Aston Ebanks on art and the McCoy Prize

Aston Ebanks is arguably one of the more progressive artists in Cayman, often seeking to push the boundaries of art. He won the 2005 McCoy Prize fine art category for his mixed media, Warhol-inspired, representation of a corned-beef can.

Entitled ‘Overexposed Goodness’ it demonstrates a greater acceptance and a broadening of minds in Cayman’s understanding of art.

Overexposed Goodness

Overexposed Goodness, by Aston Ebanks, winner of the 2005 McCoy Prize Fine Art category. Photo: Submitted

‘I am sure that if I had exhibited the same piece a couple of years ago, it would not have been considered,’ Aston said.

‘I came out of school with the impression that you had to paint things as they were; accurately. Back then that was the way art was in Cayman. There was no abstract art, but things are now beginning to change.’

Recognised as one of the most prestigious accolades that a Caymanian artist can receive, Aston, who works as a full-time artist, views last year’s triumph as a career highlight, providing a welcome boost to his profile as one of Cayman’s respected artists and indeed giving Cayman’s more conceptual art further exposure.

One of the most eagerly awaited visual arts events of the yearly calendar, the McCoy Prize, set up by the North Side’s McCoy family in 2001, has kept true to its mandate to promote and reward excellence in Caymanian art.

Spanning three categories – fine art, fine photography and fine crafts – each year the prize has continued to attract more entrants, no doubt in part due to the unprecedented growth in Cayman’s arts scene over the past few years.

‘Art in Cayman is moving in the right direction. However, although Caymans view of art is changing, there is still someway to go. There is abstract art out there now, but not a great deal. There could be more,’ Aston said

Described as a pop conceptual piece, Overexposed Goodness aimed to show the simplicity of life after Hurricane Ivan.

‘Although I was not actually on island during Ivan, I returned just one week after the storm,’ Aston explained. ‘The artwork was a commentary about my experience after Ivan. It was a simple time. I remember eating corned beef. You had to be satisfied with what came out of that tin. I just felt that I should page homage to it in some way.’

Since winning the prize, Aston has been actively encouraging a broader understanding of art, aiming to subtly redefine what has come to be known and accepted as the aesthetic of Caymanian art.

In August 2005 he organised Applied Art, an event which aimed to encourage artists to come together and create large scale paintings on full sheets of plywood. These were then exhibited around the George Town area.

‘I wanted to bring artists together, to enhance creativity and get everyone sharing ideas, thinking in different ways. It was a successful event, which I hope to host annually,’ he said.

Aston has spent the last decade living and working in Switzerland, interspersed with frequent visits to Cayman. He returned back to Cayman to live permanently at the end of last year.

The artist has always had a strong passion for the visual arts and first discovered his creative side dabbling in photography.

‘I never tried to paint initially as I felt that I couldn’t because of the idea that you had to paint something accurately. But with photography I felt that I could do just that,’ Aston commented.

He explained that it was during his time away that his understanding of art broadened and his interest in photography became a passionate hobby.

‘I realised that you didn’t have to capture exactly what you saw. I guess you could say it was from that point on that I began to grown as an artist.’

Aston best describes his art as abstract, conceptual, often creating bold colourful artworks on a large scale, explaining that ‘people have no choice but to take notice.’

The artist, whose work runs the gamut of art, by no means wishes to be pigeon holed into one specific medium. Having explored a range of art styles in the past, the artist’s next project will see him take his creative skills one step further, building a maze out of discarded shipping palettes.

The Maze will double as an exhibition space featuring video, sound and light installations.

‘I am always trying new things. I don’t want to be categorised,’ he said.

Aston is also currently busy working on a series of abstract paintings for his first solo exhibition, to be held later this year.

Previously Aston has exhibited at a number of group exhibitions, including Forces of Nature, March 2004 at Grand Old House, and Portrait of an Artist, August 2004, at the National Gallery, where the artist once again showed his creative talents with a short video, Introspective.

The solo exhibition will be the first time in which the artist’s artwork will be for sale, in the past preferring to give artworks away to friends and family.

Has the artist’s past McCoy Prize triumph helped spur him on?

‘I would definitely say so,’ Aston said ‘If I had not won I still think I would be doing what I am now, but it has given me greater confidence. You get from it what you want. It’s not about winning; it’s about pushing the boundaries, getting your art out there and expressing yourself as an artist.’ A sentiment, no doubt, any past McCoy Prize winner will surely agree with.

McCoy Prize calendar

Application packets for this year’s McCoy Prize are currently available from the National Gallery and the National Museum, joint administers of the prize. The exhibition of selected works and winning pieces will be held at the National Museum’s Support Facility, Pasadora Place.

10 April – Application due

8 May – Entrants to deliver their work to the National Museuem’s Support Facility

9/10 May – Pre-jury and photographing of entries

11/12 May – Work not selected to be collected by entrants.

25 May – Exhibition opening and announcement of awards, individual categories and best in show.

15 June – People’s choice and artist’s award announced via media.

28 July – Exhibition ends.

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