Conch art: Blood, sweat and tears for his craft
BODDEN TOWN, Grand Cayman:
Luelan Bodden's display at the welcome reception for the participants attending the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016, which ended last Friday, was the standout stall. Having been driven for almost 45 minutes after a long day, his works of art were a real pick-me-up.
"Wow! Incredible!" was the reception from an admirer as he realised that the carvings were created from conch shells, the intricate and detail workmanship stunningly impressive. Everyone who stopped to admire was amazed at the stunning transformation of the rock-hard material. However, none of them was buying, and this might have had to do with the prices.
The cheapest piece on sale was CI$900, and with US$1.25 the going exchange rate against the local currency, for visitors, this was a bit steep. On average, the prices range from CI$400 to CI$5,000, and it is a lot of hard work, taking no less than a month from conception to creation and sometimes as much as two months. This is probably because as the lifelong intuitive artist told Arts and Education, his inspiration is out of this world.
"I work off dreams. It don't happen all the time and I know it sound kinda crazy. It's kinda out of the box, but I have this ability to soul travel and go to art exhibitions, where I see myself doing art and I come back and do it. Sometimes, I go a month and then a dream. It hit me and I will start working. So it is a very unusual process that I go through," the Caymanian explained.
Using a tool somewhat like a dentist's drill with a diamond blade, he has given blood and sweat, literally, and been moved to tears during the early stages of working with this rock-hard art medium.
"When I was learning how to carve this stuff, I get a lot of bad chops - I almost chop my finger off couple of times. If the thing sticks, I have to jump my fingers out of the way. So I shed a lot of blood to enjoy the pain to get where I am today, and I have been doing this about seven years," he disclosed.
Still, while most admirers are stunned by Bodden's creations, their enthusiasm doesn't usually translate into sales, and so it's his job as an electrician that pays the bills, but he won't give up on the dream of making it big as an artist.
"I'm hoping that at some time, I can make it internationally and I am out there Miami, New York, all over the world but for right now, my job as an electrician pays the bills, so I only do this part time - in the afternoons and evenings."
Using the social media site Facebook as his main marketing tool has not generated the kind of income to adequately compensate him for all the hard work, but his art remains an integral part of Bodden's existence.
"If I don't do it, I feel like I go mad (because) I've been an artist since I was a kid. If I don't turn to art, I may go pick up bad habits. So this is a good habit," he shared with Arts & Education.