Various Small Fires is pleased to present Che Lovelace: From the Edge of the Rock, the artist’s (b. 1969, San Fernando, Trinidad) second solo exhibition in the United States and his first exhibition at VSF.
Lovelace’s vibrantly-colored paintings are rooted in the flora, fauna, and culture of the artist’s native Trinidad, where he lives and works. Lovelace’s work centrally occupies itself with what the artist calls a “lyricism of place.” These paintings depict Lovelace’s colorful vision of Trinidad and the artist’s lived experience, each painting offering a brief glimpse of Lovelace’s own “encounters,” alternatively spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical, with his home country— the center, as the artist describes, from which he views the world.
Some of these works offer literal examples of the artist’s point of view: View with Front Door, for instance, directly images the lush palm trees outside the window of Lovelace’s studio located on an old US army base in the outskirts of Port of Spain. Meanwhile, a number of the artists’ other works on view at VSF, such as Mas and Emerald and Sun Dancers, feature Carnival-inspired dancers, part of the annual Trinidadian celebration known for its colorful as well as more shadowy costumed portrayals. “Mas,” for instance, is a term commonly used to describe costume; the word is derived from the Trinidadian expression “playing mas,” or “masquerading.”
Lovelace himself has been an active participant in the Carnival for most of his adult life, most notably in the ‘Blue Devil’ masquerade, a traditional Carnival character that is performed by small groups (or ‘bands,’ as they are known in Trinidad). For paintings like Mas and many of his other works, the artist uses his own movements, recorded using serial photographs and video. Lovelace’s paintings are partially developed using this material. Far from being self-portraits, however, Lovelace emphasizes that the figures in his paintings are characters that the artist seeks to embody. In short, by acting out the character which he subsequently paints, the artist employs performance to help shape his work. This performative impulse, which is so central to Carnival itself, further grounds the artist’s practice in this particular cultural surrounding.
The artist describes his photographed actions as a way of “making shapes,” a statement that points to the slippage, both visual and conceptual, in the artist’s work navigating between figuration and abstraction. In addition to using his own form as source material for his paintings, Lovelace also relies on photographs of other people as building blocks for his painted figures. The characters in the artist’s paintings are thus made of fragments, stitched together into a seamless whole. The same can be said of the geometric forms that fill Lovelace’s work, and also of the four panels, literally separate pieces of board, that must be bound together to create a coherent image.
Lovelace speaks often of how Trinidad itself is composed of people from many different ethnic backgrounds— his mother, for instance, is Indian, and his father is of African descent. Layered identity and different forms of cultural expression are, as Lovelace describes, the essence of Trinidadian culture. The artist acknowledges the parallel here between the visual compositions of his work and the ethnic makeup of Trinidad—various dynamic parts grappling to form a whole. It is this array of people and places whose “potency,” as the artist describes, informs his work, and from which Lovelace derives boundless inspiration.
Che Lovelace (b. 1969, San Fernando, Trinidad) paints the constantly intersecting lives of the people and landscape of his native Trinidad. With rich color and bold shapes, his paintings straddle the boundary between realism and abstraction. Increasingly, his practice includes elements of performance as part of his painting process. Lovelace received his artistic training at l’Ecole Régionale des Beaux-Arts de la Martinique. A ceaseless collaborator, he has been involved in developing several arts and entertainment projects—especially related to the Trinidad Carnival, where he is the founder of “Friends For The Road J’Ouvert,” a traditional Carnival project. He currently lectures at the University of the West Indies, Creative and Festival Arts Campus. He has had solo exhibitions at institutions and galleries including the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain; Y Art Gallery, Port of Spain; Galerie Éric Hussenot, Paris; and Half Gallery, New York, NY.