Caribbean art is a rather all-encompassing term considering the huge diversity of artwork that has originated from the region and the number of countries and cultures included under the umbrella of the Caribbean.
In such a context it is almost impossible to “define” Caribbean art, as just like the region itself, the varied influences of the past and its historical development involve a huge melting pot of cultures and races.
In this article we will be looking at art from just one small Caribbean nation, the Cayman Islands. Largely as a result of the boom years on these tiny islands literally only a couple of decades ago, interest in fine art and its place in Cayman society has grown at an amazingly rapid rate. Huge foreign inward investment, a rapid population growth and rise in expatriate workers and residents has seen demand for fine art soar and the islands now support a thriving and active arts scene.
When you think that it was not until 1996 that the country opened its first National Gallery, the progress has been quite astounding and art lovers today are still often surprised at the quality, originality, style and subject matter of the work now being produced by some of the island’s established and emerging artists.
With such a large expatriate population, many of the working artists in this tiny island nation hail from foreign shores, but Cayman itself has produced a great number of the country’s finest, most respected and sought after painters and sculptors.
At the time of the establishment of the National Gallery, a group of artists came together in a co-operative effort and christened themselves “Native Sons”. This avant guard group became a powerful driving force behind the expansion and modernization of Caymanian art, dedicating themselves to pushing the envelope and educating the public in the field of contemporary fine art.
Faced as they were with a very stereotypical view of what art from a Caribbean island should be, they began to change views and attitudes towards both art and the artists and should really be credited with responsibility for much of the growth and development that has taken place ever since.
A very conservative Christian society such as that in Cayman, was not always receptive to what was perceived as rawness or “risque” depictions in paintings and sculptures, leaning much more towards safety, dependability and traditional values and expectations. In this environment, the emerging consciousness of many artists left them frustrated by what seemed to them, the desire to confine them to painting boats, seascapes and palm trees for tourists. This was something that these young, respectfully rebellious and forward thinking Caymanian artists, found stifling and in them grew the seeds of artistic revolution. They knew that if art was to have a future, free expression had to be pushed and encouraged for their art and creativity to develop and expand beyond its heretofore staid and restrictive societal constraints.
Of course, many artists in Cayman today still produce a lot of work depicting the natural beauty that surrounds them every day and many of them do some very fine work, but Cayman art by both local and expatriate artists has now become some of the most varied and original in the region. This is not to say that tradition and history have been forgotten. Indeed the advances in progressive and contemporary art have produced the added bonus of an upsurge in the interest of past traditions and skills and a resurgence of the practice and teaching of traditional arts and crafts. Art education has also benefited greatly from the wave of artistic awareness that is now recognized as such an important part of both the country’s and society’s identity, development and economy.
The growth of fine art as an industry, whilst it has produced many benefits, has also caused corresponding difficulties but these are perhaps best dealt with in a separate article.
Ultimately, for art lovers, the Cayman Islands are a Caribbean haven. The prices for art at the top end of the market remain high, so people wanting to own an original painting by some of the best known talents have to expect to pay upwards of CI$3000 and there really is no upper ceiling.
For those of more modest means there are still some true bargains to be found in the original art market, particularly from some of the most talented emerging artists whose work can still be snapped up in the sub CI$1000 range and should still represent good investments in the long term.
Additionally, with more artists now able to take advantage of locally based skilled print makers and the latest in technology, the opportunity of purchasing high quality reproductions of their favourite original paintings for a fraction of the cost, has placed the work of many of the top names within much easier reach for a far greater number of art lovers.
The determining factors of the price of original artwork in the Cayman Islands remain largely the same as anywhere else in the world. The complexity and man hours involved in a piece will have some bearing, the history, desirability, and past commercial success of an artist are major factors and with established artists, the size of a work can also have a major bearing on cost.
Buyers should not be afraid to negotiate but bear in mind that the artists who command the highest prices are, by definition, the least likely to be in a position to discount heavily. The market value of their work has invariably been established over a very long period of time and will not fluctuate too greatly. Theirs is the calibre of work that is justifiably considered an investment in addition to desirability based on its unique beauty.
From watercolours, acrylics and oils, realism, surrealism, abstract and naive, landscapes and portraits, sculptures in a huge range of materials, beautiful batiks, and the more traditional arts and crafts of the region, if you enjoy any form of art, the Cayman Islands will have something for you.
What continues to surprise many visitors and residents alike however, is the sophistication and truly unique artistic vision exhibited by some of the leading artisans of 21st century Cayman. A look at the best work being produced today illustrates just how far removed they have become from the narrow expectations often and unfairly associated with “Caribbean Art”.