Wed | Dec 11, 2019

Basil Clayton, the street painting sergeant

Published:Saturday | November 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMAkeem Masters/Gleaner Writer
Clayton has taught two other persons to paint, one of who has set up a similar operation to him.
Clayton fell in love with painting while in primary school, and took it up professionally after leaving the JDF.
Clayton showing off some of his work.
Armed with his paintbrush and paint Norman Clayton can be found on Lady Musgrave road daily, doing what he loves- paint.

With a 'no retreat, no surrender' attitude, street painter Basil Clayton has been creating eye-catching artwork since he resigned from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) 20 years ago.

Armed with his brushes, paints and canvas, he has been painting along a number of streets in Kingston. He now 'camps out' on Lady Musgrave Road.

After spending 23 years and 40 days in the JDF, and rising to the rank of platoon sergeant, the self-taught painter decided to take up painting professionally, as it was something he always had a passion for as child.

"Mi was an action man in the army - 'cause a platoon sergeant haffi guh hotspot and send back report to the base suh a nuff war zone mi guh," he told The Gleaner.

Originally from Westmore-land, 62-year-old Clayton developed a love for the arts while attending the Cave View Primary School in Dean Valley, Westmoreland. "Growing up as a little child, I used to attend a primary school where I had a teacher that would draw every time she write something on the board, and that is where I first tek on to it until I start to do it by myself," he said.

And although he is stationed on the roadside, he says that you have to be smart. "Doing this you have to use your head and have a lot of experience. If a visitor (tourist) comes along, they want a landscape scene like flat bridge, Fern Gully or Holland Bamboo, so I go to those places and take a photograph then I do the painting," he says.

"As a painter painting so long, yu know what type of painting at least two people love - the younger class of people love attract like 'women (painting)' and the visitor dem love landscape," he added.

And with some of his creations looking very lifelike, he says some persons are amazed and question whether he is the painter. He confesses that he is sometimes offended.

"Sometimes dem ask mi if a me paint dem, yu see how liberty come through carelessness? Yu know what I say to some of them that ask me dat, 'who yu expect to paint dem, a white man, why yuh a condemn mi as a blackman?'," he explained with a wide grin on his face.


Gift from above


Boasting that painting is his gift from above, Clayton says sometimes he feels like a prophet because when persons want a painting they usually run to him.

"People who don't come are those who don't know me as yet, so when I see a person come and buy for the first time, I rejoice because I know that they will come back," he explained.

And while he spends most of his time on the roadside to catch the eyes of motorists and pedestrians, most of his sales come from clients who call him.

"The other night a lady call me around quarter to 12 and say she want a painting fi gi har boyfriend, and mi guh right inna har bedroom and she choose one," he said.

While his work has been used on calendars and prints for craft shops, he says his greatest joy is selling to persons who will hang his work in their houses.

"A painting is the greatest gift inside your home - apart from a woman. If you have a painting inside your home, you feel like a king, plus these are real stuff," he joked, explaining that rich men have paintings in their houses, while poor men have picture frame.

But he says while some buyers want an exclusive painting, he admits that he sometimes duplicate his work.

"Sometimes yu sell a painting and some people see it again and say 'bredrin, wah mek yu repeat the painting?' But if something doing good, yu continue to dweet," he said.

While he did not want to speak about how much he makes from selling his paintings, he admits that it has enabled him to be prosperous, and the potential of more earnings is one of his main motivations.

"Money sweet, it's a great talent that yu can live offa, mi nuh affi gamble and some time mi want show di yute dem some things," said Clayton, who said he has taught three other persons his skill, one of whom can be found on the street in the Corporate Area.