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"YOU WANT TO START OFF IN LIFE AS YOU MEAN TO END"
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I found myself in a valley in Tobago, looking around if anyone from England, U.S.A. or Germany could see me, leant a tall cedar tree against a cluster of breadfruit trees and began to carve 'Banana Lady'. I was 40.
When I was 16, I left for Plymouth, England to be an 'au pair' with a Vicar's family (see photo at left). Later I worked as a student trainee with a German car company in London, and while modelling at various art schools, I drew the other models in turn. These drawings were big and bold and I was told at the Berlin Academy that I had to study sculpture.
We carved stone and wood with Prof. Paul Dierkes. A fellow student, Thomas Darboven, my first love and long time friend, an architect and sculptor, persuaded me to study Brancusi instead of the beautiful Greek Apollo I had seen in Rome. He introduced me to a lot of architecture, particularly Le Corbusier's; I still prefer Palaces and Churches.
There was a tremendous surge into serious sculpture when I went to St. Martin's School of Art in London in 1966, with Sir Anthony Caro (see photo with me in Tobago- below) as the prime force. With me were lrmin Kamp, Gilbert and George, Jan Dibbets, Hamish Fulton, Richard Long, Wendy Taylor, David Evison and many others.
I stayed three years and made huge environmental fibreglass sculptures with titles like 'when Baby Charlotte passes through'. We listened to the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Aretha Franklin, Al Green. I was not a fan of the Beatles or Rolling Stones. It was party time.
And then came Reggae like a shock, Bob Marley and the Wailers.
It was 1972, Norbert Kricke came to St. Martin's and Lutze arrived from New York. I got a job at the famous Rhode Island School of Design as instructor in the Sculpture Department for two years. I taught what I had learnt at St. Martin's, had experimented with at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, under my very encouraging Head of Department,
Norman Rowe, and all the projects we had traded on the trains to our various teaching assignments in England. I lived with Lutze in New York and life began.
Blinki Palermo was painting his 'Coney Island series', Rebecca Horn prepared 'La Ferdinanda', I painted patterns from Guatemala and made floppy papier mâché sculptures. Lutze worked in the Onnasch Gallery, Beuys lived with the Coyote at Rene Block's. We went to posh uptown openings, afterwards descended to the Frogpond downtown. I loved Toby. Two years later, I became Associate Professor at the University of California, Turlock, where I painted Navaho carpets and cast big ceramic pots based on early Inca ceramics.
I owe the freedom to make pots and decorate them lavishly to Dale Chihuly and his exuberantly beautiful glass works, June Kaneko's big very colourful ceramic sculptures, both taught at RISD, and Palermo who encouraged me in N.Y.
There was absolutely no fear of beauty, colourful embellishment or whatever. I had sent 150 applications all over the world, and Norbert Kricke, Director of Düsseldorf Academy, called to offer the position of Head of Foundation Studies. My mother was glad. The pressure to do modern and abstract art was strong in Düsseldorf, I escaped to New York whenever I could, then to Haiti and Jamaica.
at left: Early bronzes
I stayed in Tobago and carved cedar trees with Albert Prince. We became quite well known in Trinidad and Tobago. He then left for New York.
The Carnival Mas' Designer Peter Minshall and his fantastic wonderful work for Trinidad Carnival has been the most inspiring influence for me in Trinidad.
Every year we went with the students to Kronenburg, 6 km from the Belgium border, to do nature studies. In 1990 a big storm felled forests in Northern Europe and I bought 59 oak trees, was able to lease a hilltop and a barn and used to chop out dancers. (If I need wood now, I phone Moses and he gets it for me: Cedar, Cypress, Mahogany.)
After one year of drying, I shipped them to my Tobago studio for completion. It takes 3 to 5 years from start to finish. What is that in the face of 300 year old giants who stand 2m high in the barn. It is love on first sight, and then I make mistakes. Of course I add. No matter how I plan, the tree dictates. I carve strictly in profiles, first the head to set the mood, the body follows. Colour and form belong together like in all ancient sculpture.
Michelangelo, Maillol, Lehmbruck, Kolbe, Barlach all had their own one face. I love the beautiful Tobagonians. They look like Egyptian paintings, tiny waists, broad shoulders, long necks. Stately walk, velvet voices, they sing like angels and crack up with laughter. My father took us to the Kunsthalle in Bremen almost every Sunday. Awestruck, I watched Rodin's 'L'age d'airain', and Maillol's Venus, thinking then, as I do now: "This is what I want to do".
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