Inspired by veteran calypsonian David Rudder’s classic album The Power and the Glory, Trini-born, New York-based artist Alicia Aberdeen is using artwork of the musician to purchase laptops for St Francis Boys’ College – formerly Belmont Boys’ RC Secondary School – Rudder’s alma mater.
The piece, a painting of Rudder’s likeness and recreation of the album’s cover, using oil paint and 24 carat gold, was the centre of Aberdeen’s third annual fall art exhibit in Brooklyn, NY, Paintings in the Garden in December of last year.
The month-long exhibit featured other work from Trinidadian artists and musicians, including a cover of Rudder’s Song for A Lonely Soul by Nickolai Salcedo (Gyazette).
In 2019, when she had her first instalment of the exhibit, she used the proceeds and donated it to a New York family who were at the time living in a homeless shelter. The family’s bills were also paid for that winter.
In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the exhibit was downsized but tickets were still sold out. Proceeds from that show will go to the development of a pan scholarship, which is still in the works.
In a phone interview with Newsday, Aberdeen said for the exhibit last year she decided to do something specific to her home country and reached out to Rudder for permission to use his image and music.
“He most graciously granted permission and gave me the rights to cover his songs for the exhibit,” she said. Aberdeen said instead of donating to a cause of her choosing, she gave Rudder the option to decide to whom the proceeds would go.
“In as much as he was willing to share with me, I decided to offer him the opportunity to champion his charity and he decided to give back to his alma mater, St Francis Boys’ College…I believe in paying it forward immediately. I did not follow the traditional academic channels and I learned the art world first-hand and decided to help others along the way.”
Aberdeen spoke highly of Rudder who she said was very helpful in the creative process. “What really made all the difference to me was we kept in constant contact. He in turn would send different pictures of himself at different angles so I could learn his face. If he didn’t do that I don’t think I would have gotten the eyes and everyone talked about the eyes. He was amazing. It was everything an artist would wish for.”
She said although he was involved in creating the piece, he did not interfere with the production. He was so gracious. He let me produce my show the way I wanted. The only thing he asked was to see my work and I said, 'yes'.”
Aberdeen said Rudder was impressed with the final product. “He loved the piece. He gave me his 100 per cent blessing. He even has one of the tees (with a print of the painting) in his possession. He told me when I finished the piece, ‘You nailed it.’”
On May 4, two laptops and one projector were received by principal Lucia Reyes-Griffith. The projector was donated by Kent Bernard, another former student along with US$200 and a donation of US$500 was also given by retired Trinidadian athlete Edwin Roberts.
Aberdeen said 80 per cent of all proceeds from the exhibit will go towards purchasing more laptops and resources for the school.
The goal is to purchase at least five devices for the school’s computer lab. “Principal Reyes is pleased to be able to begin her revamped music curriculum with this equipment in her new music lab…with a digitised environment to teach,” she said. In order to fund the purchase of more devices, until the painting is sold, Aberdeen said T-shirts with the image of the painting will be sold soon.
Aberdeen moved to New York in 2002 to pursue her passion for the arts. “In Trinidad, I ended up in accounting. I had a good-paying job but really wasn’t happy.”
She said, however, her financial responsibilities caught up to her and she ended up right back in a corporate position. “In 2009 I finally quit corporate America and became an artist full-time.
“I went back to school and everything and did a degree in media, art and animation. With my background, I was able to pursue my passion and start a business in 2016, Alicia Aberdeen Art LLC.”
Aberdeen said she was influenced very early on in secondary school by renowned local artist Leroy Clarke. “Clarke’s work really sucked me in…I didn’t always understand it because his work was so deep but just the mere mechanics of it really pulled me in.”
Although she couldn’t give too much away, she said this year’s exhibit will be a real tribute to TT. Aberdeen is once again inviting TT artist to submit their work for the exhibit and is looking for pieces to meet specific themes.
“We’re going to look at politicians, which we seldom to, people in academia, sites in TT. It’s going to be a nice callaloo.”