Savannah Gallery in Anguilla, British West Indies, features contemporary Caribbean art from throughout the region. Now 20 years old, and a veritable fixture on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, the gallery showcases an eclectic mix of contemporary artists from St. Martin, Jamaica, Haiti and further afield. Canadian-born owner and director Frank Costin has travelled the region to find what he hopes are some of the finest artists working in a stunning variety of media.
One cannot begin to speak of the visual arts in the Caribbean without spending time with Haitian art. Savannah Gallery exhibits vintage works with impeccable provenance by such Haitian masters as Henri-Robert Bresil, Prospere Pierre-Louis, Louisiane St. Fleurant and Jasmin Joseph. These works from the 1960, 1970s and 1980s form the magical base on which contemporary Haitian painters have built their strong careers. As well as contemporary and vintage paintings, the gallery has always shown some of the best metal sculptures from Haiti; the sculptures are all made in the village of Croix-des-Bouquets, and are transformed from recycled steel drums. Savannah shows contemporary drums, mostly from the Balan family and Eugene Jacques, all of whom work there, and vintage sculptures by such masters such as Serge Jolimeau, and Seresier Louis Juste.
Just 10 nautical miles away from Anguilla lies the French/Dutch island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. The gallery represents three great artists living and working on the French side; Jean-Pierre Straub, Francis Eck and Paul Elliott Thuleau.
The most common comment visitors make when taking in the astounding marquetry creation of Jean-Pierre Straub is inevitably ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’. Strasbourg-born Straub is a second-generation marquetry artist, working with wood veneers to create his dazzling works of art. If he only drew out these designs and painted them, they would be quite wonderful things; but this artist painstakingly cuts and assembles a huge array of wood and tinted veneers, moulding them into works that stay in the mind’s eye.
Alsace-born Francis Eck paints with a raw energy that makes his paintings sing. The artist’s medium of choice is oil on canvas, but the brush never touches the canvas. Eck is one of those rare and wonderful painters who sculpt with paint: his tools are palette knives, and his paintings are radiant and powerful as a result. This artist is nothing shy of a genius who captures the ethereal landscape of the Caribbean Sea with thick and lush oils.
Paul Elliott Thuleau
The gallery has been exhibiting the architectural landscapes of Paul Elliott Thuleau for well over a decade now. Thuleau has the rare talent of transforming our ancient and disappearing old west Indian buildings into very contemporary paintings. His work is about the shadows and unseen as much as it is about the seen, and the artist gives great dignity to the humblest of abodes.
Stafford Schliefer – Jamaican Treasure
Stafford was one of the first artists to exhibit at the gallery, virtually from the day it opened in 1996. Schliefer, born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1939, says that “painting is like breathing for him.” These powerful and super-energetic paintings capture Jamaican society, including sugarcane cutters, carnival dancers, and poignant cultural commentaries. His paintings lose none of their energy, and maybe even gain some, as Stafford’s 75th birthday approaches.
The galley exhibits the work of two artists of particular note who are living and working on Anguilla – Michele Lavalette and Jo-Anne Mason. French-born Lavalette lived and worked in Anguilla for decades before moving back to her native land. It’s said nobody paints the landscape of the island more beautifully and richly. Her recent exhibition of boat paintings re-introduced a new generation of art-lovers to her work – they’re always quite superb.
American Jo-Anne Mason captures the Island with a different eye. Having trekked and hiked almost every square inch of Anguilla, she includes a subtle interpretation of Anguillan society into her work.
Algerian-born Elisabeth Piquet describes herself as a “modern nomad”. Travelling and painting all her life, Piquet’s recent works are strong and delicate at the same time. Small mixed media works on paper depict the landscapes of her current home of Brittany; oil, pastel, collage and writing all combine to create exquisite and hypnotising paintings, pulling the viewer into the artist’s physical and spiritual world.
The term ‘outsider artist’ is talked about quite a lot these days, but nobody reflects the definition more accurately than South-African born Victor Hempel. This surfer, sailor and sculptor has lived and worked about his boat Ayisha for about 15 years, sailing throughout the Caribbean and Central America. His exotic woods and their intuitive metamorphoses come from construction sites and post-storm Islands – a tree is never felled for his work.