Giving an important boost to the local art industry, Government has recently purchased five pieces of art earmarked as particularly outstanding contemporary works, all produced by local artists, Wray Banker, Horacio Esteban, Al Ebanks, Aston Ebanks and Brandon Saunders. The pieces, chosen by the National Gallery’s Collection & Exhibitions Committee, headed by Chairperson Susan A. Olde, are now housed in the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ permanent collection.
At a special reception held last week to mark the occasion, the National Gallery played host to the five artists, their families and friends, National Gallery supporters and representatives and the Government officials who made it happen.
Spearheaded by Dwayne Seymour, Minister for Health, Environment, Culture and Housing, the donation to purchase the artwork came about from an initial Gallery visit by the Minister last year.
At the reception, he outlined why he felt it was important to commit to enhancing Cayman’s art industry.
“When I first became Culture Minister one of my first stops was at the National Gallery for a tour, where I met the Gallery’s Director, Natalie Urquhart,” Minister Seymour said. “I was so impressed by her passion for what she does that I asked her whether there was one thing I could do to make a difference, and she requested assistance with buying art created by local artists to help expand the permanent collection. I was determined to find the funding and despite time constraints and no budget we managed to find the funding in the end.”
Minister Seymour said that investing in local art was actually a “double whammy win” because local artists would receive support from the purchase while the National Gallery in turn could enhance its permanent collection, providing a broader show of work for people to enjoy in perpetuity.
“I think it’s really important that we see this artwork displayed in a public place,” Minister Seymour confirmed. “I think it’s a great motivation to young people and reinforces the fact that the art industry is alive and well.”
Mrs Urquhart was sincerely grateful to the Ministry for their support and thrilled that the permanent collection has been able to expand in this way.
“At the National Gallery one of our priorities has been to expand the permanent collection because it tells the story of the Cayman Islands and who we are,” she confirmed, adding that she was particularly pleased that the five artworks chosen were all contemporary pieces, an area of local artwork that she has been specifically seeking to grow.
“The works of the five artists will stand the test of time and help our young people understand their culture and where they are from,” she said.
Brandon Saunders is the youngest artist to have his work displayed in the permanent collection, at just 18. He attends St Ignatius High School and hopes to study either fine art or graphics communications at university in the UK in September. His piece is entitled ‘Osiris’ and is a bewitching use of digital photography, blending the face of a model with a conch shell.
“The piece was actually part of a series that I worked on for my AS Art,” Brandon explained. “I was inspired by the sea life because of Cayman’s great relationship with the sea and I wanted to reflect that relationship. The other pieces depict the bottom of the sea and the middle of the ocean and Osiris is a reflection of the surface, the shoreline and what attracts tourists to Cayman.”
Brandon stated that he was “speechless” that his artwork had been chosen for the permanent collection.
Al Ebanks is a well-established local artist and co-founder of the Native Sons artistic movement. His impressive and colourful canvas is entitled ‘Self Portrait. Remnants of the Arts’ and is actually made up of pieces of leftover paint that the artist said he had accumulated over time. Al’s works have been steadily collected by the Gallery over the years and he confirmed he was delighted that the Ministry took the initiative to purchase art for the permanent collection.
“I’ve had a lot of support from the Gallery over the years, so it’s really great to see the Ministry now supporting the arts in this way,” he confirmed.
Sculptor and fellow Native Sons artist Horacio Esteban’s work has recently been exhibited at the National Gallery in a solo show, and the piece chosen by the Gallery is from a collection of ‘Mother and Child’ sculptures in Caymanite, which have consumed a great deal of the artist’s passion in recent years.
“I am an only child and I was raised by a single mother so the connection with my mother has been very close,” he explained. “I am so excited that one of my sculptures from the series has found this incredible home.”
Aston Ebanks is another established artist whose conceptual work always causes the viewer to think about the underlying message. His piece entitled ‘Joni Mitchell Never Lies’ is made from recycled glass from car doors with a digital print overlaid. On first glance it’s a pretty picture of Seven Mile Beach, but the artist has a deeper message to portray.
“It idea for the piece came about when the West Bay Road was moved so the view of the beach was lost on the drive,” he said. “I wanted to create a piece that talked about the loss of things and the importance of appreciating what you have, because, in the words of Joni Mitchell ‘you don’t always know what you’ve got til it’s gone’. I wanted people to think about being present in the moment and to ensure they don’t take things for granted.”
Take a quick glimpse at artist Wray Banker’s ‘Our Way’ and you may be forgiven for thinking it’s just the Burger King logo on a light box, but take a proper look at the words actually say ‘Turtle Meat’.
“The concept came together in about five minutes,” Wray, a graphic artist, explained. “It was actually a stroke of luck that the words ‘Turtle’ and ‘Meat’ have the same number of letters as ‘Burger’ and ‘King’ so they fitted perfectly into the logo. I used the same font as the logo (which is actually an old logo from years ago). The hard work came in the actual creation of the piece, making the lightbox and ensuring it was authentic.”
Wray is another artist who likes to challenge viewpoints and in this case his message is quite clear.
“The piece came about after there was a lot of publicity about the Cayman Turtle Farm. The concept was in the air, really. I want to encourage dialogue about Caymanian culture. I want us to feel comfortable about talking about this. After all, turtle meat is our national dish. I want people to know it’s OK to talk about it,” he confirmed.
All the artists expressed their delight that their artwork had been picked for the National Gallery’s permanent collection.