Artist Keiba Jacob Mottley shows the Fabric of Life

The Fabric of Life is the title of Keiba Jacob Mottley's first solo exhibition at Arnim's Art Galleria, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain, until September 25. Photo by Sureash Cholai
The Fabric of Life is the title of Keiba Jacob Mottley's first solo exhibition at Arnim's Art Galleria, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain, until September 25. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Keiba Jacob Mottley sees the world in colour and texture. Her first solo exhibition, Fabric of Life, is testimony to that. The 40-year-old, self-taught artist's first solo exhibition is on display at Arnim's Art Galleria, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain, from September 11-25. It consists of 215 pieces but does not include her designs on garments and furniture.

Jacob Mottley, also known as Liana the Artist, is a procedural clerk at the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago and the curator of The Rotunda Gallery at the Red House, Port of Spain, where the work of TT artists is being displayed.

The majority of her work on display at Galleria spans 2018 to September 2, 2021. One of Jacob Mottley's pieces was also on display at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) during the 2019 Carifesta. While she always had an interest in art, she only took up painting five years ago. She said she took up painting because she wanted to start her own art collection.

A dress created from Keiba Jacob Mottley's art. Photo by Sureash Cholai

However, she could not afford anything."Everything that I saw, because I would see large abstract pieces...I love them...I love them, I could not afford it."So Jacob Mottley has made her art pieces as affordable as possible with prices ranging from $450 to $12,000. Mottley experimented with the sizes of her pieces so that someone could get paintings for $450 and she was "really proud and happy about that.""So people can get little things they can put in their homes." The St Joseph resident studied public sector management at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and while she never formally studied art, always had an appreciation for it.

Jacob Mottley would look at art and wish, "Oh Gosh, I wish I could do that." At that time, she was not brave enough to try. Five years ago, however, she walked into Arnim's Framing and Art Supply store then in Maraval, announced herself as an artist and she said was there to buy paint. They then asked, "What kind of paint do you want?" "I said, 'I don't know. I now starting.' Immediately, the night when I went home, I started painting and never stopped. I paint almost everyday."

Being a self-taught artist has been fun, she said. To learn, she looked at YouTube videos, read and spoke to local artists like Jackie Hinkson.

Fabric and texture are key elements of Keiba Jacob Mottley's solo exhibition the Fabric of Life. Her work is reproduced on garments and furniture as seen here. Photo by Sureash Cholai

"Most of the artists I reached out to...they were willing to speak with me," she said. For her, it was a five-year experiment during which she crafted her own style and it was also an escape where she was able to get away from everything else. Her ability and skill do not fit in with the norm in terms of being able to draw or do figuartive work, she said. Nine months after she took up painting, her work was part of the Women in Art exhibition in 2017.

She started painting on October 31, 2016, recalling the exact date. Her colourful paintings are also transferred to fabric which is used in garments and furniture. Her work is also heavily textured, she added. At the CXC-level, Jacob Mottley did clothing and textiles and had the additional benefit of seeing her grandmother and aunt sew. She sews as well.

"That creative element, in terms of tye-dye and batik and those kinds of things, I experimented with as a child. But not the drawing and painting," she said. Fabric features heavily in her work. Her favourite is raw silk and it was incorporated into the framing of some her pieces and one of her dresses in the exhibition. "I like it because there is something called slubs on it...and it is really little imperfections but it adds character to the fabric and gives it a little texture."

The national colours red, white and black also feature prominently in Keiba Jacob Mottley's art. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Jacob Mottley loves fabric so much that she can easily become lost in a fabric store or a cloth store as Trinis love to say, she said. So it was an easy transition for her to transfer the designs in her paintings to garments and furniture. She works with local designer Synovia Francois to do the garment construction. She has been lucky, she said, to find people who are willing to go with her on her wild journeys. One can even re-upholster existing furniture with Jacob Mottley's art.

She said, "It was just natural for me. In making the paintings I said, 'Oh some of these things would look good as a dress or as a chair."I experimented and I was able to get it done. I take the dye in my paintings, design fabric and then have that design printed onto fabric."Her inspiration is drawn from the many things she sees around her. "That inspiration comes from people. So I might see a man wearing a tie and say 'Oh that's a nice tie.' Then I will look at the colours in the tie. And so that colour combination is what I will then take and go and say, 'Okay, I like that colour combination. Let me see what I can come up with that colour combination.'"It might also come from other things like a nicely painted house or the combination of the house and its landscaping.

Photo by SureashCholai

She added even though it is not representational work, it does represent her environment.Red, white and black also feature prominently in her art not only because of her day-to-day work but because she loves TT. And, for her, "It is just three awesome colours." Jacob Mottley said her work usually draws a variety of reactions with some people saying that they are able to paint as well.

"People like to tell me they see things. I am usually fascinated when people tell me that because I don't see anything. I just see colour. I see texture. I see movement." And she would often reply that they should because painting has been a great relief for her. "If you want to paint, paint. If you want to dance, dance. However you want to express yourself creatively."The covid19 pandemic has shown people that life is very short and that the time was now to do whatever one wanted to do, she said. Jacob Mottley's work is unstructured because so much of her life is structured, she said.

Photo by Sureash Cholai

"I have to leave that there. That structure and form, high-heeled shoes and stockings and rules and constitutions and standing orders..."That is why my work is so unstructured and does not follow the norm." Jacob Mottley's body of work is a culmination of a Master of Business Administration done at Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business, Mt Hope. Her practicum focused on a business plan for an art gallery. "Basically, what I did was to study the art market in TT and to see how, as an artist, generally, you could monetise the images of your art work."

This, too, shaped her desire to provide affordable art pieces. It was also important to her, as a new artist, that she physically showcase her work. She wanted to give people that physical experience and interaction. Covid is going nowhere and so, "We have to live with it but do so in a safe way," she said. Jacob Mottley said she wanted to create an oasis for people, to come, spend 20 minutes or how long it takes for them to view the paintings and then leave.

Artist Keiba Jacob Mottley is a procedural clerk at the Parliament of TT and the curator of the Rotunda Gallery. at the Red House, Port of Spain. Photo by Sureash Cholai

"I wanted people to just have something to go to. A nice, bright moment in their day." She is next planning a hybrid fashion show on September 24 at Arnim's Art Galleria. The show will be in-person and also virtual. She plans to host her next solo exhbition in September 2023. She encouraged all of TT to go to art galleries and look at things and develop their own taste and appetite for art. There are three questions any potential art buyer should ask, she said. Those questions are: Do you like it? Can you live with it? Can you afford it?"Once it is in the affirmative for all it."


"Artist Keiba Jacob Mottley shows the Fabric of Life"

More in this section