75 Years in the Visual Arts (1943-2018)
The oldest established Art Organization in the Caribbean
The Society is an established NGO .
Before the Trinidad Art Society was born, a small group of painters, poets and writers including Amy Leong Pang and Hugh Stollmeyer among others – dubbed the “Society of Trinidad Independents”, taking their cue from the modernist movements in Europe- pointed the country into the headwinds of contemporary art. They revelled in Gauguin, Modigliani and the growing fascination with African art; their metaphysical leanings found a ready response in Shango – Baptist beliefs with strong echoes of Orisha in Benin. The group ran afoul of a fundamentalist press whose vitriolic attacks were partially responsible for the disintegration of the body (after nine years) in 1938. Their pioneering visual work, however, was to have a profound influence on the development of art in Trinidad and Tobago.
By 1939 it became apparent that art was no longer confined to the privileged few, but was being practised throughout the country by all levels of society. This led to the establishment of the Trinidad Art Society in 1943, through the persistence of Sybil Atteck, a biological draughtsman and watercolourist who later studied under the German expressionist Max Beckman. The first president of the Artsociety was Mildred Faulkner. M.P. Alladin painted her portrait which is now at the Art Society’s Headquarters.
Within a decade their emergence as a formal organization began to bear fruit. Patronized by the British Council which for some twenty years provided free studios, lecturers, books and scholarships, the society maintained an ambitious program of classes and critiques; the central activity however, was the annual November Exhibition which then included artists from neighbouring territories, and which continues today.
The Trinidad Art Society supported and oversaw government programmes throughout the federal years and into the post independence period. In those early years they continued their annual programme of classes, workshops, discussions and November Exhibitions; in addition it assembled package exhibitions for government cultural missions abroad.
The Appointment of M.P. Alladin as Director of Culture was significant. Art was included in the school curriculum and art scholarships were made available, anticipating the new comprehensive schools. From the British Council the Society occupied the abandoned Woodbrook Market, but that was short lived. In 1994 the Society erected Phase One of a new Art Centre, a multi purpose building of just 1600 square feet.
It has already been the site of several exhibitions, teaching seminars, workshops, and other art activities mounted in conjunction with corporate bodies and other organizations. The major project in planning, however, is accessing funding for Phase Two: the main exhibition hall, Studio workshops to cover several media, and accommodation for visiting artists in residence. The Society anticipates an outreach program to embrace the wider community and the region, the establishment of reciprocal association with international agencies, programs for the welfare of self employed artists, and activities in relation to international copyright agreements for the digital communications age.
It can be proudly claimed that all the serious artists of the country have kept some connection with the society at one time or another. With such a brief history of social development however, and with such a weak iconography on which to build, artists create in diverse ways, sometimes reflecting their study influences, suggestion of ethnic memory, local folklore or personal metaphysical concepts.
LeRoy Clarke, self-taught poet and illustrator reached deeply into his ethnic roots to Shango-Baptist Imagery and into the native folklore for inspiration. Norris Iton’s prints are created around tribal motives, while Carlisle Harris transposes his metaphors with a more charismatic lyricism. Two of the strongest painters of East Indian background paint with a subtle sense of colour; Isaiah James Boodhoo, poetic and eclectic, his finest works inspired by the Nobel Laureate poet Derek Walcott; and Shastri Maharaj who employs more astringent harmonies to emphasize his vision of rural village experience. Although most artists create solely from visual reference, an exhibition in Trinidad and Tobago extends across the full spectrum of plastic expression. From found object to installation, intuitive to non-objective exploration of psyche. There is certainly room for all, and perhaps, out of the tenuous struggle to survive will emerge an ounce of greater power and individuality.
In 2004 a decision was taken to rename the Trinidad Art Society: The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.