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Minshall Exhibits Early Works

Peter Minshall.

Patience and persistence are paying off for art gallery owner Yasmin Hadeed.  “Year after year, for about five years, I asked Ashraph, let’s do a show with Minshall,” recaps Hadeed.  “This year, I spoke to Ashraph everyday for like a month—I’m  obsessed.”  Hadeed, 41, owner of Y Art Gallery, and Richard Ashraph Ramsaran, 46, artist and owner of The Frame Shop, finally got the timing right.  When Ashraph approached Peter MInshall around the Independence holiday with a proposal for a show, Minshall was receptive.

But when they finally got the greenlight, they would have only three weeks to explore the treasure trove at the Callaloo Company warehouse, survey works in Minshall’s studio, research, edit, sequence the show and produce a catalog.  “It was never about doing a Carnival show,” affirms Hadeed, “it was just about doing a show by him.”  The show they’ve choreographed offers viewers an abridged chronological journey of the artist’s career, but bypasses his impressive imprint on the Olympic Games.

“There are about 45 pieces for this show,” estimates Hadeed.  “I have always been interested in seeing the works of Minshall, and have more or less always kept abreast of what he has done.  It was not necessary for me to preview the work to determine which to choose, since, in my opinion, they are all breathtaking.  However, due to the time frame and scale of what we wanted to achieve we decided on this amount.”  Hadeed anticipates “an overwhelming response to this show.”  “This is a pivotal moment for an art collector, gallery owner or someone who appreciates the arts generally.  We are showing another side of Minshall.  It is important for us to give our appreciation to him for his contribution to the art community as a whole, not just as a mas man.”

“Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” by Peter Minshall.

Minshall Miscellany loosely traces the career of a versatile artist who earned an Emmy Award for his designs.  The exhibit is intimate and has an ebb and flow that befits a designer of drama and queens. The show includes paintings for commissioned works and the mas band Tantana. FIve decadent renditions of elegant and intricate designs for Jaycees Carnival Queen contestants open the show.  They date from the 1970s, and are set beside illustrations of stage designs Minshall executed during his years in London, which preceded his involvement in the Jaycees pageant.

Like many artists, Minshall believes comprehension of design principles is transferable to other creative disciplines.  “Because you didn’t really have any understanding of what art was,“ reflects Minshall, in the second person, on his youth, “everything was everything. Hollywood, Esther Williams, Ziegfeld Follies, The King and I, and art exhibitions were all one and the same.  You had absolutely no sense of discrimination.  So there was this Jaycees Carnival Queen, there were costumes for it and dresses, and you were hardly 16 or 17 and you had a bash.  And you did it in the style of the time.  And it was like designing the colours for jockeys who rode horses at races.  The Jaycees Carnival Queen was like a horse race.  It didn’t matter that most of the horses were fillies and white.  The whole of the country bet on them as if it were a horse race.  The evening gowns had to have a theatrical, dramatic edge.  These weren’t gowns that young ladies would wear to a cocktail party.  These were gowns on a very large stage, so they had to have evening gown fashion-theater about them.”

“I do feel anxious,” admits Hadeed, who has been a gallery owner for 20 years, and has exhibited most of Trinidad’s prominent visual artists.  “It has been an amazing opportunity to showcase Minshall at my gallery.”  “Angel Astronaut stands out to me, it represents a complete embodiment of what he is about.”  The most challenging aspect of the edit process for Ashraph and Hadeed was reducing how many of Minshall’s ‘heads’ are included. That outlined profile of a bald man’s head set in a circle is synonymous with Peter Minshall.  It seems he has produced hundreds of works, each unique, around that head which he found in a photograph on the cover of a 1966 Carnival supplement.

“Mask of the Peacock” by Peter Minshall.

“Everybody thinks it is me.  No it’s not me,” declares Minshall, 71.  “I was so fascinated by this head.  I don’t know who he is, but it connected with me in a visceral way.  He became my ‘everyman’ and I call him The Coloured Man.   My first exhibition of paintings, many years ago, ran by that title, The Coloured Man.  He reappears in this exhibition.  That is why the exhibition is called Minshall Miscellany.  I have returned to him many times during my life and he has not in any way lost his potency.  And it’s amazing that people absolutely think it’s me.  It’s some person who I don’t know who is my ‘everyman’, and ‘everywoman’.  The face so lends itself, chameleon-like, to become whoever or whatever.  He becomes a macaw, he becomes Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, just give him the right accoutrements and he plays his mas perfectly.”

The work that ends the show’s sequence is a self-portrait.  Minshall reserves the backstory to the piece.  “People are going to go into the gallery and see the work, I don’t want to destroy the magic of the work,” explains Minshall.   “The name of it is Face-off: The Artist Sober and The Artist Drunk.  That says it, doesn’t it?  I am there contemplating myself.”

“Please look at the exhibition and when you look at it understand how complex each and every one of us as human beings are, from the beauty queen to the two gentlemen sitting on bar stools contemplating one another—one sober, one drunk.”  “I have to thank Ashraph and Yasmin for bending my arm,” adds Minshall.  “My one contribution to the exhibition that makes me sit pretty and happy is the unpretentious title that I gave it, Minshall Miscellany.”

Exhibit runs Oct. 21 – Nov. 5, 2012 @ Y Art Gallery, 26 Taylor Street, Woodbrook.

  © SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

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Peter Minshall: A Living Work of Art

Sculpted for Eternity

Nijel Binns Sculpted Creative Encounters with

Jackie Chan, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder

She’s the only cornrow-wearing Black woman in the world who stands 16-feet-tall and embodies aesthetic attributes of Asian, African, Native American and European people.  She’s part mythical goddess, part urban princess whose presence in the south-central district of Watts was intended as a symbol to urge community healing after the infamous Los Angeles riots of 1992.  Every enduring gesture of The Mother of Humanity™, as she’s called by her creator Nijel Binns, offers thoughtful symbolism: She holds “a feather of peace found not only in Native American culture but it was used by the Egyptian goddess Maat,” shared Binns, “her left breast is concealed while the other is exposed, not for pornographic nature […] in the Amazon women warriors used bow and arrows and amputated their left breast to make it easier to draw their bow—the breast is symbolic of the source of mineral resources for all humanity, and her form is modeled on the continent of Africa that is sublimely established in her shape.”  This graceful two-ton monument, valued at U$200,000, would be followed by six reproductions to be placed in Africa, Australia, Brazil, China, India and Spain if this portrait sculptor’s vision is ever realized.

For Binns, The Mother of Humanity™ is a testimony that the art of figurative sculpting isn’t confined to creating portrayals of living or deceased heroes.  Binns, a native of Battersea, England, spent four years in Mandeville, Jamaica before migrating to Newark, New Jersey in 1963.  “My first exposure to sculpting was at St Benedict’s Preparatory [in 1971], I fashioned a hand flashing a peace sign that I finished in antique gold.”  Being highlighted for his talent in a Newark newspaper inspired Binns to explore his artistic ability.  But his first professional sculpture wasn’t executed until 1990.

“I’m an anomaly in many ways: I’m self-taught as a sculptor and as a writer,” shared Binns, who tutored himself in ancient Egyptian history, Greek sculpture and the Renaissance period.  “I did one semester at Montclair State College in New Jersey, I learned to draw lines and squiggly circles and felt that was not for me.”  Binns traded college for four years in the U.S. Air Force, with the intent of entering the film industry.  “I became a stuntman in Jackie Chan’s first American film The Big Brawl.  Being a stuntman and fight coordinator was his priority until he decided to create a 3/4 life-size bust of Michael Jackson.

“It was clay with a ceramic gold finish,” he recalls, “I gave it as a gift to Joseph Jackson [Michael’s dad].”  A photo of that statue and a thank you note from Joseph Jackson that read: “In acknowledgement of the gold statue of Michael that you sculpted for my family, I express sincerest appreciation.  Your work is a pleasure to own.  I find the statue is beautifully detailed and well crafted.  It captures the likeness of Michael very well.”  That note was in Binns’ folio during a chance meeting in 1990 with Stan Hilas of The Fitzgerald Hartley Company, who was searching for a sculptor to create a bronze figure of Michael Jackson.

That note and photograph, coupled with being prepared for the opportunity, secured the commission to create the Artist of the Decade Award that was presented to Michael Jackson by CBS/Epic executives Tommy Motolla and Dave Glew.  That year, Binns was retained by Motown to create the Maasai Princess, a 18K gold-plated bronze statue valued at $75,000, that was presented to Stevie Wonder on the occasion of his 40th birthday.  Among Binns’ other illustrious commissions is a bronze bust of John W. Mack, former president of the LA Urban League, and the first bronze monument of actress Shirley Temple for a daycare center that bears her name at Fox Studios in Century City, California.

From a piece of clay to a silicon mold to a wax form for a ceramic shell in which molten metal is poured, the process of crafting a bronze bust can consume four months and requires painstaking attention to details.  Binns scours photographs of his subjects taken from all angles in search of the expression that “captures the soul of the person.”  He passes on his ‘love of beauty’ through sculpting classes at his Los Angeles studio.

In spite of his impressive commissions, the creative life for Binns is peppered with struggle and angst.  “I manufacture for eternity,” he said, “most people don’t see the value in that.  I usually have to initiate projects for people to say, ‘Oh, yeah I need that.’  If there’s a Nate Holden Performing Arts Center there should be a statue of Nate Holden not just a name on a building.”  One can say the same for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial site.  Songwriter and music producer Joshua Thompson of Tallest Tree Music attests, “[Nijel’s] a living master who has trained with masters, he’s nearing his peak and is someone the world ought to notice.  When you see how people react [with amazement] to the accuracy of his work that impact is what art is supposed to do.”

© SEANDRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Courting Contractors

A first-time home remodel almost


becomes a costly nightmare

“Hands down I was sold on the house when I stepped onto the deck and saw the beautiful meadow and creek,” recalled Alvin Adell, M.D.  “I was sold on the setting, the house itself needed some love.”  For Adell, 46, an attending anesthesiologist, the appeal of his 3,200 square-foot Center Hall Colonial in Colts Neck, New Jersey includes being a 60-minute train ride from New York City and Atlantic City, and 35 minutes from Newark International Airport.   “I travel often, convenient access was a major selling point.”   In April 2000 Adell began financing the TLC his home needed.  His remodel project had three priorities: create the feeling of a luxe spa on a homey scale in the master bath, build-out a secondary level for the master suite (with fireplace, walk-in-closets and patio), and modernize the kitchen with a heated flooring system and open floorplan onto the dining room and deck.  “I love to grill,” shared Adell, “sometimes in the winter, so easy access to the deck is important.”

Dr. Alvin Adell’s remodeled and expanded kitchen, fitted with heated flooring and premium appliances, hosts many dinner parties and is the center attraction in his home.

“One of the best things was to work with an interior designer [Beau Boger] who knew where everything needed to go, [my] designer worked with the vision of existing furniture,” said Adell.  “I went around with my interior designer to pick the materials together.”  Adell considers his style to be traditional based with contemporary African and Asian accents.

Contractor selection.  Through referrals Adell sourced three contractors to interview, he requested references and visited one site for each contractor screened.  He “checked with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints, and made a subjective assessment,” said Adell, “to see if I would be able to trust that person in my home when I’m not there.”   “One contractor was low-balling, I visited hardware stores to gauge the price of materials and knew it was impossible to do the job with his bid, he was eliminated.  Low-ballers eventually add costs or skimp.”  Adell established an account at Route 18 Lumber so his contractor “didn’t have to [shell-out] upfront money on materials and have to wait to be reimbursed,” said Adell, “and I didn’t have to worry about him overcharging me for inferior materials.  Invoices came directly to me and I qualified for acontractor’s price on materials.”

Master bath with spa comforts, including heated flooring, jacuzzi tub and multi-head shower, adds value.

Budget for surprises.  Even with layers of pre-screening you may not be exempt from costly misjudgments.  “Firing a contractor midway is one of the worst things you’ll have to worry about,” said Adell.  “It delays [project completion], contractors hate to come behind another contractor midstream to correct work.  In their mind, they know you’re vulnerable, so a $10,000 job could cost $50,000.”  In Adell’s case, he waited till the “big hole in the back of my house was sealed” then consulted his attorney to be certain he would be clear and free to fire his contractor for ‘changing design decisions, hiring substandard subcontractors, shoddy workmanship, and for being grossly behind schedule,’ though the contract lacked a timeline stipulation.  “I would find mistakes laid in concrete; [contractor removed] an oak hardwood floor that was never supposed to be replaced.”  David Jaffe,

Master suite build-out with walk-in closets, fireplace and patio, positioned over the two-car garage.

staff VP legal affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, said, “a ‘time is of the essence’ clause elevates the value the homeowner places on time, the contract can be terminated on the grounds of breach if the timeline is missed [however this can be] negated [if another clause pardons contractor] for delay due to reasons beyond his control.”  In hindsight, Adell said, “I would have found a contractor who has in-house plumbing, carpentry and electrical, which means if the general contractor actually employs those three craftspeople they have more control over their schedules, if the general contractor subs it out to individual contractors and the general contractor runs off schedule he’s at the mercy of the subcontractors.”  A full-service contractor is generally more expensive.  Research resources, project guidelines, and educational seminars are available through the National Association of Home Builders.

Adell credits his astuteness to a reading list comprised of Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 (Meredith Books; $34.95), Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest Association; $35.00), and Architectural Digest.  “Share your ideas with others,” said Adell, “you never know how their input might turn out to be a brilliant contribution.”

One year beyond his projected deadline, Adell’s investment tallied a conservative $200,000—more than $50,000 over budget.  Recently, his property appraised at $1.2 million, which redeems the unsavory portion of his first home renovation.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[  404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

In the Mas Camp with K2K

Trinidad Carnival attracts thousands of spectators and has offered inspiration to creative teams at Disney and Cirque du Soleil.  This year, a couture-centric masquerade band presentation by a pair of newcomers sparked hopeful dialogue around the return of innovation to the festival.  Before unleashing their inaugural band onto the streets of Port of Spain, bandleader Karen Norman, one-half of the K2K Alliance creative force, shares a few insights.

Karen Norman at K2K mas camp.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR AT THE START OF THE BAND DESIGN PROCESS, WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR NOW, THREE WEEKS BEFORE SHOWTIME?

One of the most compelling parts of the design process is stretching our imagination to create a palatable and exciting concept.  Putting pen to paper was the easiest part of the journey.  Exposing the mas and the story to the public was the hard part and one of our greatest fears.  Such thoughts like: ‘Would the concept of fusing mas with fashion be accepted?  Would the onlooker appreciate the story?’ were some of the concerns we shared.  One of the greatest challenges we face today is getting the mas community to sign up for change.  Even though change is one of the things that is constant, it is not always the easiest thing to accept nor, is it the easiest thing to sign up for.  Thus, even three weeks before showtime we are asking those masqueraders who have put away their “mas-shoes” since the dilution of [Wayne] Berkeley and [Peter] Minshall to pick-up their dancing shoes and to revel with K2K.

Masquerader in The Waters on Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain.WHAT WOULD YOU NOT DO AGAIN?

I was once told that all experiences whether good or bad, leads us to this point in time; to this moment; to the present. Thus, while we would not like to relive any of the challenges that have presented itself over the past 5 years, we would not change anything.

WHAT DOES THIS BAND HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH, OR WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE MOST TO RECEIVE FROM YOUR ENDEAVOR? 

The band hopes to return mas to traditional splendor.  We would like to take our brand to the international runway – open both national and international fashion shows.  We would like to showcase our designs in musicals on Broadway and even in concerts. Maybe one day, when you see Machel [Montano] in concert you will see his team dressed by K2K.  On the international arena, maybe one day we will be the opener for Lady Gaga.  The possibilities are endless.  Minshall showed the world who was Minshall through exposing his talents on several Olympic platforms, we hope to be those Trinidadian twins / women who expose Trinidad mas design to a new arena.

Runway-ready costume prototype at K2K mas camp reception weeks before Carnival.

HOW WAS THE BAND’S NARRATIVE BORN?

In 2012 “water” is used as a metaphor to describe the psychological journey of man.  Life is not just dependent on water, but life is water.  The same way the oceans and seas yield and change, man, too, must adapt as the social and political environment changes.  The same way that water has different temperaments similarly, man is not always even-keeled (e.g., sometimes water is rough and choppy).  Similarly, sometimes we are driven to anger.  Interestingly, while the storyline for “The Waters – Seas of Consciousness”, starts with River Jordan (Birth)–which means when man comes into the world, he is naive.  He is unaware of the social environment and even the political landscape.  On a more personal level, the storyline, our story for 2012 started at the Dead Sea (Ruin).  Ruin is a state-of-mind and can be defined as “the deepest darkest place that man knows”.  And for Kathy and I, ruin was real; it was lonely and dark.  The last two years in New York City has been extremely challenging professionally and emotionally.  In 2010 we each felt like we hit rock bottom.  Creating the band was therapeutic.  It was our redemption.  It helped us to re-assess who we each were.  It also made us realize that while we are shattered, we are not unrepairable.  The band is our re-discovery; our re-invention of self, which is coined as The Saraswati River.

Masqueraders present the band at Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Tuesday.

WHAT TRADITIONS(S) IN CARNIVAL DOES YOUR BAND REFERENCE OR USE AS A GUIDELINE/FOUNDATION?

We look toward the great masters such as Minshall and Berkeley for a constant reminder, that you are never too old to dream, and mas design is built by exploring your imagination and not being afraid to dream.

WILL POLITICS OR CURRENT AFFAIRS EVER FUEL YOUR BAND’S NARRATIVE?  

Over the next three years the storyline does not reflect the political environment.  In terms of storytelling we hope to constantly bring a relatable, yet interesting storyline to the table.

Model displays costume and makeup for section of The Waters Carnival band.

WHICH ELEMENTS OF YOUR BAND ARE MANUFACTURED IN T&T, AND HOW MANY ELEMENTS WERE MANUFACTURED IN CHINA?

Much of the costumes are being produced locally.  The goal is to encourage greater use of our locals and employ the talents on the island.

UPON FIRST SIGHT OF YOUR MAS, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE THE HIGH-FASHION POINT OF VIEW IN YOUR DESIGNS.  WILL THIS APPROACH BE A STAPLE OR WILL THAT SENSIBILITY SHIFT?

Mas, like art, is contemporary.  It should reflect the time.  With that said, the goal of our brand is to keep the designs forward-thinking, fashion-forward and chic.  The fashion arena is not static.  It is constantly evolving and similarly, our brand will morph / evolve as we grow in the arts.

Details of the The Waters mas band by K2K Alliance & Partners.

Band presentation: The Waters – Seas of Consciousness

Bandleaders: Kathy & Karen Norman (K2K Alliance & Partners)

Band size: Medium with 8 sections  |  Membership: U$416 – U$900

Mas camp: 51 Cornelio St., Woodbrook, PoS  |  868-767-9655

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

StyleSheet: Exotic Blooms

Tropical flowers deliver drama,

Sean Drakes arranges a few cues

Roses and chrysanthemums are rather ordinary when compared to the durable form, dramatic height and shape, and vivid hues of exotic blooms.  Francis Queeley, originally from St. Kitts & Nevis, has been a floral shop owner over 22 years.  She has designed arrangements for the Trumpet Awards, Tyler Perry and a Super Bowl.  The next time you place an order with your favorite florist, or plan to design an arrangement yourself, she suggests you consider these useful pointers:

Francis Queeley, owner of Island Flowers.  Photo: SeanDrakes.com

ODD NUMBERS RULE:  For an effective display gather stems in odd numbers.  For instance, Queeley would use one orange Asiatic Lily, three red-orange Heliconia and five green Anthuriums to build an arrangement.  “I stick to using three colors when arranging tropicals because they’re already so brilliant.”

KEEP LONG STEMS:  The drama and beauty of exotic blooms is in their height, explains Queeley, who owns Island Flowers in Atlanta’s Midtown district.  She amplifies scale and drama by setting florals so they are one-and-a-half-times the height of the vase they’re in.  To keep stems upright, Queeley creates a grid across the mouth of the vase with clear, waterproof florist’s tape.  Then she inserts stems into the spaces of the tape grid, this way stems are braced and kept upright by the tape.

Photos: SeanDrakes.com

EXTEND LIFE SPAN:  Queeley recommends changing the water in your arrangement every other day, that’s the trick to making your exotic blooms live longer.  Add three drops of bleach per pint of water as a substitute for cut flower food.  Bleach mimics flower food and kills bacteria.  Potted exotic flowers require less water than popular houseplants.  Bromeliads and Lady Slipper Orchids should be watered once weekly.  “Over-watering makes soil rotty and is the most common care mistake.”  A Phalaenopsis Orchid’s bloom can survive for five months if watered twice weekly.  When the petals drop it takes watering consistently to revive the next batch of blooms.

To grow your interest, visit Florists Review and  The American Horticultural Society.  Over 160,000 flower enthusiasts gather in London each May for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, the most decadent feast of flowers and floral art on the international show circuit.  Join a local horticulture group for the benefit of seminars that discuss industry trends and to participate in friendly floral arranging competitions.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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