By Ken Crichlow
Pat Bishop’s multidisciplinary art practice and purposeful engagement with cultural concerns often put her in conflict with “authority”, even as she is one of the most esteemed artists of the late 20th and early 21st century. In a lifetime of accomplishments that both subverted and created the highest expectations of her many efforts, Pat attracted a lot of public attention as a cultural icon.
She had a long association with the Visual Arts curriculum in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts of the University of the West Indies, going back to its inception in 1986. She authored the first two visual arts courses, committing the teaching and learning strategies to highly theoretical practices established on a sequence of
studio activities with the basic elements of art within a comprehensive overview of the art and architectural history of the world. The schedule of the courses confirmed prevailing academic assumption that there is a commonly accepted hierarchy of artistic skills and outstanding practices that every artist needed to know. In this earliest implementation, visual art was a study of literacy and studio applications that closely mirrored education perspectives in music, her other notable discipline.
My journey with Pat Bishop has shaped the new and changing circumstances of visual practice at the Department of Creative and Festival Arts. It bought to focus the real-life connections between the various social, aesthetic, educative and commercial imperatives in the function of art and design. The transformation of art history curriculum emerged in analyses of visual art operations, especially the available indigenous sources for exploration of their connections to the wider world art, architecture and design. Art history students are not only expected to write history, they must make public spectacles of what they are discovering. The commitment to this method of teaching is the foundation of a new narrative of art, design, architecture and their indigenous sources. The class of 2010 -11, her last class at the University of the West Indies, exhibited projects of their historical research at the Port of Spain museum and the Tobago museum. Our journey has demonstrated a way of removing a former reliance on the packaged art historical texts, to see the actual circumstance of creative production in visual cultures.
Though Pat received much success and admiration for her work as scholar, it was as a painter she preferred to be known. “Most people do not know I studied Fine art at King’s College, Durham University” she would say, sharing perspectives on her creative process. We would agree a “good painting” is several leaps of faith; an adventure of personal risk as means, “painting is too hard”, she would say before shedding the sense of relief, her weariness and sadness at the end; “Crichlow, I get through this one”, raging at the real possibility of her failing.
Painting was her first discipline, her way to see the possibility of form and insight to its existence. Pat painted to see a reflection of her most secret thoughts, exploring the principles of its process as template for interpreting the music, creating her designs and formulating each of her community service projects. To make anything, she first had to paint; painting is the most tender, most profound and most passionate aspect of her multi-disciplinary, larger-than-life art practice.
Pat shared a view [that] the deep-seated resentment of the artist in T&T society has its origins in a colonial history. The persisting destruction of creative work and the erasure of individual skill are primary features of an insidious reflex of power that is afraid of itself. The recovery of a past and reclamation of identity, even the promotion of entrepreneurship are serious concerns for social and political actions, but as frameworks for physical development they under-develop society. They provide popular entertainment without taking us into a sincere consideration of what is needed. Pat was supremely confident that the invention of pan and its remarkable pursuit of a sound so impossible, provided the most potent framework for thinking about the function of art in society. She celebrated the genius of the men who imagined the fifty-five gallon metal drum, the detritus of the oil industry, could perform the most complex orchestral music. She was in awe of the pioneer pan-makers resolution of complex concerns with fidelity and qualities of sound in backyards at the edge of community.
In her work with music, her creative painting projects and cultural activism, Pat acknowledged she was fulfilling the expectations of Beryl McBurnie, and of her parents, Ena and Sonny Bishop. They set out the initial experiences of her performances, her art and music. In preparing the music for her September concert at the Little Carib Theatre and her exhibition of paintings in October, she thought for a moment about whether her lifetime of offerings were worthy of their attention and with some deliberation dipped her brush into the paint and drew another mark on the canvas.
28th August 2011.
The editor of THE ARTS FORUM’s Column, Ameena Gafoor, may be reached by e-mail: [email protected] or my telephone: 592 227 6825.
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