I Met My Grandmother at the Art Gallery

Story Teller“Story Teller”, Thierry Lamare, watercolour

Last week I went to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas for a double exhibition opening: “George Cox, The Unseen Structure”, and “Thierry Lamare Retrospective: Love, Loss and Life”. I was expecting to enjoy the Cox exhibition because of my familiarity with the family and the work of both George – an architect – and his son John – an artist and the curator. I’d seen a couple of Lamare’s pieces in a digital newsletter and thought his exhibit would probably be pleasant. It completely blew me away.

The gallery was crowded with people, and still I felt as though I fell into each one of his paintings; I could feel the wind blowing, that slight stickiness that comes from salty sea air, and was warmed by the sun dappling my skin as it did his subjects’. Many of the paintings were of two older Bahamian women, Joyce and Ophelia, though there were others of different gentlemen and land and seascapes.

I bumped into a friend crossing the parking lot to the gallery, and after I walked through the Lamare exhibit on my own we viewed it again together, pointing out our favourite pieces and remarking on their unbelievable depth and detail. Through the shadowy windows of the women’s homes we made out bowls on tables and cups on sills. We marvelled at the subjects’ delicate wrinkles and veins and the way we could imagine the clouds passing in front of their faces.

Watercolour is a favourite medium of Lamare’s, but he doesn’t use it in that bright, sugary way I’m so used to seeing, with colours and images bleeding into one another. His paintings are rich and forceful, embracing the dark, and clean, clear figures. My friend loves lines and we commented on how they were so present we could feel them, although we couldn’t necessarily see them. From a distance you could mistake some of Lamare’s work for photographs.

The exhibit also included paintings on driftwood created with egg tempera, something I’d never heard of before, but I loved those too. The portraits of the men and women seemed to speak to me of their lives and their work: rigorous physical labour, constant, in the sun. I imagined them chastising me, questioning me and giving me advice, like my own grandmother, with love, wisdom and sometimes consternation. Lamare either had real relationships with his muses, or was amazingly talented since he was able to capture such personality in his painting; probably some combination of both. Then I turned a corner and read on a wall a letter he had written to Ophelia about his experience attending her funeral. It was tender and reverent, and gave us a glimpse into the ways he learned from and became close to her; she was more to him than just a subject. I was moved.

Even Lamare’s landscapes evoked emotional responses in me. There was a painting of the Hope Town lighthouse in particular that I could scarcely tear myself away from. I visited there with another friend of mine a few years ago, and the painting reminded me of our trip and helped me see the majesty of the lighthouse in a way I hadn’t before.

I came home gushing about the opening to my aunt, trying to find the words to explain Lamare’s incredible body of work. Two days later, out for drinks with the same friend I ran into at the gallery, we couldn’t help but talk again about everything we’d seen. Now here I am telling you that if you live in or will be visiting Nassau, you have to treat yourself to the exhibit. It will be up until September. I’ll be there again in a few days and I can’t wait. If you won’t have the same privilege, visit Lamare’s website, though understand that seeing his work online is a poor substitute for seeing it in person.

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Carrie & Lowell

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One evening late last year I watched the pilot of a show that a friend recommended to me. It was ok, somewhat intriguing, and though I watched another episode or two ultimately I decided the show wasn’t for me. The pilot however gifted me with the best body of music that I listened to that year, an album that’s going to stick with me forever.

I thought the intro music was beautiful, so I went looking for the song that it came from. To my happy surprise, it was by Sufjan Stevens, an artist I already knew and liked. I replayed the song, “Death with Dignity”, over and over on YouTube, and slowly started listening to others from the album. This grew into listening to the album in full, and finally buying it.

The year was practically over by then, and I had heard a lot of other new music. When Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” came out I was impressed, and thought that it might be the defining sound-memory of the year for me.  After a few listens, the songs I wasn’t super comfortable with started to grate on me and I played it less and less. I thought I might not find an album of the year after all – no biggie, not something I typically look out for. Then “Carrie & Lowell” came along.

Stevens started composing after the death of his mother, Carrie. Lowell is his stepfather. The album was released in 2015, and each song sounds light and soothing. I hardly noticed the lyrics in the beginning, but the more I listened, the more I realised that they dealt with intense emotions and pulled the curtain back on his childhood and his grief. He cries out to the “God of Elijah” and wonders what the point of singing is if “they’ll never even hear you”. The album is intensely personal, and there are points in several songs that bring me near tears from the incredible mix of the beauty of the music and the pain in the words.

“Carrie & Lowell” is nostalgic, with Stevens remembering things like learning to swim, and his mother leaving him at a video store. It’s mythic and other-worldly, mentioning Greek gods, shadows, vampires. It’s woven together with the lightest of touches, primarily guitar, vocals, banjo and piano. And it’s incredibly honest. Stevens doesn’t hide the fact that his mother wasn’t the best parent – leaving him in a store as a toddler – that she suffered from schizophrenia, or that he was on the precipice of committing suicide as he coped with his grief.

There are days when I listen to “Carrie & Lowell” intently. On those days I can’t help but mourn and muddle through the fog of memory and imagery with Stevens as he does the same. Yet there are other days when I play the album in the background and enjoy the lovely river of sound it creates. Some songs I always have to stop and sing, like “Eugene” and “Death with Dignity”. I find comfort and calm in Stevens’ music, despite feeling almost pierced myself with his heartache. Thankfully, I still have all of my parents, but his album gives me a glimpse into what it might feel like when I lose them. For its emotional depth, sweet melodies and coherence, “Carrie & Lowell” is an album I’ll be listening to and sharing for years to come.

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