Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Minshall's Being

Redwing, Acrylic on board. 12"x12" (c) 1980.

I don’t remember how I got it but among my most beautiful and valued possessions is a book by Peter Minshall. Written totally in Trinidad vernacular it is a mythical story , Callaloo and de Crab. There are no “th’s” and no “ing’s”. It is Trinidadiana! It’s a white book with a black illustration on the cover from Minshall’s Everyman series.
                It was a spontaneous moment a couple Fridays ago when I went with one of my besties and colleague, Tamara Williams, to Minshall Miscellany. It was just some days before the exhibit at Y Gallery closed. Walking in ahead of us were Judy Chung Dennison and her husband and business partner, former sport journalist Anthony Dennison. Judy a former flight attendant and television host has what can only be described as a perfectly pitched voice. Mr. Dennison equally blessed with an iconic vocal acuteness. Tamara has worked for their media production company JCD and Associates. Their clients include the Barbados Tourism Authority and Caribbean Airlines, they have long been the producers of the airline’s in-flight video magazine feature Caribbean Essence.
The Coloured Man, Crayon on paper. 12"x12".
                As we chatted they remembered they were looking for a male voice and after expressing an interest in having me do a demo, Judy says soto voce “out of sight out of mind.” It was said as if she was sorry that she forgets me as available voice talent.
                Co-curator of the exhibition, Frame Shop owner, band leader and artist Ashraph Ramsaran was at the gallery and we spoke to him next. It was beautifully serendipitous as Ashraph is a lot of fun and was able to walk us through parts of our visit. He mentioned that Minshall’s Everyman was inspired by an image the young Minshall saw on a costume by the late great George Bailey. If they say anything they resolutely say Bailey was the greatest of his time. Because of my mother I also have a respect for Harold Saldenah, Sally as she calls him, who created in Bailey’s era. She enjoys talking about playing mas with Sally. She most often played, Wild Indian or it might be that Sally only brought Indian mas. I say this in part to say that there is more visual history of Bailey in my mind than Saldenah.
Head Piece, Acrylic and crayon on card. 20"x30' (c) 1986.
                Bailey was great at replicating images he saw in encyclopedia and history books to make a mas of all sorts of wear. His bands included Ye Saga of Merrie EnglandByzantine Glory, Somewhere in New Guinea and Bright Africa. Minshall comes along a little more than a decade after Baileys reign and joins a Carnival in transition. The focus began shifting in the mid 70’s perhaps given the revolution of the early 70’s that served as a gestation period for a departure from Bailey’s realism to a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic approach to color and form. It must be noted that this is not without the acknowledgement of the constant Traditional mas which still informs the mas that traditionally changes.
Top to bottom: The Cloths of Tantana: Fyzabad, Acrylic on Paper 24"x24" (c) 1993. The Cloths of Tantana: Black Rock, Acrylic on paper 24"x24" (c) 1993.
Dry Leaves of Grass, Acrylic and fern leaf on card. 14"x20" (c) 1986.
                Minshall caught my eye in the late 70’s as a young boy with his King, Devil Ray. It was Carnival of the Sea that year and he had taken Sailor mas to another level bringing new colors and embellishments to the white bell bottom uniform, sailor caps, fire stokes and all. Danse Macabre came after and was our introduction to what some see as the dark and evil Minshall. He goes on to grow with the controversy as he launches an attack on convention but with some concession by producing colorless monochromatic bands. There was other fascinating work happening at the time but Minshall was always different in a memorable way to me. 
                Conversations with Minshall reveal his complexity which he sums up as Caribbean. He was born in Guyana and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. His success has not made that easier as paternity matters in building a legacy and protecting inheritance.
Face Off (the artist sober and the artist drunk), Crayon on paper. 28"x24".
                As you entered the gallery to the immediate right was the first piece according to the list with work descriptions and prices. Item #1 was a 1972 set he’d done for a stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? Having seen the exhibit we end up at the door to the gallery where Face-Off (the artist sober and the artist drunk) hangs: across the doorway is item #1.
                The movie version of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. From my recollection, having watched it once, it is a treatise on marriage and alcoholism. I remember the Upstate New York couple getting drunk every evening over dinner at home and having raging arguments. That may have just been one scene, as I said I don’t quite remember. It struck me at the moment, though, that the two pieces at the entrance to the gallery, one to the left the other to the right, refer to drinking. The set design piece is beautiful, detailed autumn toned crayon on black card, on the other side an animation like whimsy again in crayon, capturing what may be just two sides of the artist who gave us Everyman.

Images  from the catalog of Minshall Miscellany.


  1. Like you, Sterling, I have a copy of that same Minshall book. It is a prized possession of mine also. I need him to autograph it, and then I good. Picasso , it is said, had a saying that "if he signed a paper napkin, it would be worth a million." I wonder if Minshall is of the same thinking.

  2. Yeah it was a bit of a difficult read being in dialect and all but I do treasure it for the that very reason.Thanks for commenting!