Painting in the Abstract
Ab*stract: of or pertaining to the formal aspect of art, emphasizing lines, colors, generalized or geometrical forms, etc., especially with reference to their relationship to one another.
Asking an artist to define his or her work is inevitably a perplexing question. Most artists thrive in growth and change—some more deliberately than others. In the Virgin Islands, art most frequently depicts realistic scenes of our beautiful surroundings and landscapes through vibrant colours and elegant brushstrokes. Few local artists, though, like Kishma Penn and Ana-Marie Hewlett, have ventured far from the realistic and impressionistic genres into the abstract form.
From left: Ana-Marie Hewlett and Kishma Penn share a laugh in front of a collection of combined work.
I recently sat with the young and vibrant local artists at Charlie T’s Lobster House on Tortola’s East End, where I challenged them to define their work.
“I like to capture things in mid-action, so I can engage the audience more,” said 24-year-old Ana-Marie. “I like the idea of people coming to their own conclusion of what I try to portray; my work is a little strange.”
“It’s alien,” Kishma, 29, chimed in. “It’s like structured chaos.”
Of her own work, Kishma said, “It’s very fantasy—It’s not from this world. I like the idea of Alice in Wonderland. I’m in love with the idea of nonsense.”
Kishma, who works for the BVI Government as a draftsperson and has a background in architecture, said she brings these elements into her creative works. The most recent painting she sold depicts a scene of an otherworldly treehouse sculpted from brickwork.
“Painting for me is another form of expressing myself,” said Kishma, cracking a smile. “I’m not the average person you’ll meet from the BVI. I’m a little weird.”
Through art, she said, she can express herself without being judged. Since attending the University of Emory in Atlanta to pursue a degree in architecture, she said she has returned with a sense of purpose through artistic expression. “Architecture is where science meets art,” she said.
Growing up on Tortola but having since moved to New York City, Ana-Marie said she was inspired heavily by her father, who is a pencil portraiture artist. While his drive and passion were admirable, she said she was moved to bring colour and motion into her work. So, she packed away the pencils and found herself immersed in the world of paint. Her ethereal works now line the walls of Kishma’s apartment while she continues her business studies in New York City. She doesn’t limit herself to canvas, though, having recently participated in a competition at Nutmeg Designs where she utilized salvaged wood to create a unique furniture piece. Ana-Marie also branches out from the traditional canvas, most recently using old tires as her drawing board.
Together, the two work off of each other’s creative motivation to push traditional genres most noticeable among Virgin Islands artists. They both agree that selling trends suggest a movement away from realism and more toward the abstract. The artists most recently collaborated at Sugar Works on Tortola, and also have five pieces each hanging at the BVI London Office, next to famed musician and painter Quito Rymer’s. Acknowledging the work of local talents like Ruben Vanterpool and Joseph Hodge, the girls said they hope to influence others that are looking for unique and unusual forms of expression.
“Most people, when they think of art here in the Virgin Islands, they think of Mr Vanterpool and Hodge—those beautiful landscapes and realism,” said Kishma. “But I want to show them that the BVI can be different—weird and strange. That’s the definition behind our work.”