Sat | Nov 25, 2017

Growth & Jobs | Alphanso Blake - The Professional Artist

Published:Tuesday | October 17, 2017 | 12:52 AM

His paintings are displayed in art galleries from Kingston to Port of Spain and New York, and Alphanso Blake is now considering expanding his focus beyond the Caribbean  and North America.

Successfully sharing his artistic talent with the wider world requires applying skills many other professionals would be familiar with, Blake says.

His focus is on the continued evolution in the development of his artistic process, but he  also carries out the more mundane and vitally essential tasks of maintaining contact with his existing patrons, while reaching out to potential clients and new galleries.

“Artists must be seen and heard,” Blake maintains. “We are living in the age of social media with tools at our disposal which previous generations could only dream about. The WhatsApp Messaging system, for example, allows an artist’s work to be seen by hundreds of art lovers at the same time.”

The use of social media, combined with the display of his works locally and overseas, means that a significant number of purchases come from abroad.

“It is a myth that there is a significant Jamaican art market,” he says. “I don’t believe that there is a market for Jamaica art, so much as a market for good art,” he affirms.

He pointed out that only a small proportion of the Jamaican population supports local artists, and the number of people who truly appreciate the work of artists is even more limited.

“Some Jamaicans prefer ‘feel good’ art, which reminds them of their emotional ties to the country, such as paintings of Flat Bridge or an old country house,” he says. “If art work does not go beyond sentimental expression, however, then it limits both the artist and the art.”

He pointed out that Picasso was a Spanish artist and Rembrandt was Dutch; but, the mastery they achieved can be appreciated universally, which explains why, “A Usain Bolt or a Bob Marley are identifiably Jamaican; however, they belong to everyone around the world who recognise their craft”. 

"Painter Michale Escoffery and sculptor Gene Pearson are Jamaican artists who have reached a level of accomplishment where their work appeals to people from many different cultures,” he stated. “I believe that there are more of us in the visual arts community who can aspire to their level of achievement.”

'I wasn't the best, but I was willing to learn'

Alphanso Blake says he knows it is possible for local artists to aspire to reach the achievements reached by the great artists, based on the progress he has made in his own artistic career.

“I don’t respect talent,” he declares. “I have met young artists who are better than I was at their age; but you have to be willing to suffer for the sake of art.”

“At the Edna Manley College I wasn’t the best student; but, I was willing to learn,” he states. "I was a night student. I worked my way through by painting during the day, and selling my art. For me there was no alternative…it was art or nothing.”

The harsh reality of literally having walked the streets of St Andrew selling his art, also made him appreciate the importance of the financial side of the art world.

“I participate in overseas exhibitions and sometimes I am successful, while at other times I am not,” he said. “To succeed, you have to be bold and take risks.”

That boldness has pushed him to look to Europe, where an Irish gallery is enticing him to participate in their upcoming exhibition. He said that, “Going overseas is expensive, so I am studying the options carefully.”

He also holds his own online exhibitions periodically, which can garner sales from all over the world.

“It is very easy to send art abroad. The Jamaican mail system is slow, but it is very good,” he says. “I use FedEx or DHL if there is a rush.”

He also has a financial partner in JN Bank, which handles many of his vital financial needs.

“Alphanso Blake is an outstanding member of our country’s visual arts community,” said Saniah Spencer, chief of marketing at JN Bank. “His work is not only mounted in galleries locally and overseas, but also in the homes of several of our senior executives.”

“We appreciate his art, but we also appreciate his business, and it must be clearly stated that art is business,” Spencer said. “Successful visual artists share their talent with the world; and may struggle, but they do not starve, despite the misconceptions.”

“Jamaica developed a dynamic music industry which has global impact,” Spencer stated. “We also have painters and sculptors producing work of the highest standards, and our country could benefit if this sector gained more momentum. That is why we value clients such as Mr Blake.”