In the mid-nineties Pewsey received a refreshing alternative to the predominately techno scene when it gained a resident Jamaican keen to put on welcomed reggae nights. To this day organiser Knati continues to host sound system events from Calne to Marlborough.
I’m reckoning it was 2006 when I approached him, asking if he’d like a flyer designed, stupidly, what I didn’t know at the time; he’s also Clifton Powell, a highly accomplished artist!
Clifton studied at The Jamaica School of Art, Kingston, before moving to London in the late eighties. After a stay in Bath he found his way to sleepy Wiltshire where he settled. I picked up on his sublime paintings at The Bluestone Gallery in Swan Yard, Devizes; an awesome emporium chockful of a wide variety of art, mostly locally sourced.
Prior to his forthcoming exhibition “Unrest,” at the gorgeous Wine Street Gallery over on Hopton, opening on 1st March and running until the 24th, I was invited to his rural retreat, which he deems his “yard,” to meet him, and a Labrador I recognised from Clifton’s portrait, who escorted me up the track.
Over a cuppa we discussed the range of his work. While acrylic on canvas is his favoured medium, and his style traditional realism, the range of subjects is vast and avant-garde, usually allocated to a series. Clifton, answering my question on other mediums, expressed although he had experimented, he was at home with acrylic or oil on canvas.
I was keen to ask if Wine Street’s show was confined to his shadier depictions of civil unrest and revolution, or if works of other subjects would be displayed.
It seems while the “Unrest” series will be the focal point, these other themes will also be displayed, bringing all the diversity he feels it obligatory to explore to the exhibit. Clifton is a highly accomplished, versatile painter and prolific, working on a piece when I arrived. With expressive fluid draughtsmanship he combines dynamic use of colour with confident brushwork to create gentle and realistic images; throughout his house I sauntered in awe.
Influenced by places travelled and the people he met, scenes and still life adorn every wall, many of Wiltshire’s countryside and wildlife, others include an astounding series of African landscapes and portraits, akin to Gauguin. But while many themes conventional, I was taken by the portrait “Barbados,” in Bluestone, explaining to Knati by the title I’d have preconceived brightness and buoyancy. However the painting is of a tired local with head-in-hands upon a black background, it’s shadowy, evocative. Knati laughed, enlightening night in Barbados is exceptionally dark and the character has been overworked.
It’s this contraction which has produced “Unrest,” the exciting series featuring at Wine Street; there are obscure backdrops of turbulence, active characters caught up in fogged scenes of, what I perceived as a riot, faces veiled by V or gasmasks, and ambiguous dark portrayals of a time Clifton views as present.
In contrast we paused on a breathtakingly realistic image of a robin, I noted it’s something my mother would love, and he told me a personal story of why he’d never part with it. This diversity is his motivation, a freedom to paint subjects at will, commission based or not, and something which makes Clifton’s art surprising and never dull.
Clifton’s past exhibitions include The International Art Exhibition at St Martin’s school of Art in London, as well as in Stroud, and The House of Emperor Haile Selassie in Bath; the Ethiopian king and divinity of Rastafari having stayed there in exile. Clifton has had his work alongside Paul Goodnight and many established black artists.
It was keenly noted by social media comments that Clifton is also an inspired teacher, volunteering with the Arts Together charity, which works to improve the health, well-being and quality of life of older people through a range of participatory arts projects.
Throughout our tête-à-tête Clifton never talked in tongues or attempted to baffle about what any painting represented, the pictures speak for themselves, and all that shone through was his dynamic and amiable personality. You need make up your own mind by viewing his work at the Wine Street Gallery, and if you’ve never been there before, this is the ideal opportunity.
So, there’s a private view, Thursday 1st March, from 6-9 PM, and the exhibit continues Saturday 2nd, until Saturday 24th March 2018, at Wine St. Gallery @ No 10, Unit 10, White Horse Business Centre, Hopton Road, Devizes, Wilts, SN10 2HJ
Facebook.com/winestreetgallery Contact Dawn Galbraith Tel: 07852 945598, email: firstname.lastname@example.org