che lovelace on art and seeing ourselves

Trinidadian painter, Che Lovelace is the festival artist for the 17th edition of the trinidad+tobago film festival. Lovelace’s work passionately depicts the life and culture of Trinidad and Tobago and his artwork, ‘Head of a Girl’ will represent this year’s festival on our poster, printed guide, buttons and signage. Mikayla Almandoz interviewed Che to learn more about his work and how he thinks seeing ourselves is vital to building our society.

ttff: you’ve said before that your work “is generated from where you are. From the space which I inhabit, which is Trinidad – a physical place, a spiritual place, a mental place.” What have been some of the joys and challenges of channelling the spirit of Trinidad into your work?

Che Lovelace: I think to see a place you have to be curious. You can sometimes forget what a place means to you if you’re not aware or curious enough to discover it over and over again. Trinidad always seems to me so full of energy and possibilities with all kinds of nuances to respond to. So, when I encounter situations where these possibilities are being limited or not explored, it creates a situation in which one has to overcome the hindrances or the lack of this or that, by believing even more. The inhabitants of places like this, who are perceived as peripheral, and who are not without problems, have no choice but to embark on a journey of profound self belief. Overwhelmingly, Trinidad has been a place that has nourished my practice with a variety of themes and overlapping realities that I try to locate myself in through painting.

Head of a Girl, 2018

ttff: what was the inspiration behind your artwork, ‘Head of a Girl’, which is representing the festival this year?

CL: I am constantly fascinated and drawn to human beings, and of course as this is the place where I am and know, people here are always intriguing to me. I look at all the nuances of gestures and attitude of a person. Even at a glance so much is transmitted, so much is felt. With this painting, I wanted it to feel like you were just glancing at someone, but in that instant, the emotion, mood and quality of a gesture are immediately conveyed… just like a powerful glance happens in real life. Many of my figures seem to be in the process of revealing themselves, like three-quarter profiles or heads seen from the back and side. This invites some mystery, while the subject still retains their personhood and potential. Ultimately, maybe it asks the viewer to commit more to knowing this person.

ttff: are you thinking of a particular audience/ viewer when you make work?

CL: I think of the audience less and less as time goes by, but I must say that it’s rewarding when the paintings seem to be relatively well read, or engaged with, across a large spectrum of society. Some of my favourite readings or perspectives about my paintings come from ordinary folks, some of whom may think they don’t know much about art, but are able to respond to the work in their own way.

ttff: You’ve said that you sometimes choreograph dances and then translate them into your art. How did you first come to try this and how has it changed your work? 

CL: I had for quite some time been seeking ways to bring myself closer to the images and subjects that I was painting; to move away from the idea of the artist painting from a distance, with the landscape vast and unknown. I wanted more immediacy and an intimate understanding of the figures I was painting. I guess as a Caribbean painter I wondered what would bring me closer to the Caribbean subject in a way that was more penetrating. I continued to look more closely at the things we do here to express ourselves. Movement is one of those obvious things; dance, Carnival, masquerade etc. These were also things I was intimately connected to – means by which I expressed myself. So I started to utilise Caribbean culture’s own dramatic and theatrical tendencies as a tool to understand posture, movement, attitude and complexity where the human form was concerned. By acting out, performing, mirroring or inventing movements coming from various sources and inspirations I have been able to foster a deeper connection with the figures I am painting. I think this has been the most important aspect in my growth over the last decade. And of course, it’s still an unfolding process.

ttff: what are your thoughts on being ttff/22’s festival artist?

CL: Living on an island that is constantly working its way towards self-determination, I have always felt it useful and important to stay present within the creative arts scene here in Trinidad; as a supporter, participant, enthusiast etc. The place benefits from collaboration and engagement. So being the festival artist feels like a continuation of that journey.

ttff: how do you view ttff and its role within the region?

CL: There are many similarities between the ambitions of artists and creatives who are rooted here and something like a film festival. I see most creative endeavours, including film festivals, music festivals, various artistic practices etc. as nothing short of the participants building a civilization. Seeing ourselves and our place reflected in art, while being in dialogue with a wider world is central to that.

ttff: who/ what are your biggest creative influences?

CL: More and more I have found myself intrigued and inspired by artists who have practised their art in this region. Since the post World War II era, so much interesting, strong art has been made here. Much of it involved (deliberately or not) creating an aesthetic that was rooted in the Caribbean experience. Since that’s one of the main objectives in my work, these artists are most important to me. Increasingly, I also find that the most inventive and expressive costume designers here in Trinidad have played an important role in offering a different lens by which a painter can see the world. I am always trying to apply some of these experiences to help me shape and colour the themes that interest me in a fresh way.

ttff: what do you hope your work will say/ mean to others?

CL: I would hope my paintings come across as a meditative and heartfelt reflections of Caribbean existence; and I would want the fact of my art practice to suggest that the work the artist has a place in our maturing society. If this comes across I would feel like I’ve made a contribution.

You can learn more about Che’s evolving body of work by following his instagram.

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