Artists and writers will be in for a real treat at this year’s Cayfest with the appearance of Trinidadian national icon LeRoy Clarke.
LeRoy, 66, arrives in Cayman this weekend to give the festival’s distinguished lecture on Tuesday night.
Officially bestowed with the title of National Icon by the government of Trinidad and Tobago a couple of years ago, LeRoy is a master artist and one of the Caribbean’s foremost painters and poets.
Despite travelling frequently throughout the region to give talks on his work, this is his first visit to the Cayman Islands.
‘I will be talking about my life as an artist and what that means to me,’ he told the Caymanian Compass in an exclusive interview.
‘I usually describe myself as a painter that writes or a poet who paints.’
Born in Trinidad, LeRoy originally began his working life as a primary school teacher.
But after 10 years, he became a full-time artist, leaving his native island for New York in 1967 for 13 years.
‘I thought I should go out and see the world and New York was the capital of the world,’ he said.
‘This experience was very helpful to my work, coming into contact with so many cultures.’
LeRoy spent time as an artist-in-residence at a studio museum in Harlem but branched out on his own again in 1972.
Since returning to his beloved Trinidad, LeRoy has been developing an artistic concept called ‘obeah’.
‘This has to do with the inner consciousness of people,’ he explained.
‘All people have that centre, which is called obeah. It is that essential way of their well-being.’
LeRoy describes himself as ‘Afro-centric’ and has this identity very much at the core of his work.
‘As an African person, I appreciate the fact that we, as Africans, have to go in search of that centre because of the incidence of slavery and so on,’ he said. ‘Our psyche has been disrupted.’
He added: ‘You say the word ‘obeah’ to people and they become terrified, they no longer recognise it as virtuous.
‘My work is to re-stabilise the word as an essential part of our psyche.
‘Over the years I have found that there is a bit of enlightenment and people are beginning to understand about obeah again – hitherto the word was stigmatised.
‘My ideas are beginning to rise and bear fruit.’
LeRoy’s writing is interlinked with his visual art.
‘They are like two arms on the same body,’ he said. ‘They are the ‘languaging’ of my faith. I reconstruct words for spiritual meaning.’
A self-taught artist, LeRoy was influenced early on in his life by the Black Power Movement,
‘That was in the early 6’0s when I was in my early ’30s,’ he recalled.
‘It was a good moment for me to utter myself and usher myself into the world.’
As well as being a prolific artist and writer in his own right, LeRoy is now developing an artists’ retreat in the mountains of Trinidad.
On 25-acres of lush land, the retreat has two studios and is already proving an inspirational sanctuary for artists from all over the world.
Taking his status of national icon extremely seriously, LeRoy considers his role to be that of a leader.
‘We take these honours very lightly here in Trinidad but it is a very important role,’ he said.
LeRoy has recently completed the book ‘Eyeing de Word – Love Poems for Etcelyn’, which is 165 pages of paintings drawings and poems.
He will bring copies with him to Cayman and the audience will have the chance to discuss this latest work.