Living life full of creativity
Ras Natango, his wife Tamika and son Ayale are artists and artisans in their own right, and a visit to their property, Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Gardens, in Camrose, St James reaffirms that.
Their story is inspirational and colourful. It started in Kingston where Ras Natango, born Ian Williams, attended St George's College, and his wife, Excelsior High School. From Kingston, where Williams worked as an accountant, they relocated to Portland where their only child, Ayale, was born.
It was a frustrating life in Portland, said Ras Natango, who is a self-taught artist, and sold artwork to survive. He sold his land in Portland, established connections in St James, and moved there, where he saw a future in selling his paintings.
He bought a piece of hillside land in Camrose, where he built his house. Along the steep incline he also created a terraced garden for his wife, an avid gardener. There, she planted a great variety of flowers, and their relationship continued to bloom.
Time passed, Ras Natango continued to paint, and his wife became a teacher. She introduced him to her associates and invited him to teach art in her classrooms.
Ras Natango's first big break as professional artist came in 1997 when Half Moon Hotel invited him to do some artwork for the refurbished property. The commission lasted for four years. Eventually, a RIU hotel chain personnel saw his work at Half Moon and hired him to do artwork for the chain. By 2005, he said, five major hotels in Jamaica were showcasing his paintings.
The gallery came about out of embarrassment, after 14 tourists from RIU turned up at his place believing he had a gallery, but there was none. He then set out to search for a gallery space, but for many reasons the ones he found were not satisfactory. So, he then turned a level of his house into a gallery and gift shop, now full of his and his family's work.
When Arts and Education visited recently, it was a beautiful family portrait that presented itself. Beaming with pride, Tamika Williams said, "My husband and son took this place and made it a jewel for Jamaica."
The wife and son told of how art had absorbed their husband and father, respectively. "I thought he was mad," Williams said. "I think it has consumed him."
While the art was consuming Ras Natango, his body was consuming itself. Because he used to ignore his meals for his art, he developed a stomach ulcer, which had to be operated on.
"This is what artwork did to me," Ras Natango said as he showed The Gleaner the scar on his belly.
"When I paint I'm in a different world. I'm in this place that is just made for me ... and so, lots of time I get upset when they disturb me with food, especially," Ras Natango explained.
He said he understands why some artists lock themselves away for months. He too had harboured such thoughts. But, he cannot leave his wife and son for long, not even for art's sake. And they themselves are serious art fanatics.
Williams, who recently published her autobiography, has used art in her teaching strategies to great effects. In the gift shop is an assortment of craft that she and her family have made. In the gallery are her paintings created on little pieces of egg shells.
Ayale could not miss being bitten by the creative bug. He grew up seeing his parents painting and creating artistic items. And now, the graphic designer is a graduate of the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute in Florida. He has many pieces of painting in the gallery, and the fantastic shell creations in the gift shop are his.
The intuitives have no particular style which identifies their work. They create the pieces from their heart, but invariably the subjects in their artwork are people, places and things that represent Jamaican life, lifestyle, cultural nuances and sensibilities. Of note is the skin-colour of the people portrayed in the pieces.
"Art for us is a way of recording our history and our culture, and our lifestyle," Williams said.
Ras Natango says that he deliberately embodies dark-skinned people in his pieces. The painting of the black-skinned young woman welcoming visitors at the entrance to the property is a prelude to what visitors will see in the gallery.
"We haven't recognised ourselves, and the value that we have, and who we are as a people. We are a treasure to ourselves, and we really do not even know it," Ras Natango said.