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Wayne Branch and Art that matters

Published:Monday | January 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Artist Wayne Branch
Three Generations
The Bridgetown Warf
Morgan Lewis Vista

Can you imagine a world without art? No paintings, sketches or statues in parks! A world without art would be empty, dull and cold.

Barbadian fine artist Wayne Branch, will tell you that art does matter. Over the years, he has continued his quest for persons to recognise the importance art has had in the world, and to bring to the forefront the role that artists has had on civilisation.

According to Branch, art is important because it makes you feel the 'beauty of freedom', and it is a free expression of the human mind and senses. "Art depends on the ability to be resourceful, to work collaboratively, and think independently. To express yourself in a personal and vulnerable way, and to accept the diverging opinions of others and still remain confident in your own ideals," he told Outlook.

Branch's passion for fine arts was fuelled by the early influences of his uncle, Barbadian artist Keith Blackette. He was further encouraged to paint by renowned Barbadian artist Fielding Babb, who in those days spent much time painting in Branch's neighbourhood.

"I grew up in the rural part of St Georges, and I started painting at eight years old. Throughout primary school, I was always drawing and painting in watercolour, and I realised that I had the special ability to do art," Branch revealed.

He received his basic training in Art at the then West St Joseph Secondary School where he acquired his Cambridge Advanced Level Certificate in Art.

He subsequently won several national awards including first place in the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts, and remains the youngest recipient of the Award of Excellence from the Art Collection Foundation.

Branch's art form can be described as neo-impressionistic the science of optics and colour that forges a new and methodical technique that eschews the spontaneity and romanticism that many impressionists celebrate.

"I really don't see my work as a part of a particular genre. I have had some degree of influence from other genres, but I do my own thing," Branch explained.

"If there is a landscape that I am interested in painting, I visit it a few times to choose the best time to paint and determine what aspects impact me emotionally. It's not so much the element, but what it looks and feels like," he added.

After thinking of art as a serious profession, in the fall of 1990, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

"Colour influenced my life, and my experience during my university years was a bit subdued. It was much different from what opines here in the Caribbean, and it became a sense of trying to understand how that influence could be recreated," Branch said.

"I had to adjust my palette to the change and it was a good learning experience that helped me to become an even better painter."

Four years and numerous awards later, he graduated and moved on to New Haven, Connecticut to pursue his Masters in Fine Arts at the Yale University School of Art via a scholarship. He explained, "My thesis centred on the changes that took place during colonisation and the specific influences by our African ancestry and what happens in the Caribbean. Part of my thesis also looked at homelessness people that are destitute and how they love and share their space."

His work was selected to be one of the artists representing Barbados in the 1988 "Emerging Artist of the Caribbean and Latin America," which was exhibited in Nagoya Japan. This exhibition was dubbed "New World Art," and his work received very favourable reviews.

In "Caribbean Artists Today," a collection of paintings exhibited by Mercia Grassi, Professor emeritus of Drexel University, which toured the Caribbean, Europe and North America, also comprised some of Wayne's pieces. In fact, his landscape painting "Little Diamond," was selected to be the poster for the event. This body of work later gave rise to a book published in 2006.

Returning home

Returning to Barbados in 1996, Branch embarked on a quest to merge the experience of his informal and formal years on each canvas. Over a decade later, his work has seen much growth and some shifting from the pure landscape to the figurative subject matter. Recently his works have been more about the indigenous people, the Lokono Arawaks of Guyana, and how they have been influenced by modern trends while maintaining old traditions. This documentation is really a research project combining painting and cultural anthropology. "I would like to think that I have talent, and I have an avid interest in developing art in the Caribbean. I work with the Caribbean Examination's Council to get people to listen and develop an interest of visual arts throughout the region," Branch stated emphatically.

Branch is also a teacher with a wealth of knowledge and passion for Fine Arts. He has held many classes in studio painting, drawing and plein-air painting, and is much sought after to conduct workshops. In addition, he is involved with the Barbados Technical and Vocational Council's, Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) in Visual Arts both as an assessor and as an external verifier.

He is a also a lecturer of Fine Arts at the University of the southern Caribbean Barbados campus, and a tutor at the Barbados Community College in Anatomy, Figure Drawing, and Drawing and Painting. He is also Caribbean Examinations Council committee member, and Assistant Chief Examiner of CSEC Visual Arts with responsibility for the Jamaica marking centre.

"It can be a challenge teaching, but I will continue to embrace the possibilities that my students have to offer. There are always interesting encounters between myself and my students," he said.

His work can be found in numerous private and public collections locally, regionally and internationally, with notable public institutions, namely the Barbados Art Collection, the Barbados Museum and the Detroit Institute of the Arts, USA.

He continues to successfully create beautiful works of art which frolic with light, nature and the human element.