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Provoking change with art

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Yellow Cake Meltdown
The Trillionaire
The Flesh Ledgers
National Dish
June Fellowship
The Beaten Tracks
Rush Lane
Michael Elliott

If you are perhaps on the conservative side, Michael Elliot's unconventional drawings will raise the hair on your head, perhaps your eyebrows too.

Stirring subtle controversy with his paintings Elliott, who has, over the years, developed an awareness of current affairs and social issues, not only in Jamaica but globally, seeks to represent these by means of realistically painted symbols including disturbing images as dead, bloodied rats and chopped meat.

The use of close-up views adds to the shock-effect of these images, as it confronts the viewer more directly with their disturbing character and underlying messages. According to Elliott, recent events have put into question the nature of man's relationship with each other, and political crises, wars, religious tensions, and many other manifestations of conflict seem to be the order of the day.

"Even the earth seems to be angry, perhaps angry at what we have done to it and each other, and there have been several catastrophic events involving floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. I believe it is my calling to use my art as a tool to raise social awareness and I would like to see Jamaican art as a tool for change that makes our society think and do better," Elliott said.

People, indeed, seem to value and enjoy artwork more, if the artist displays unconventional and eccentric behaviour. In other words, eccentricity of artists is not just a personality trait but a self-fulfilling prophecy as well.

Jamaica, he said, now stands at a crossroad and overall the world in general also faces this dilemma. One of his pieces, 'The Trillionaire' addresses a number of current issues including crime, political crisis, initiating commentary on the situation in Zimbabwe. Another piece titled, 'Golgotha' brings into question the morality of the Church in today's world, especially the issue of sexual mistreatment in the Catholic church.

Elliott's work also takes on happenings on the Caribbean, including the Haitian earthquake in 2010 which prompted him to produce two paintings, 'Tous Saints' (All Saints) and 'Loa Arise'. Tous Saints features - similar to Golgotha - a still life of a skull, only this time encrypted on the wall behind are dates of significant happenings in Haiti's history.

"I find that these images draw people in more than scare them. Some of them are pretty mild. I use images to bring about the right sensation. People are not shocked enough and sometimes they need a jolt. Art speaks to human beings and has the power to provoke thought and influence perception," Elliott said.

Elliott or Flyn, as he is known to many in the art world, was born in Manchester in 1979. He registered at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, in 1998, where he studied painting and became attracted to photorealism.

Early interest

"From a young age, I developed an interest in drawing things; depicting things I see in front of me or in books. I always tried to be accurate using a lot of the nature around as my influence. I was also influenced at that time by fictional things including comics and anything that grabbed me," Elliott said.

"I had a creative leaning towards my imagination in which I would create images and add a twist to what I would see, sort of surreal depictions. I felt after a while, my art should serve a deeper purpose other than just doing art," he added.

Initially, he documented the physical environment of Jamaica, however, he now uses photography as an important role in the development of his work. Most of his paintings are based on his own photographs.

"The use of the camera and photographs to assist an artist has been around from the very beginnings of photography. Many major artists from Delacroix, through Degas, through Picasso, and Francis Bacon have utilised photographs, both those that existed and had a life of their own or photographs taken specifically by the artist or commissioned by the artist to aid him or her in some aspect of the work," Elliott said.

Despite the bold textures, rich colours and eye-popping paintings with their many strange and defining moments, Elliott does not limit himself to depicting the macabre. He also paints images that are more moody and poetic, whether scenery or still life, although these also carry implied social messages.

His train series, for example, explores the shattered hopes about Jamaica's defunct railway system, which was once a source of national pride, and, by implication, the broader economic challenges facing contemporary Jamaica.

"Sometimes it is very easy for an artist to think of an idea and it literally comes to mind. I always think that there are no boundaries to represent an idea. Symbolism is a great part of art for me as symbols represent the greater picture," Elliott said.

Elliott has exhibited regularly since graduating from the Edna Manley College in 2002, including the Annual National (2002) and the National Biennial (2006, 2008, 2012) at the National Gallery of Jamaica, and various Mutual Gallery exhibitions, such as Young Generation.

He has also received a Silver Medal in the 2008 JCDC/NGJ National Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition. He had his first solo exhibition at the CAG[e] Gallery of the Edna Manley College in 2008.

His work has also been exhibited in Italy and Germany. In 2012, Elliott participated in the Sala Ostrichina Piazza Gioacchino Rossi Exhibition in Bacoli, Naples, Italy, and the 'Hidden Sense' Gallery of Art Administrative Court, Stutgart, Germany.

"Art should be a tool of social change, it is not all about changing people's perception, but it is representing a visual debate so that people can start tackling the issues in conversation," Elliott said.

More of his work can be viewed at