A cocktail party at a stately old house like the Boissiere House or Mille Fleurs at night, surrounded by a jungle full of wonder, secret places, and magic.
That image came to mind as this reporter walked through Arnim’s Art Galleria, viewing the 27 paintings of Sarah Beckett’s third installation of her Lockdown Moments series.
The portraits are interspersed with serene jungle scenes full of greenery, flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and water. The people are dressed in semi-formal attire in shades of white, purple and grey and the light of the full moon is coming in through the doors and windows to fall upon their faces.
Altogether, the collection is whimsical, as Beckett’s work tends to be, and feels very quiet.
The exhibition, Desiderata: Journey of Love and Solitude, will be at Arnim’s on Tragarete Road, Port of Spain until October 16.
Beckett told Sunday Newsday she read Desiderata, a poem by Max Ehrmann, in 1971. She was going through some old sketchbooks when she found a page on which she had written out the poem. It was serendipity.
The first line reads, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
She described the poem as peaceful and gentle, with kind yet realistic words. And it became a platform for her work, setting the tone for her paintings.
“Any artist is bound, in a way, to reflect what is going on in their moment in history. This covid thing is cutting deep into our society and our lives. We’ve adjusted but there’s a lot of angst. Everybody, in their particular way, is having to deal with something.
“With this show, I thought we have to go deeper than the normal. And I wanted the show to be reflective, very quiet, and for people to walk in and think, ‘I could put down my burden for a moment or two and just enjoy.”
Since covid19 has affected everyone, she wanted as many people as possible represented including African, Indian, Latin, and Caucasian individuals. She also wanted to show figures “in the embrace” of the beauty of the world, and TT in particular, as that beauty continues to bloom.
She described the portraits as “lyrical,” light, and flowing saying she wanted them to seem simple and effortless even though a lot of work went into them. She had to get the balance and weight of colour right while creating quiet spaces without leaving them blank.
In addition, the subjects of the portraits have either an instrument or a mobile phone in hand.
Asked about the phones, she said they were the “icon” of the 21st century, so she decided to marry traditional painting with something that would never have been put in one.
She said she wants the work she leaves behind to have validity, for it to tell the true story of a place at a point in time, and for people to recognise it.
The tone of the exhibition is also new to Beckett. She said she usually uses saturated, intense colours, but those in Desiderata are muted.
“I never thought in a million years I would end up painting in tones of grey. It was quite a challenge, because I was using a brand new palette, figuring out how to make the tone and how the colours will work. I didn’t want them to be depressing. I wanted them (the portraits) to be serene. But once I got a handle on it, it’s been a rather wonderful experience.”
The palette of the landscapes is toned down as well, reminiscent of rain in a valley or mist on the mountains.
“I’ve always felt, with the Trinidad landscape, that there is a mysterious quality. It’s not just palm trees and sunshine and rum. There’s a whole subtext going on, and I was trying to get at that hidden part of living here.”
Beckett also uses a lot of symbolism in the pieces including butterflies, pearls, dragonflies, pink roses, lilies, palm trees, and white wine. They all represent positive things such as metamorphosis, adaptability, victory, wisdom, knowledge, purity, gratitude, happiness and friendship.
“I use these things for a specific reason, to carry a spiritual, psychological or mythological intensity to the picture. They weren’t just decorative.”
She said many people are suffering, feeling low and lonely. They are being bombarded with news, mostly negative, on social media and other sources all the time.
“We can do very little about most of it, which in itself creates a sense of helplessness. But the negativity of it goes into your soul, and I think one of the things we can do is develop a sense of fortitude and handle it with a certain amount of calmness.”
So she wanted to do something gentle, healing and beautiful, so she could share it and make someone happy.
That was her aim when she created Lockdown Moments I, A Romance with Solitude, last October. After that she knew it would become a series.
She said professional artists have to take their work very seriously, but should not take themselves seriously. They have to trust they will find a solution and trust in the work, and so her ideas come organically.
Beckett also pointed out that her subject matter has not changed much throughout the decades, as she usually paints solitary people and abstract work.
A lot of research and thought goes into her art and it is often influenced by music and poetry. She said she uses her intellect, does studies, sketches, and drawings, and at some point in the painting process, intuition takes over and she becomes the vehicle for the painting.
“If you’re an artist, you paint or work all the time. You get an idea and you run with it, and you develop it, and when there’s a lot of work you think, ‘Ok. It’s now grown up. It can leave my studio. I can share it.”
The purpose, she said, is to harness the world and put something good into it.
“I think the role of the arts in times like this, art dignifies our lives and revalidates our humanity. I feel that I have a responsibility to create work that triggers a debate and a thoughtfulness and gives people a moment of joy, if nothing else.”
Beckett will be taking the exhibition to Arnim’s in Gulf View, La Romaine on October 18, when there will be a few new pieces in the exhibition.