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Former queen gives life to children's stories

At left is Haynes-Peart. At right is detail of 'The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil' by Haynes-Peart (acrylic on canvas). -Contributed

Michael Robinson, Staff reporter

At age five, Andrea Haynes-Peart sold her first piece of work.

She had done the piece as part of a school project while living in the Bahamas. It seems a parent saw the piece, was thoroughly impressed and insisted on buying it.

"I still haven't seen the proceeds from that sale," she chuckles.

Nevertheless, the former Miss Jamaica confesses to a long-standing interest in fine art and illustration. One of her earliest memories was poring over the pictures in a book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. Less than a year old, she describes an intense fascination which has lasted to this day.

A painter with work in the National Gallery's collection, she recently finished illustrating a series of children's stories. The endeavour is one for which she obviously has a passion.

Children live in a world where anything is possible, she effuses, and illustrating children's books provides a creative freedom that is exhilarating and fulfilling. "It speaks to children in a way that perhaps more 'serious' art does not."

Andrea studied fine art in Montreal, returning to Jamaica in 1988.

The reality of a graphic artist's world turned out to be vastly different from the "rarefied" air of university. As a student at Concordia University, the young artist was taught by original members of the Bauhaus school and exposed to some high-calibre design work. Here, she says, she was taught graphic design in its pure form.

The purist in her was rudely awakened by a brief stint at one of the island's top advertising agencies, where she found that "the life of a graphic artist is not for me."

The experience was frustrating for her -- probably due to a conflict between the very clear vision she had for her work and the need to please the company's clients. In this context, the work she was doing amounted to little more than "disposable art". So, mere months after being hired, she left.

A deep-seated need for a break -- to be involved in something less conceptually oriented -- led her to take part in the Ms. Jamaica World pageant in 1988. "I had the opportunity," she said, "and I went for it."

Her return to the island also saw the painter mounting her first solo exhibition in Jamaica.

The show received critical acclaim, and consisted of sensitively rendered drawings and surreal imagery.

'Drag', which was purchased by the National Gallery, is an evocative piece dealing with the issue of sexuality.

Another piece, 'The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil' is exemplary of the painter's style. Heavily conceptual, the piece is laden with iconographic imagery. Andrea creates icons based on a childhood spent in the Caribbean and speaks to issues that are universal. The work depicts an interpretation of the mythical tree from the Garden of Eden and is painted on an axis, so it can also be viewed upside down. "It shows how good and evil often co-exist very close to each other," she explains. "It explores the dark side of the human psyche."

"Painting is introspection," muses the easy-going Haynes-Peart. "It's meditation."

Today she paints less, since it requires a huge investment of time and energy. She finds in illustration more of a happy medium - it's not as taxing but it is creatively stimulating and takes less time. And as a wife, mother and business owner with little time to spare, illustration "fills a niche."

All this may seem like a lot to handle, but for Andrea Haynes-Peart it keeps her happy. It's who she is and she wouldn't have it any other way.

She views her experience as a juggling act with all the "balls" having equal importance.

"Everything is important. It's all part of living -- of acquiring more life experience," she smiles charmingly. "It's all part of enriching your life."


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