Tue | Jul 14, 2020

Journalling life experiences on canvas

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Some of Romaine McNeil's works.
Juicy by Romaine McNeil
The nest - a work about nurturing and growth by Romaine McNeil
The Nest 2 by Romaine McNeil
Roots Man by Romaine McNeil
Roots Queen by Romaine McNeil

A sculptor who is yet to delve into that medium, a musician at heart, budding poet, writer and a visual artist, Romaine McNeil packs quite a punch.

Her journey in the fine arts, she said, was refined at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where she specialised in sculpting, though, she says, she has not worked in that medium much despite the prompting of her lecturers.

Still, she says, she will return to chiselling shapes to give her own unique expressions, and she is convinced that whenever she chooses to return to that art form, she can easily excel.

“I do want to get back into this three-dimensional kind of work, not just on a two-dimensional surface like painting I want people to be able to actually touch my stuff,” she told Arts and Education.

McNeil, of the over 18 years that she has been dabbling paint on canvas, has built up an impressive body of work, though the two dimension medium was more out of compulsion than choice.

She has to challenge herself because by her own admission, “I never wanted to do painting because I already knew how to paint, so I wanted to challenge myself to do something completely different”.

Like her eclectic and oft thought-provoking works, the journey to take painting full time came at a point when McNeil was at a crossroad in life.

McNeil was an ace volleyball player, and was on the Jamaican national team, but the game started to take a toll on her body.

At crossroads

She had to give up her career in the field and went back full time to the fine arts. It wasn’t an easy decision, she says, but a call had to be taken.

“Injuries made the decisions for me,” McNeil said. “My shoulders got damaged, my back got damaged and I just said I have to stop.”

Painting, she says, is both inspiring and therapeutic. “When I do start working, painting is meditation in itself, I can go for hours, overcome the pain,” she said.

Since then she has served up an eclectic array of paintings, some which hide more they show, and this is by designed, she admits.

“I’m probably at 20 per cent of my potential but people will see my work and disagree because they are looking at a journey yes but, I am looking further beyond what they are seeing. I have the potential to do so much more but it’s just that it takes so much time to get there. When I paint I am the most vulnerable which is why I don’t paint about myself.”

The works do speak and powerfully, like Juicy, a silhouette of a woman emerging from a slice of orange – it is certainly designed to tantalize.

“I try to find ways of demonstrating sexuality and sensuality without being offensive or too provocative,” she said. “So my Juicy is about womanhood, It is about how we are as women, how we see ourselves as women. We are juicy, we appeal to people.”

Some of her work people find disturbing because it can be really raw, the artist admits but for this she is unapologetic.

“I am confident artist. I’m someone who is growing to appreciate myself as someone who can express how I feel and express how other people feel, through my work, through conversation.

“I am a surrealist, I like visual poetry. I am sensual person and I depict sensuality in the abstract form because I don’t know if I can visually create it in realistic way. I want to be bring people to that level that see more cause we are sexual beings and whoever is going to try to deny that is going to suffer.”

Pens her thoughts

McNeil says she is a thinker and pens her thoughts, which are encounters with people, situations and conversations, experiences, she says, that are interlinked.

“It (the journal) is more like an art diary,” she said. “ My thoughts accompanying the sketches, and they in turn translate into paintings, poetry and photography.”

These daily encounters translate into subjects for her paintings, which she says she is somebody who is basically transmitting information through her work.

“More of a conduit, maybe,” she said. “I think the majority of the work I do is not really about me, it’s really about other people.

“It’s really about situations that I encounter, about what’s going on in everyday life, not necessarily my life.”

To express freely and to showcase more work, McNeil faces predicaments and challenges that majority younger artists in Jamaica face – that of being accorded right opportunities.

Across Jamaica, she said, young, talented artists are being overlooked by those who still hang on to the works of the old masters, never allowing themselves to even entertain the thought of viewing, much less buying contemporary works.

But McNeil blames as well, those people who managing the business of art.

“I don’t think it is art so much, I think it is the people who are showcasing the art,” she said. “There so many pop up shops and artists, they need an outlet but at the time I’m not sure the majority of the people who are proving this outlet actually understand what it is that artists need.

“Because really and truly if you are an artist and you don’t have a name even if your work is good it is very difficult for somebody to say come and say let’s take a chance on you. You have a lot of talented upcoming artists in Jamaica, young artists and people are still stuck on back in the day stuff,” she said.

Come together

She has a solution for shattering this mindset, which she says, is more of branding, than art appreciation, hung up on the name than the work itself.

“I think artists, the younger generation need to come together and just wow people and the movement have started. It’s slow but it has started and I like the progress so far.”

These days mom Gertrude McNeil is a little more comforted that her only daughter is getting there and her three brothers are happy too.

Her father, Verol McNeil was the single greatest influence on her career choice, but is not around any more but his influence is ever present.

“My dad was a principal, mom was a teacher but dad was a maths teacher very good one at that but we was creative, He had to make a choice when he was going to school and it was clashing with being an educator, so he gave up art. But the creativity comes from that side of the family.”

That says a lot for a little girl from Westmoreland, who could be seen almost always clutching a sketch pad during her time at Mannings High School, even when she didn’t have art class – she has come a long way, and there is still a long path to tread.

Additional inputs by Amitabh Sharma. Email: christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com