Estelle Thompson: In Deep

Please join us for the opening of Estelle Thompson’s exhibition of
recent paintings on Saturday 11th December from 7 – 10 am.

The exhibition runs 11th December 2021 to 15th January 2022.

The materiality of abstraction: a response to paintings by Estelle Thompson.

The Caribbean is a place of migration, both inwards and outwards. Artists too migrate to study abroad, and sometimes they don’t come back. Or they establish themselves at home while still seeking the endorsement of being shown overseas. Estelle Thompson, a British artist who migrates regularly between London and Barbados, recently found herself a pandemic refugee on the island, properly resident for over a year. What happens when you move from an environment where you are well-known and highly regarded as a painter, a lecturer in a leading London art school, a gallerist/curator, to a place where in a sense you start again, minus the apparatus of a professional life in art? The paintings Estelle has made in Barbados since 2019 are a partial answer to that question.

In London, there are galleries and shows on a scale a small place can’t match; the history of western art is all around you, new work is easily accessible. But if you’re an artist you’re never parted from your seeing eye, from the power of looking and meditating on what you’re looking at. In Barbados, Estelle is part of a large extended family, has a house, studio and garden. She’s at home, but always with that seeing eye that might be an outsider’s eye, or might just be an artist’s eye. Or maybe the two are the same thing: what art can do for us is show us new ways of looking at the world, different ways of seeing what’s been dulled by familiarity.

While Estelle was sequestered in Barbados I had the opportunity to see things many times through her eyes. Walking on Cattlewash beach, I watched how she compulsively picked up and examined bits of fishing net, shells, driftwood, flotsam and jetsam that had washed up. Picnicking on Bath beach as dusk shaded to darkness, I saw through her eyes how barbeque flames illuminated the silhouettes of trees. Sitting on her verandah we watched the moon cycle through the dark sky. Over and over again, swimming at Batts Rock, we watched together the changing colours of sky and water, cloud formations on clear evenings, the bruised look of an approaching storm, the haze of Sahara dust, the scatter of raindrops on sand. She loved snorkelling on the reef, examining corals and fish in the filtered light of sun striking through the surface of the sea. ‘I love a good rainbow,’ she said.

At the house she shares with husband and fellow artist, Dennis de Caires, restless hands have been at work wherever you look. In the kitchen, on a shelf where you might expect a row of spices, Amerindian shards and stone tools, found on the beach, are carefully arranged. Black and white shells sit in front of two small paintings, a series of smooth white stones are arranged in ascending size next to a tangle of driftwood. Ordinary things, organised a certain way, turn into art objects or miniature installations. Other found objects – bits of coloured plastic, broken fragments of larger unrecognisable things – are strung or woven into mobiles and hung against a white wall. Scraps of cloth of different sizes, colours, shapes are arranged in elaborate collages.

Downstairs, beneath the house, the two artists paint in their adjoining studios. If upstairs a child-like spirit of play is at work, here is all concentrated energy, patient mixing of colours, a single-minded application to the task in hand. Estelle tells me how, experimenting with a cobalt-violet paint, she painted a surface sixty times before it was right. How since the arrival on the island of volcanic ash from the St Vincent Soufrière eruption, she’s been collecting ash to make into paint. How early in her career she had to evolve her own way of laying on paint, using rollers to avoid brushstrokes, so as to bring out the shimmer and luminosity she’s aiming for. So as to release the light. ‘What I love about painting is that when you stand with a painting you experience the light of the world,’ she says.

The paintings on her studio walls, mostly on wood, range from small (8 x 6 inches) through larger oblongs (16 x 12 inches) to her characteristic large panels (7 x 2 feet). I tell Estelle I’m drawn to the exquisite shading and bleeding of horizontal bands of colour in one of the small paintings. That the slightly larger paintings divided into geometric grids don’t affect me so emotionally. She looks at them in silence for a moment. ‘Yes, those are lyrical,’ she says, ‘but geometry is spiritual.’

Estelle is an abstract artist, for whom horizontal and vertical, geometric grids, scarring and bruising of surfaces to create apertures, slits, holes, cuts or wounds in the surface, are a language full of meaning. How does someone who isn’t an artist, for whom geometry is a sweaty memory of set squares and protractors, very far from spiritual – how is that person to look at her paintings? In an essay on her work, the art critic Tony Godfrey suggests, ‘Part of  the experiencing of a painting is to imagine yourself as the painter, retracing his or her steps.’ Estelle herself tells me she distrusts the term ‘abstraction’, not only because its masculine history imposes an expectation but also because she feels she’s working with ‘materiality’ and reality.

Bearing this in mind, we can see the works on show at the Brighton Storeroom – under the title In Deep - as Estelle’s response to the materiality of her time in Barbados. Here perhaps, she’s been able to indulge a long-repressed longing for landscape (as Tony Godfrey observes), to distil its multifarious forms into light and colour. Six 7 x 2 foot paintings are hung exactly 32 and a half inches apart on plain white walls. In four of them - Paradise To Freshwater, Red (Munsell) Blue, The Grey Line and Nurture Nature - two vibrant blocks of contrasting colour are centrally divided by a horizontal line. Paradise To Freshwater names two of Barbados’s most beautiful beaches, suggesting movement between them, a walk along the sand with the sea at your elbow, reaching to the horizon. Another of these paintings, For Amélie’s Eyes, is divided into exact thirds, while in Black Rock Nox the dividing line cuts off the top third, like a section of night sky seen from a verandah. In some of the works the colour appears to be matte, some show the texture of the board they’re painted on, but they all exude light. In art terms, ‘horizontal’ is also called ‘landscape’. Is it too literal then to see these paintings as distillations of landscape, in a setting where horizon is all around one? Where every view is suffused with colour, presenting vivid contrasts of light and shade?  

In only one of the large paintings - AKA Minus Green - is the line vertical (or ‘portrait’): two upright bands or bars of different shades of pink. I think immediately of a local landscape painter, Alison Chapman-Andrews, and her use of royal palms as a motif, a framing device for a vista, or in extreme close-up abstracted into line and colour. The way in Estelle’s painting the darker band of pink seems to step forward, thrusting the paler band to one side, makes me think of the trunks of royal palms, so close as to leave no space between them.  

On the third wall I spot the small (8 x 12 inch) painting I fell in love with in the studio. The almost imperceptible shading of fuzzy-at-the-edges whitish, pinkish purplish gradation looked to me like mist on a horizon. Now I see that its title is Moot, an archaic word meaning open to contention, unclear, pointing to a mistiness of perception, a place where definition ends. Then there’s a pair of 16 x 12 inch paintings, Green Flash and Dust To Dust, each with a sort of horizon line, one four inches from the bottom, one four inches from the top. In Green Flash, horizontal bands of colour bleed into each other, from a deep magenta at base, through vibrant pink to pale yellow and a washed out blue that darkens into the colour of dusk. The title refers to an optical phenomenon that occurs at sunset in the Caribbean, at the moment the sun slips below the horizon. In the painting, a slender aperture of white runs across the pink: as if the sun had just fallen through a horizontal slit, leaving the sky ablaze with every colour - but green. It’s a moment of waiting, of suspended breath, during which the light plays tricks with the eyes. The title of its companion painting, Dust To Dust, evokes a funerary ritual, reminding us of mortality. Mostly white with slight scuffing, it’s as if either the sun’s brilliance had drained all colour from the scene, or as if dust itself had taken over the space of the panel. Finally, on its own on the fourth wall is Soufre Souffler for S K, a small (16 x 8 inch) vertical painting, in which the use of volcanic ash, which covered Barbados in a pall of white, has produced a whitish surface spotted and textured like eggshell.

It seems important to pay attention to the dimensions of Estelle’s paintings because they’ve been so carefully calculated, and because they link the works together, large and small, in one long repeating note. If you’re not an abstract painter, if like me you can’t help looking for something representational, you’ll always see a horizon, or a foreground and a background. Music might be a better filter: as in jazz, the paintings riff off each other, improvising on a theme, circling and returning in an endless recurrence. Like the waves at Batts Rock, there are eddies, swirls and occasional big swells, but under it all the ceaseless rhythm of the tide.

Jane Bryce

Tessa Whitehead John Cox: Life’s Balance

Please join us for the opening of Tessa Whitehead and
John Cox’s exhibition Saturday 24th July 2021 from 7 - 11 am

An exhibition of paintings and drawings by Bahamian artists
Tessa Whitehead and John Cox

No One Would Ever Know Without Asking or Being Told!

Years ago I recall a conversation I had with a faculty member at The University of the Bahamas. He was an Anglican priest as well as a professor in the School of Social Science. He explained to me the reason the parishioners processed counterclockwise while preparing fo communion was to pay tribute to the ancestors. This simple yet deliberate gesture during the mass had a specific meaning that no one would ever know without asking or being told. It’s these little moments within traditional customs that reveal so much. Whether it be something common like going to church, cooking a meal, exercising, raising children or doing chores around the house; these day to day activities all inform a greater sense of who we are
and how we fit into a larger context.

I was never good at school or anything that people who were taken seriously were good at.  I always needed alternative ways to see and process information and ideas. I remember being terrified in high school that I would fail every test I took and subsequently be labelled lazy or no intelligent. I took US history and was mortified by the volume of content I needed to digest. No being strong reader I countered by listening very attentively to discussions in class and took more notes than anyone. So much so that my instructor ended up grading my note book instead of my exams. He mentioned that I had paid more attention to his lectures than most and that had to count for something.

Thirty years later I see myself relating to my environment not unlike how I remember relating to that US history class. At times overwhelmed and intimidated by the complexity of what is going on around me I still navigate things by paying close attention, listening and taking notes. I feel
like both Tessa and I in many respects see value in keen observation of our surroundings. Our practices overlap in the sense we both produce work as a form of note taking - a kind of exploring and reflecting at the same time.

The art world is filled with so many standards of tradition, perfection and excellence. So much so we can find ourselves erased from the notion ‘perfection’ where the ‘ideal’ replaces the personality. How we know we were here is marked by how we respond to these standards and expectations. It is our flaws that define us, free us and ultimately save us. We act in accordance to these mythological backdrops of our culture and live juxtaposed with principals of our own history.

Tessa’s exploration of her history, environments and tendencies is one that both abandons the ideas of perfection while simultaneously achieving it. Her work like few others in the region screams of raw experience, color, texture, tension, stories and commentary while paying little attention - at least on the surface - to any of these things. Her mastery of composition and intuitive gestures suggest a playfulness on top but possess a much deeper commentary on Caribbean life and where she fits and contributes into it significantly lingers in her work. Her work invites/encourages you to take notes on what otherwise would be overwhelming complex.

My work looks at history through the lens of this environment in broad and simple terms. I never feel validated by curators or academics but do think for some, the contributions I’ve made offer a window into an honest human experience. An experience that might allow for one to insert one’s self into the make believe narratives of balance, service and perseverance that my work investigates. Like Tessa, I think we both place value on memory and our own unique experiences to find traction and context within a broader cultural conversation.

Narratives and symbols are borrowed from knowledge both observed and told to us. It’s combination of these ideas that create the essence of the work. Right and wrong doesn’t exist, because somewhere in between is where ‘it’ all lives, and somehow shapes the reality that make our art ‘work’. Its not the perfect doctrine that saves you, its how we observe and respond to the relevant parts.

It is our flaws and imperfections that enable us to find meaning in our own histories and experiences. Like the meaning in the counterclockwise procession in the Anglican mass so do we find religion in falling figures and leafy bushes.

John Cox,  July 2021

Alison Chapman-Andrews’ Exhibition, Big Gully Pond is open to visit from April 10th 2021 through June 2021
Every Saturday 7am - 10am or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

Click to view list of works with notes by the artist

Big Gully Pond 

My visits to Barbadian gullies have led from one work to another and the have become one of my main influences. The paintings shown are the latest works that resulted from repeated visits to one particular gully at Layne Bridge near Sugar Hill village, that I named Sugar Hill Gully. It was natural, untouched in a land cleared for sugar cane. The magic of this place has stayed with me and it has become the centre of my painting world.
This series is the result of cutting and sketching in my sketchbook from a small black and white photo - taken from a car window.

Included in this exhibition are four small paintings Gully Pond. The main elements for the larger works were chosen and develope from them; simplified, played with and altered, resulting in three large developments called Big Gully Pond, Variation 1, 2 and 3. The “pond” itself was a stream, on my first time discovering this gully, in 1993, but the owners bulldozed and dammed it for irrigation. In Gully Pond 1 the zig zag shape of the
stream is shown with inviting, soft green banks where small boys once lay and caught cray fish in the stream. Overhead, two branches with flowers grow from a triangular tangle of branches and leaves. On either edge are two palm trees again with triangular decoration and a climbing vine. A very romantic scene, lost in later versions… I’m pleased to say.

To me, the two outside trees in this series are palm trees. Over the years the painted trunk developed from a recognizable tree to a trunk that cuts the picture from top to bottom. A dividing shape. In all these paintings it has both a cylindrical solid form and a flat thin silhouette which maybe a shadow. These ‘trees” divide the picture into two or three openings where the view beyond is seen.

Apart from the trees, the main elements are the green triangle representing the tangle of leaves and branches and the blue of the water in the bottom half, with a reflection of the green form and the web of branches. In the final variation the centre tree has disappeared and the landscape behind seen.

Thanks to the painting of Ras Akyem that I own, that taught me the scratching technique and to assistant Marcos for splashing on the orange spots, varnishing and edging.

Alison Chapman-Andrews, April 2021

PAST PRESENT FUTURE is open to visit from November 14th 2020 through January 2021
Every Saturday 8am - 10.30am or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

A Guided Talk With Kraig Yearwood
Please join us for a guided talk with Kraig Yearwood around his new show, This Is How Our Garden Grows. There will also be a screening of a short film with Kraig Yearwood interviewed by artist and writer Katherine Kennedy.
Saturday 10 - 11am, 10 October 2020.

Kraig Yearwood’s solo exhibition, This Is How Our Garden Grows, Opening night reception 5.30 - 7.30pm Sunday September 19th 2020  
Open to visit from September 26th 2020 | every Saturday 8am - 12pm or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

Kraig Yearwood: This is how our garden grows

Life, earth, nation, enclosure, plot, property, recreation, nourishment, self-sufficiency, primordial Eden, touristic paradise, the human as the enemy of nature, the human as nature: the connotations and interpretive leads of “our garden” in the title of Kraig Yearwood’s new body of works are numerous and, appropriately enough, fertile.

Whereas Yearwood’s previous production has tended towards the auto-biographical, the scope of these recent works - most of which were created during the lockdown – is as universal as the occasion calls for. The shadow of Covid hovers over them all with horizontal strips and lines alluding to the 6’ social distancing protocol. Alongside skulls, masks, thorns, barriers, first-aid gear and other 6’ allusions (this time vertical), they speak to the sense of precariousness and vulnerability, which – in the wickedly compounded context of Covid, climate change and Black Lives Matter - has enveloped us all, and yet is so individually felt.For all their references to mortality – and (impossibly) to being dead - the works are nevertheless meditative and poetic. The pandemic has wreaked havoc with our lives and put a question mark over some of the most ingrained expectations of modern life, but for a moment it also slowed the world down and presented a unique opportunity for existential reckoning and recalibration. While the show’s title contains an oblique reprimand for our collective management of the ‘garden’, the series itself documents the uneasy process of coming to terms with a condition – widely anticipated in the context of climate change, but no less shocking in its early arrival - defined by unexpected hazards and altered horizons.

Yearwood’s one-man garden-paradise-prison is thus haunted by a sense of anxiety, loss and sneaking paranoia. Hints at unnatural barriers, potential contamination and the twisted fear of both closeness and isolation, however, give way to astonishingly lyrical imagery, where the naked, vulnerable figure seems at peace with his surroundings, where endangered alveoli double up as budding flowers (or vice versa) and the human becomes part of a larger ecosystem – though the separation between the conscious and dreaming self has also become fluid.

The dreamlike quality of some works does indeed reflect the common sense of disbelief and yearning to be released from what feels like a prolonged state of unreality. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the figure of a falling man caught between sleep and wakefulness in the two “Hypnagogic” pieces (“Head” and “The Fall”). Yet, as much as it evokes the sudden sense of falling in a dream, the man’s splayed position in mid-air also registers as a lasting global embrace. Between the arc of the earth in “Head” and his surrender to the soil (or imminent awakening) in “The Fall”, the figure’s plunge towards the garden – itself ever awake with bemused birds and sprouting plants – may therefore at once be seen as a metaphor for our suspended everyday lives, and as a parable of life’s journey, where the earth is both origin and destiny, and the garden everything that happens in-between.

Therese Hadchity, September 2020

‘The Blue’, our first post-lockdown exhibition. Opening night reception 5 - 7pm Sunday July 19th 2020  
Open to visit from July 25th 2020 | every Saturday 6.30 - 10.30 am or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

The Blue is based on the simple premise of looking at the way in which this primary colour is used by artists and designers in their work. The exhibition features an eclectic mix of paintings, collage and sculptures interspersed with items designed and employed in the everyday by established and emerging artists and designers from Barbados, Guyana, the Bahamas, and the wider region. Emerging artists Kraig Yearwood, Versia Abeda Harris, Llanor Alleyne, and Tessa Whitehead are shown alongside the more established Caroline Holder, Alison Chapman Andrews and Stanley Greaves. Designers from Barbados include Neil Barnard, Pauline Bellamy and the architect Paul Simpson beside photographers William Cummins and Sofie Warren. Strolling through the airy gallery, the visitor is presented with a collection that is certain to resonate with anyone who has lived in the Caribbean.  Paintings sing with the vibrant colours and subtle shifts in hues of various blue pigment. Other works, including the poem Blues by Derek Walcott invite deeper contemplation of the struggles and celebrations of life as seen from different points of view, genres, ethnicities and orientation. Objects luxuriate in the optical hit of block blue colour or potential emotional resonance elicited from various shades of blue.

Artists have long employed the colour blue to express different emotions.  Picasso famously depicted the world in melancholic shades of blue during his Blue Period, reflecting the financial and emotional turmoil he was experiencing at the time. Since antiquity to the Middle Ages, lapiz lazuli (a deep blue metamorphic rock) was mined and used in jewelry, mosaics and ornaments for its intense colour. Later ground to powder it became a prized pigment and one of the most expensive colours for Renaissance painters, like Titian who dressed the Madonna in blue robes. Spring forward to the 1960’s, when the French painter Yves Klein developed in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a new paint colour - International Klein Blue. How often the word blue is deployed in associations and sayings – blue chip, blue collar, the blues; as a gender signifier; within politics and world culture.

Estelle Thompson July 2020

Opening night reception 6 - 8pm Sunday February 16th 2020 Open to visit from February 22nd 2020 | every Saturday 6 - 10 am or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

Up Close

Recent Paintings by Bethany Pile

The eleven paintings on show here represent the first solo exhibition for Bethany Pile where her consummate skill in rendering oil paint has found new expression in a developed and singularly purposeful way. The Brighton Storeroom is especially proud to host this show as Pile has lived most of
her life not far from this very gallery.

In discussing one of the paintings shown here (Zöe 2019) Pile remembered her childhood beachcombing at Cattlewash where she selected and gathered a huge number of shells on her daily early morning walks, subsequently organising them into “collections’ at home. In re-discovering these bags of shells she recognised their powerful mnemoactive quality – a scientific term describing the sensory potential of a physical object to trigger memories – and incorporated them into the image of her friend, extending the notion of portraiture.

It is a characteristic of Pile’s work that what is first seen is not as straightforward as it appears. Titles are short and non-descriptive, suggesting that the artist’s intention is for these paintings to serve in a mnemonic way themselves, encouraging prompts for the viewer’s own memory linkages and individual interpretation.

Two critical aspects that distinguish her work are the careful editing that reconfigures original photographic source material and the sensitively reduced colour scheme; both of which serve to establish this elegant, compelling and engaging imagery.

Pile’s painting process is painstakingly time-consuming and her paintings slowly emerge. A discerning viewer may well detect that it is that time invested, and the love therein, that imbues these paintings with their magical quality.

Dennis de Caires, February 2020

Open to visit from November 2nd 2019 | every Saturday 6 - 10 am or by appointment | (246) 231-6775 / (246) 231-1901

The Brighton Storeroom copyright 2021