Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery / Seascapes with Figures
Shooting the Breeze
Derek Walcott’s intimate portrayals of St. Lucia, listen to the light.
By JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT
Blue skies, expansive seas and tropical palms swaying in the breeze… a lone figure at home on the edge… that’s what you get when you look into the soul of Derek Walcott. Renowned as a literary lion, the 75-year-old Nobel Laureate is a champion of his native St. Lucia in the Caribbean. His poems are alive with burning metaphors as he describes the bright sunlight beating on the island. The paintings are in some ways a step back from the glittering rhythms and conceits he beats out on the anvil of his verse. What the landscapes forego in intensity though, they gain in intimacy.
The streets and houses of Gros Ilet prove to be a favorite subject. In these faithfully rendered, representational forays, composition and color are key. Walcott has a great eye for dividing his canvas in a natural way that elicits the maximum amount of geometric torque. The houses bleached in sunlight form a horizon line in Street in Gros Ilet. Above them, telephone lines that meet tree limbs mid-canvas cut the sky. The tree’s vertical trunk anchors the left side of the canvas. A dusty road that seemingly runs in all directions dominates the foreground. Indicative of Walcott’s lifelong interest in the individual’s isolation, a male figure heads toward us — fitting into his surroundings, but also engulfed by them.
In the charming pastoral,Cows in Pasture — Dry Season, Walcott evokes Old Dutch masters. The cobalt hues of the cloud-daubed sky are emphatically upbeat, as if the word pollution had never been coined. The palette, ranging from tawny fauna to azure seas and then into the robin egg sky, is pitch perfect. And again, the composition sings. The four cows are all arranged in complementary poses. On the far left a large rock stands in the surf balanced on the right by a cliff. Between a few trees we see a small sail billowing in the otherwise languid scene.
|Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery|
|Portrait of Claudia in Yellow Armchair|
Walcott has a great eye for dividing his canvas in a natural way that elicits the maximum amount of geometric torque.
One can find immediate psychological depth inSwimmer, one of three handsome watercolors. Interestingly, the artist told me the watercolors are harder than the oils. A bather is wading in away from the viewer. He faces some roiling waves. His stance declares awareness of the danger and responds to the challenge with determination and exhilaration. On the right some wooden beams jut out of the sand injecting further anxiety into the scene.
Likewise, Presbytery — Gros Ilet, imparts a shadowy underworld of poverty and neglect into Walcott’s otherwise idyllic purview. Again, a lone figure walks along on the left side of the canvas, only this time his back is to us. Around him are the scattered items of detritus that civilization leaves behind: a rusty oil barrel, old appliances and a tire. A church takes up much of the painting and there is less sky. Adding to the sense of unease, the church’s roof seems to be in need of repair. Red sections are punctuated by pale gray rectangles lending balance to the natural forms of trees and clouds. Framing the right hand side, an incomplete cinder block building seems abandoned.