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.”
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.
“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
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