No Easel Way Out
My name is Che Lovelace and I’m an oil painter and a water surfer.
My “passport” name is Cheikh Sedar Lovelace but my family and myself have always written my name as and called me “Che”. Apparently, in1969, the Anglican church would not allow me to be christened Che. My parents made my first name Cheikh after the African historian and philosopher Cheikh Anta Diop. I believe the middle name Sedar is after the Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor. Why they set me up to live up to the standard of such great men, I couldn’t tell you.
I consider myself as being from Matura. But I went to Queens Royal College. So I would also agree I am a product of a Port of Spain middle class social scene. I would hope that could mean many things.
Childhood in Matura was hard and wonderful. When you are a child, your reality is what it is. You have not yet developed the desire to compare yourself to others, to say, “Look how we living, with no lights, a bit rough etc. And look how those other people living in a nice house in town with nice things etc.” The innocence, the trust you have in your guardians at that point in your life makes your existence as it should be, so that despite the hardships of living poor financially, the childhood I remember was one with a kind of magic in it. An adventure.
From very early on my father set out to transform our little wooden house into something with bit more space, an endeavor embarked upon what ever resources were available and a project in which we were all involved, even my little sister. The “extension” was made mostly from interlaced strips of bamboo, sort of in the manner that people made tapia houses, but without the mud and grass mixture to plaster the walls. Needless to say the place turned out to be almost too well ventilated. Even through you might not consider [father, the writer Earl] Lovelace a master builder, he conducted the entire affair with a spirit and determination that made things seem alright.
We lived about 2 miles outside of the main village, so it was like country life within country life. I believe I played a douen in one of the plays produced for the Best Village competition.
I always remember the placards that would go up on the lamp poles when people in the area knew a government official was making a trip along that Toco Main Road: “WE WANT LIGHTS”, “WE WANT LIGHTS”. Every election the candidates for the area would say “Lights coming”. But for the entire time we lived there the lights never came.
TV was a little pop-up black-and-white, 8 inches square, with D-size batteries. Thankfully, Walt. always an electronics man, managed to make the TV work with a car battery. Sometimes it would conk out in the middle of ‘Different Strokes’. The only way to charge it would be to take that heavy battery down the hill to where the car was parked, start the car, then replace the good car battery with the dead one, and leave the car idling for a while to charge it. It was plenty drama.
I was more towards walking through the bush, hanging with the older boys who knew about birds and hunting. I liked pretending to be an explorer or a warrior or a biologist or something. My brother Walt was really the one into team sports. In fact, he introduced me to surfing.
The other really memorable aspect of childhood in Matura was the spirited camaraderie among the artistic community. So many writers, artists, actors and musicians came through; Errol Jones, Hugh Robertson (director of Bim), Derek Walcott, Shiva Niapaul, Raoul Pantin, Wilbert Holder, Lawrence Scott. CLR James spent some days with us. He lay in the hammock and recounted stories. Many Sundays were filled with these visitors talking about ideas and the world as I played under tables; it all sounded grand and important; and it probably was.
The magic started to fade. I began to travel by taxi every morning to get to QRC, waking at 4 am; my parents were breaking up… Life was starting to change.
When we moved to town and my parents were no longer together, the children stayed with my father. In adult life I set up a studio at a place my mother owns in Matura (different to where we grew up) and worked there for a couple years, making paintings and reconnecting with her; not that we were ever too far. I am very close to my mother.
Quite early on, I realised my father was a writer and a man of ideas. I would see a variety of people who kept his company in Matura, quite different from the other families in the neighborhood. I also remember hearing the sound of the old style typewriter on which he wrote …..’tickety tackin’ late into the night.
Being my father’s son has not made anything easier in my own professional life. Nor should it. If anything, people appraise you by higher standards. In the end one has to carve one’s own path. You are certainly affected by the way your parents see the world. You tend to value the things they value. I have never felt difficulty being myself, in the face of having strong people around me.
I have a son but live singly. From day one I tried not to make a negative of the fact that his mother and myself are not “together”. We work together to give him plenty love and guidance. I hope that never changes.
Now I’m a bit older and desire to stay fit for surfing and everything else. I find myself drinking less, and hardly ever hard alcohol. I like my beers though, and for the most part, for me, it is all that is necessary for a nice buzz.
Decriminalizing drugs might help us put the reality of substance abuses on a level playing field. The issue is rife with double standards. Why must a youth be in jail, becoming hardened and damaged while on petty ganja charges, when drunk people kill others on the roads and alcohol fuels brutal domestic violence? Would it not be better to face the problems in a less hypocritical way?
Trinis too often use our Trinidadian-ness to shield us from the world. We set our standards locally. We need to relate to the larger world and set higher goals for ourselves. We must dare to do great things while staying right here in these islands. The world may not yet treat us like First World citizens but we do need to start treating ourselves like First World citizens.
In high school I liked the sciences. For a year or so, I adopted the nickname “Science” because of my overzealous enthusiasm. I thought I might become a zoologist or a marine biologist or something. I still love that stuff.
I don’t remember my first few years of art class at QRC. Around fourth form, my teacher was Jackie Hinkson. My interest in drawing suddenly began to grow, even though it was difficult and I struggled and still do actually. I was never really a natural draftsman.
I was really taken by the Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco, his expressive elongated figures, and the moody somber canvases of the Norwegian, Edvard Munch. Many years before, my family had gone to a large exhibition of Leroy Clarke at the John Donaldson Institute, entitled “Douens”. I remember the color of his paintings; oranges, ochre, reds and whites and some yellow. I did not know what to make of it then but with this new exposure to Western art in Hinkson’s class I was able to put it into a context to some degree. Leroy’s exhibits, moved into new colors of the undergrowth and forest, fashioning a folklore, a mythical journey to El Tucuche. Even though I did not end up painting in that particular aesthetic, Leroy has always epitomized the journey of the artist here. He has always been present.
My involvement and dedication to surfing goes much further than that of a hobby or even a sport in the traditional sense. Surfing waves has become somewhat of a guiding ethos for me. The sense of being deeply connected to nature through the medium of water and the complete immersion into the liquid element [gives] surfing a spiritual dimension. I am a surfer who paints, equally, I am a painter who surfs. I am split down the middle.
Most of the time when I have an idea I feel may work for a painting, I make a small drawing in my note book, maybe with a few notes, so I can remember the idea in some detail. I also like to cut photos out from newspapers and other sources, including my own photographs. These become starting points for paintings. However, sometimes I begin with no preconceived idea, I just stand in front of a blank canvas and freestyle it straight from my head and see where it leads.
One of the trickiest things is to figure out when to leave a painting alone. I usually try to leave it once I feel there is a quality in the image that makes me want to keep looking at it. Sometimes paintings may look finished but in fact they hold no mystery. The moment I feel like I’ve ‘figured out’ or completely understood a painting, is the moment I begin to get bored with it. For it to be considered finished, there has to be an aspect of the painting that cannot quite be grasped, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but something you are happy to keep searching for while looking at the painting. Many times, I wish I’d put on another stroke. At other times, I’ve taken paintings way too far, missing the moment when they were magic. I take photos of paintings at various stages as I work on them. Looking at these photos usually confirms my suspicion I have overworked something.
Usually I get to the studio by mid-morning, work till about 4pm. Then I go spend time with my son. I then return to the studio at about 8pm and work until midnight or 1am. If I feel I’m on a roll, I’ll stay later - and pay the price next morning. I can sometimes get 5 or 6 hours work done at this time without distraction.
I don’t own an easel.
We’ve dodged the colonial authorities, invented music right under their noses, smart talked our way to freedom and independence, turned our meager savings as indentured laborers into empires, had all night parties while some people tried to overthrow the government, now we all jump up in a band for Carnival, hug up tight-tight, saying, “All ah we is one”, along the way producing some truly amazing world class individuals. I guess you gotta like that. But we have a long, long way to go to realize our full potential.
For the most part I maintain a daily practice of painting. I do prefer to paint when I am in the mood for it, but I don’t think I can afford such a luxury at this point. So if I do not feel like painting, the best way to induce the mood is to pick up old unresolved pieces and just start putting paint on them. That usually would create a nice jumpstart and make me then want to tackle the current things I’m working on.
There is so little state support for artists in any discipline, let alone visual art. We have to find more innovative ways to nurture and encourage our artists to see that, with hard work and dedication, they can live creative lives and make a living from it. As in more developed nations, we need prizes and grants and workshops dedicated to artists.
The best thing about being a painter is the flexible hours and no boss. And I get to “brush” a lot.
The worst thing is all those fumes from turpentine and linseed oil mixtures I paint with can’t be good for my lungs. Hazards of the trade.
A Trini is a person who, when they are not in Trinidad or Tobago for a little while, they start to discover they miss all sorts of things about the place, from roti to the way the crisp Trinbago sunlight bathes everything in the late afternoon. Trinis are full of courtesy, almost exaggerated at times; you’ll be in a quiet office waiting in line for something and someone will walk in and direct his or her “Good afternoon” to everyone in the room. And a few people will respond…..I love that!
Trinidad and Tobago means home to me firstly.