Wed | Sep 30, 2020

The surreal expressions of Romaine McNeil

Published:Monday | July 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMKrysta Anderson

"I take simple overlooked things and add interesting elements to tell a story. If I'm too comfortable with what I've just painted, it's not saying enough, so I mix things up by adding components that wouldn't normally fit into a composition."

Local art sensation, Romaine McNeil, has found an innovative way to fuel her first love with the passion of creative focus, painting her way to success. Today, she shares with Outlook, her best masterpiece yet: her life canvas from concept to surreal expression.

Growing up, McNeil was an artistic all rounder. Playing the piano at the tender age of eight, the classic discipline was fused beautifully with her love for drawing.

"I wasn't exposed to a lot of art or artists who I would say influenced and impacted me in my early years. I spent a lot of time alone, feeling different, often misunderstood, and that moulded my introverted side. But it also allowed me to go deeper within myself, examine thoughts and feelings that would plagued me, mostly about life and people and why we are the way we are."

The daughter of teachers, she was ordained for structure and order, where her life was concerned. Despite her acute rebellious ways, she maintained that insubordination never suited her personality. Art became therapeutic, functioning as her avenue for expressing experiences: her fears, joy, love and literary work, in the form of poetry. And creating original works in whatever capacity she could, would soon become the bridge of communication with others around her, and the world.

After recommendations from her high school art teacher to attend Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts, she saw herself journeying one step closer to achieving her dreams. Originally, she desired an overseas education, but decided to remain true to her roots, pursuing local studies at the tertiary level to produce authentic Jamaican art.

"Going to Edna opened my mind in a way that I had craved as a child: to be surrounded by people who understood the artistic methodology and who would nurture my mind. I felt at home finally," she told Outlook.

A painter by nature, she decided to challenge herself and major in sculpting - that for her was a breath of fresh air.

"It was new and different. I love the fact that it was so hands-on and intricate. I found that working in a three dimensional space, gave me an awakened perspective on my creative process."

But the affair only lasted in college and pretty soon, she was back to her first love, painting with the new-found visual knowledge she gained from sculpting.

Today, her body of work tackles social issues, mostly from an individualistic perspective, aimed at having persons look at themselves and question not only what they are seeing, but what they are feeling as well.

"My art is not about being pretty, it's about being honest, it's about daring yourself to look and feel pass the norm, it's about stepping away from the stigma and what is expected. The viewer adds to the composition, as they open themselves up to being a part of the conversations," she added.

The major obstacles she has faced as an artist thus far, is finding exposure.

"As a painter who does non-traditional Jamaican-style art, I've been rejected by galleries, simply because it didn't 'fit' into the Jamaican theme. But on the flip side, there are people who have spaces that think my work is refreshing, because of how unique it is, and that keeps me going. I find spaces that I can set up and showcase my pieces and interact with viewers, art enthusiasts, and buyers, sharing my concept in a non-gallery-type setting. Social media has come a far way as a platform for everyone to share what they are doing, so I make the best use of this despite the dangers of your work being copied."

Life stands tall as her biggest influence. However, if she were to narrow it down to people who motivate and inspire, she looks up to old artists like Dali, Basil Watson, her former lecturer at Edna Manley, Marina Abramovic - a Serbian performance artist, and modern-day abstract artist, Michael Laing.

Exploring other creative facets, has also assisted greatly in developing her career. She plays the piano, guitar, and drums, she engages in photography and cinematography, as well as video editing, pushing for all elements when executing exhibitions and projects gives her the opportunity to showcase some or all of the skills she has to offer.

Outside of art, McNeil plays sports such as badminton, table tennis and volleyball, competing in the club league for volleyball and subsequently playing for the national team for a short period.

Her advice to aspiring artists: "Surround yourself with the right support system, people who will push you to be great, people who will aid in your growth despite your challenges, mentors who can point you in the right direction and have an abundance of information that will help you unlock your potential. Also, don't be afraid of the unknown: it simply means there are infinite possibilities and all of them can be yours. Believe in your gifts and be patient with the process."

For more information on McNeil's surreal expressions, you can follow her on Instagram: @kre8tivestudio_ja or check out the website: