Cruise destination review - - St. Maarten - -Visiting The Artists Tour
|Beyondships Cruise Destinations||
Because of the light, color and relaxed way of life, the tropics have long been a magnet for artists from other parts of the world. In addition, the confluence of African, native American and European influences have created a distict Caribbean style of art. However, with the occasional exception, it is not easy for visitors to explore this artistic side of the Caribbean.
One such exception is in St. Maarten where a tour has been developed that takes visitors to meet a number of artists working on the island. Offered as a shore excursion by a number of cruise lines, this tour by Palaceda Tours lets visitors see the artists' works, interact with them and see the environment in which they live. Of course, the artists also like to sell their works but that is not the thrust of the tour.
The tour involves established artists. Each artist must be available to meet the tour, which as a practical matter, precludes people who do art part-time as an escape from their regular job. In addition, each artist must accept credit cards. Thus, they must sell a sufficient volume of works to meet the standards of the credit card companies. Of course, such screens may preclude an undiscovered genius from being included on the tour but visitors also know that they will not be visiting Uncle Wally who does paint-by-number works in his spare time.
In order to make these tours a meaningful experience where the visitors have an opportunity to interact with the artists, participation is limited to a maximum of 21 people. On the tour that I was on, there were a dozen participants. They include several artists, some collectors and other art lovers.
We drove around the island in a medium size bus that had a row of single seats on one side of the aisle and a row of double seats on the other side of the aisle. As we drove along, the guide spoke about the island and gave background on each of the artists we were going to visit.
Our first stop was a modest house by the airport on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. It belonged to Monette Radot, an older lady who, the guide told us, had once been a model and a race car driver. However, Ms. Radot did not want to talk about herself. “What is important is what I do, not who I was.”
Ms. Radot's works appeared to fall into two categories. The first were representational paintings of Caribbean people and scenes. The second were more abstract works of planets and stars. She commented that with abstract painting you can imagine a lot of things whereas with figurative painting you cannot. “Our intelligence is abstract.”
To meet the next artist, we traveled a short way across into the French side of the island. Turning off the main road, we drove through a gate and then up a steep hill with landscaped lawns. The view over the Simpson's Bay area was spectacular. However, even more impressive was the stone and concrete mansion at the top of the hill.
As soon as the bus parked, the artist came out and climbed aboard the bus to greet her visitors. Akimon was born in Paris where she later studied art. She came to St Martin in 1992. Before showing us her works, she charmingly invited the visitors to have refreshments on the terrace.
The large terrace was even more impressive than the house. It included an infinity pool that looked over the yacht-filled lagoon below. Under a large awning, Akimon poured glasses of juice and offered the visitors a plate of biscuits.
Inside the house, a number of her works were on display. She explained that she worked with “brushes, pallate knife and fingers.” The inspiration “came from inside.”
Her paintings were largely abstract but not completely so.
She invited us to pick up the works and observe the effect of changing light on the works. Indeed, the metallic colors took on a vibrancy as the light moved across them.
In addition to her paintings, Akinom had done a number of small sculptures. African in style, these depicted men and women sitting in a formal but contented way. She explained that these were a tribute to the relaxed, unhurried attitude of the people of St. Martin.
Regaining the bus, we set out for the art gallery of Ruby Bate. To get there, the bus drove through the French capital of Marigot. The open air market was busy. Out in the bay was one of the small luxury Sea Dream cruise ships.
On the other side of Marigot, we turned off the main road into a community made up of walled houses. These were not as luxurious as the house we had just visited but they were of substantial size. A sign on the wall outside one of the properties announced that we were at "Lady Ruby's Silk Cotton Grove Art Gallery."
Beyond the wall were two buildings. The two story building was the art gallery and the other building was Ms. Bate's home.
Ms. Bate stood by the doorway of the gallery with her dog watching the bus arrive. Decorated by the Queen of the Netherlands for her work, Ms. Bate is a painter, poet and story-teller. Her works are inspired by the “history, traditions and roots of our people.” Through them, she seeks "to keep the past alive."
She continued in a matter-of-fact voice that all of her works have a story behind them. They show “pride in my island.” The goal being to “let visitors know us as we really were.”
Elaborating, she said that the “original people” were dying out and that a new race was taking over St. Martin. “I am one of the originals.”
Her paintings, prints and tiles, cover a multitude of styles ranging from the abstract to the representational. She uses bright colors that reflect the bright environment of the island.
In the yard by the gallery stands a 300 year old silk cotton tree, which often appears in Ms. Bate's works.
“This tree carries so many stories about the living, about the time of slavery. Its a very mystical tree also. It goes through a lot of changes. Sometimes the tree is a beautiful green. Another time, it loses all her leaves like it is winter. Then one beautiful moonlight night, I go outside and my tree is blooming with pink blossoms. Simplicity, nature and beauty.”
Continuing on, we drove to the village of Rambaud. On a hill, is the Minguet Art Gallery. Although it displays works by a number of local artists, it is primarily dedicated to the late Alexandre Minguet.
Born in France, Minguet studied at the l'Ecole du Louvre and l'Ecole de Paris. After working in Brittany and Normandy, he moved to St. Martin, where he continued to paint.
The artist's daughter Catherine explained that her father needed the sun. He had always been a colorist and the bright, vivid light of the island suited his style and temperment. His choice of colors became brighter, reflecting his happiness with his new home.
Minguet's works are rooted in French art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The landscapes and still lifes have Impressionist and Fauvist elements. He preferred to work outdoors, seeking to extract the joy from the day.
Ms. Minguet showed me one of her father's works, a still life of a hibiscus plant. In addition to the image, the artist had written words expressing Zen and Buddhist concepts. She explained that her father was speaking to the viewer intellectually through the words as well as emotionally through the image. As in all Minguet's works, the message was one of joy and trust in the present as well as a promise of eternity. It was very easy to like these paintings.
The bus drove through Grand Case and then on to the hills overlooking Orient Bay. We left the main road and entered a gated community of resort-like homes. One of these belonged to Francis Eck.
Like Minguet, Mr. Eck was born in France. As a child, he was fascinated by nature and did watercolors of the forests and animals he observed in Alsace. However, he was also passionate about sports and so as an adult, his first career was as a physical education teacher.
Moving to the Caribbean, he lived in St. Barts and then In Guadeloupe before settling in St. Martin. During this time, he found that art was his real calling. He has exhibited in Europe, in the United States and in China. His works have earned a number of awards.
The artist had arranged a dozen or so works around the swimming pool adjoining his house. They consisted of large oil paintings on canvas. All were done using a palette knife. He explained to me that he likes to paint quickly and therefore a brush does not lend itself to his style.
Eck's style is unique. While it had been possible to trace the artistic influences in the works that we had seen earlier in the day, Eck's works were more difficult to categorize. They were abstract in the sense that there were large expanses of smooth strong colors. But they were also representational in that they included seascapes, cities at night and even a nude. Much is said by economic strokes of the knife across the canvas. I found them quite appealing.
This tour exceeded my expectations in several respects. Not only did we see a broad diversity of artistic styles but we met creative people from quite diverse walks of life.
All of them live on the same island but each artist expresses himself or herself in a different way. Each had something to say. Also, in touring an island, I have often wondered who are the people who live in the houses that we drove by on the way to a beach or historic site. Here, we met several and experienced their different circumstances.