Artist of the week – Clifton Powell

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Clifton Powell

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Artist of the week – Clifton Powell

Hi there and welcome to this week’s Artist Of The Week.

Clifton Powell

Born in Jamaica, Clifton moved to the UK in the late 1980s to pursue a career as an artist. When he arrived in England he made his home in Brixton, South London, but now lives on a farm in Devizes in the West Country county of Wiltshire. Clifton studied fine art at the Cultural Training Centre in Kingston, Jamaica, where he studied the old masters such as Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

You can see examples of Clifton’s work on his Facebook page here. https://www.facebook.com/iart.c.powell/

Or click here for his website http://www.cpowell.art/

So, cuppa in hand, I sat down in my kitchen and joined Clifton in his studio for a chat.

So, Clifton, what made you leave Jamaica?

Well, when I decided it was time to leave Kingston, to go out and see the world, I was going to go to America but a friend of mine who is a lawyer told me “No! Americans don’t know about real art. You have to go to Europe.” He thought I should be close to the old masters, to where they came from.

So, I came to England not as an economic migrant but as an artist; looking to explore my vision and create my own style. 

Clifton Powell Playing In The Sand

When I came to England I came to paint. Of course, I’ve had different jobs because I have to earn money to eat. When I first arrived I found that, if I was working for a company, if they needed to lay anyone off I was always the first one to get fired. It was hard knowing that I had no job security in anything I did so I thought, “You know what? If I can do this for a company I can do it for myself.” So now I work for myself and I’m a lot happier. I do a lot of commissions and sign-writing. I’ve done restorations and refurbished old signs for people from all over the country. I get loads of different requests. 

People in England love the dark paintings. I was asked to do an album cover in an Ethiopian style which worked really well. One lady even asked me to sketch her dream! 

That’s how England runs, you know?

What’s it like living on a West Country farm?

I love painting animals. Animals speak to you. I wanted to do a whole series on British wildlife but I had to put it on hold to concentrate on earning money. When I moved to the farm I found it weird how you see things from a different angle when you’re living surrounded by animals. They can tell you things. To see a donkey looking round the corner it makes me want to paint it, I can see what it’s thinking and it makes me smile.

Clifton Powell Bird of prey
Painted in his yard, Clifton captures this beautiful bird of prey perfectly.

When I first moved to the country I found it hard to paint. I guess it was like when a country boy first goes to the city, it’s so new and difficult to get your head round but I found my groove again. I changed my style to suit where I am, I’m seeing the beauty in clouds. I tried painting landscapes but it’s hard to make your own identity because so many people do landscapes. The only real portrait I ever did was of Bob Marley when I was still in Jamaica. The Goodyear factory in St Thomas bought it and put it up. They closed the factory in 1997, I wonder what happened to the painting.

Clifton Powell Smoke Greande
"Smoke Grenade" from Clifton's striking series about protests

When I first had to wear glasses I found it made a big difference. You can’t scrutinise your work as much. I’ve had to learn again. I planned to see if I could bring back that vision by having laser treatment but who knows?

What did you do before you discovered your talent as an artist?

I’ve been painting since I was a baby. I never wanted to do anything else. I remember my dad bought me a bike to try and get me to do something else but I wasn’t interested.

When I was at High School they just stuck me in the art room because they couldn’t deal with me. I think they thought it was some sort of punishment but I loved it. One of the teachers was a sign writer. He’d paint signs outside churches, “The Lord Is Risen” type of thing, you know? He would take me to see them and he taught me how to sign-write which is something I’ve done professionally now for years so I thank him.

Clifton Powell Be Strong
Another powerful image from the protest series

What inspired you to become an artist?

I wanted to go to The Jamaica School of Art, the Cultural Training Centre as it was called, but it was in Kingston, 35 maybe 38 miles away from where I lived. They were a different type of Jamaican there, not poor people like us, my dad would say they were up themselves, but I was determined that this is what I want to do. Then, one day, while I was still at High School, I packed up my paintings and I just went there, took myself there, and they offered me a place. When I told my dad that I’d got in he couldn’t believe it! He was so proud. So that was it, I attended art school part time until I finished High School then I went full time.

At first, I did a LOT of drawing. They’d seen I was really good at it, that’s why they offered me a place, but I was still a schoolboy and they wouldn’t let me join the nude life classes ’til I was old enough so I had to concentrate on still life. It was like drawing, drawing, drawing. I never looked at a paint brush. We’d go to the botanical gardens and draw one plant for like a week or something like that then, when we’d finished that, it would be drawing a pile of rocks on top of a pile of rocks. 

I get it now though. It’s important that you have the right approach to composition before you start to paint.

What’s life like as an artist in your area?:

It’s good. I’ve had exhibitions all around the area, even at the house of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Sellasie in Bath. I was supposed to have an exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre but it was cancelled when the virus came. There’s a woman in London who promotes African and black art and they were going to put on an International Black Art exhibition. I was looking forward to it but COVID cancelled it.

One of my wishes is to get all my drawings framed. When I lived in Guildford I was a member of the Guildford Art Society. They were good people. I did so many drawings with them, I’ve got boxes and boxes of drawings tucked away here and there.

I’m starting to box myself in with all the paintings I’ve done. 95% of the people who come to my Facebook page are artists, it would be good to get some more buyers before I disappear behind a pile of canvasses.

Clifton Powell Lion
This powerful portrait captures the majesty of "The King of the Jungle."
Clifton Powell Granny
Another from the protest series. You wouldn't argue with her would you?

Is your family artistic?:

My dad taught me to draw, he was an engineer. His company made groynes, you know, river defences, in Jamaica, made them from scratch and it helped save hundreds of communities from flooding. He taught me how to draw tractors first, then I started copying cowboy comics. I loved them and my dad bought me loads of them, cowboy comics and the military comics you used to get, “Commando” and things like that. I used to copy the drawings and he told me I had to keep copying them until I was better at it than the artist who drew the comic in the first place. It was so simple but it really helped me develop my style.

When you’re in Jamaica it’s all about bright colours. I used to do a lot of rainbow stuff, vibrant and full of colour, and I brought that style to England with me, used it to create a new style of working. I think those rainbow paintings I did in Jamaica showed me the way, starting from green and working through the spectrum. Finding how every colour can reach the same destination. 

I learned a lot at art school, colour wheels but not just wheels. We’d take a bright, primary red or a deep, dark blue and go through every shade until it was white. Sometimes in a pyramid to explore every possible shade of that one colour.

Who influenced your style?

The people I worked with in Brixton, Tempole Art, were my biggest influence after I moved to England. They were affiliated with the art colleges and I had an exhibition at the famous St Martin’s School of Art because of those guys. It was good times. They were a family run business, they did everything from painting to framing to exhibiting and they were passionate about black artists. Taught me a lot. 

I watch a lot of films, I watch absolutely everything. Some people read books and never watch a movie, they’re missing so much, so much visual impact. You can see an explosion and think “I have to paint that!”

Artist of the week - Clifton Powell
Clifton has exhibited at several International exhibitions celebrating Black art.

There used to be a company in Jamaica that hand painted massive billboards which absolutely blew people’s minds. You know the ones you used to see by the side of the road? You don’t see them so much any more, just a few.

All these things have influenced me but I like to think that I created my own style.

When I was about 16 I drew a business card, I’ve still got it somewhere. Nobody in my part of Jamaica even knew what a business card was. I’ve always been like that. I have these ideas. 

Clifton Powell War
This haunting picture captures the desperate plight of children in war zones throughout the world

I’m getting a lot of help now. There are some amazing people out there who can help you get the best out of yourself. These people will try anything to get me to do what I’m supposed to do. I’ve got a boat over there in the corner of the studio and a dog over there. These are the things that pay for my food. I enjoy painting them and I love meeting the people who commission me to paint for them, but they’re not my “style” you know? Not what I really want to paint. It’s like a camera, you can focus on one thing and the background fades into a blur. Sometimes I just need to pull focus.

I’m trying to find my own style back.

Would you be interested in LA&C’s mentoring scheme?

Sure. I know how things work, you know? I know what not to do and what won’t work. That’s how I teach. I’ll give them the same brush that I use and I’ll have a presentation board and I’ll show them how it can be approached. 

Once a week I work with people in care homes. I’m teaching them how to draw. We have classical music on in the background and we chat and have a laugh together. It’s fun but I’m trying to teach them something as well. They want me to move onto painting but they’re not ready yet.

Painting is a therapeutic thing, it helps me and I’ve seen it help people. Sure, if people want to hear my words they can ask me for sure.

So there it is.

I can’t thank Clifton enough for taking the time to talk to me. I’ll definitely be taking you up on the offer of a visit to the farm Clifton!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Clifton’s story as much as I enjoyed talking to him and writing his story. I’m such a fan of his work and it was a real pleasure to spend an afternoon chatting and laughing about life, the universe and everything.

Well, that’s all from me for this week.

If Clifton’s story has inspired you to discover your creative side or if you’re already fully embracing your artistic inner self and you’d like to join our Facebook community of artists, crafters and artisans you can join the FB group by clicking here.

If you’d like to be our featured artist of the week please feel free to drop me a line and introduce yourself at tom@localartandcraft.com

And last but not least, our July competition is NOW OPEN!

You can enter, view and vote for all entries here. Get your voting finger ready, there are already some fantastic entries but more will be going in soon so don’t forget to pop back and vote for your favourite.

See you all next week.

By for now.

TJ

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