the foreign gaze of the tourist or visitor, with the aim of enticing disposable dollars from those very foreigners through visual pretensions of quaintness. One need only ask oneself whether pastel-coloured paintings of the Eiffel tower hang in the Louvre or on aluminium easels on the tourist-beaten streets of Paris to know which category many Caribbean landscapes fall into. Certainly, when the Eiffel Tower was still new, Delaunay and others rendered masterful cubistic paintings and drawings of its novel, mechanistic monstrosity but the umpteenth revisit to the Eiffel by any fairly capable painter more than a century hence falls squarely under the umbrella of kitsch. So painting landscapes, forest interiors, and florals is a chancy decision in our blossom-strewn, bromeliad-crowned, vine-draped, tourist-beaten Caribbean. Here the painter becomes the mongoose flirting with the fangs of ‘nature cliché.’ | Cordyline

75: Perhaps more than any others Caribbean and Chinese nature painters always hazard these paralysing fangs as they tackle well-trodden nature topics in well-established painting techniques in a visual tradition that has arguably helped to defined the art traditions at home and abroad. The productions in this tradition can meet with great, contested or middling success, but sometimes also with terribly uninteresting results. The danger of paralysis is not necessarily a reason to be daunted. The contemporary nature paintings of some Caribbean artists, such as Fitzwilliam and Jamaica’s Judy Ann MacMillan for example, manage to explore light, time, surface quality, expression, and even allegory and symbolism permitting us a glance of Caribbean nature’s unending promise for those who would bring an un-jaded, piercing gaze. Why oughtn’t a painter flirt with the fangs of cliché to continue ennobling this tradition? In conversations with the artist, one discovers immediately that Bev Fitzwilliam is quite aware of the traditions to which she belongs as an Expressionistic Caribbean nature painter. So it is not with the ahistorical innocence of a “nave” that Bev Fitzwilliam braves, or perhaps disregards, the cutlass edge between the sometimes-studious, sometimes-intuitive exploration of Caribbean nature and the weather-beaten path of the quaint ‘tourist painting.’ Rather it is with the wisdom of an experienced woodsman that she beats a path through the familiar edges of the bush to bring back something wilder. | Lawrence Waldron is an exhibiting artist, and an instructor of art history and studio art at St. John's and the City University of New York. He has published and presented at conferences several essays on the arts of the ancient Americas, the colonial and modern Caribbean, Asia, and Islamic Spain and Africa. He is currently conducting research on the residential architecture, musical history and art history of Trinidad and Tobago alongside his ongoing general research on Pre-Columbian Caribbean art.

76: Trinidad Guardian "The Talk of Trinidad"

77: front cover of October's issue of THE NORTHERLY

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  • Title: Fitzwilliam Harries 2012
  • Art Exhibition at the Art Society of TT on 25th October to 3rd November
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