This March at Gallery of Caribbean Art, Speightstown: Asher Mains, Wings to Fly
Sitting in his studio/loft in Deep Ellum, the well known enclave for artists in Dallas, Texas, one would surmise that Asher Mains is the perfect prototype for a North American, urban artist. Small sculptures in porcelain and clay of the human figure sit in a line atop the half wall, stencils on paper and canvas are casually pinned into the walls, and the lingering scent of oil paint and turpentine combine with those of a fresh pot of coffee. Young, socially engaged, twitter savvy — just what you would expect.
But given a few minutes to absorb the work, you soon realize that Asher Mains is not from here — not from this particular urban milieu. Asher is a Caribbean son, having grown up in Grenada. His tutelage in art has been informal and formal, and he has exhibited extensively and is collected internationally.
Repeated stencils of a market scene in Ghana, West Africa line one wall. Asher explains, “It’s all about fractals, with the market being the metaphor. Fractals are repeating themselves, in a self similar way—reaching out, getting bigger, smaller. A small portion of it will be similar to a large portion. So as for the market, the scene is a picture of food production, distribution, and within the scene there are smaller things happening—someone cooking a pot of food, a child raising a cup to his lips, a lady carrying a load on her head. On the smallest level, but centre stage, is the woman nursing a baby. The intimate nature of the woman feeding the baby is self-similar to the whole of the market feeding the community.” Aside from the very cerebral context, the image is vivid and compelling.
Sitting on the easel in the painting area of the studio are a series of small works, 12” x 16” individual portraits in oil. Very loose and dripping, you see through the many layers the surface of the canvas. These are obviously Caribbean people, with the mix of races apparent. The artist clarifies, “These are inspired by a song from the Doors ‘When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain, when you’re strange, no one remembers your name.’ Eventually there will be twelve of them.” And why twelve? (You asked) “Because the calendar is a fractal and 12 months represents a year of self-similar, self repeating days. Your use of a day is similar to your use of year. The small Caribbean islands are a fractal of the larger space, and we are really one people. We don’t look all that different.” Quoting Chinese-American artist Hung Liu, Asher rationalizes his extensive use of the human figure in his paintings, “Every history should have some human faces – a concrete peasant face might tell you more than the text in history books.”
Close at hand is a larger piece inspired by the jab jab (30” x 40”) of J’ouvert of Carnival in Grenada in the Caribbean. The black paint actually looks like the used motor oil the revelers pour on their bodies for the early morning Carnival. His classical painting technique is obviously well honed, the forms being carefully modeled.
Above all, everywhere you look, wings; wings in stencils, wings on birds flying away, and a pair of wings 12 feet across, ink on paper holding the wall up for the 16 ft. ceiling. Asher quotes Frida Khalo, “Feet, what need do I have of you when I have wings to fly”.
Asher is preparing for a solo exhibit at the Gallery of Caribbean Art in Barbados in March of 2012. The title of his show is “Everything is Peachy in Babylon.” Peachy is represented by a young girl, stenciled on to various multi-coloured backgrounds. The grand idea is that he would do a marketing campaign for Caribbean immigrants living in America—all the golden promises for which the price is so high, and often unrealized. (Babylon is a Rastafarian term used to describe the imperial, colonial world.)
Amidst the art making, Asher is currently studying for a Master’s degree in International Political Economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. He lives with Banksy, his big brown dog. He believes that his art will take him many places in the world.
Perhaps in this mix Asher does feel his own strangeness. Once you have seen his art, there is no danger that you won’t remember his name.
- Inky de Bergerac, Jan. 2012