Barbadian born Raquel Marshall is an artist who is slowly returning to the national arena. For the past decade or so she has dedicated her time to her family while also working as an office administrator and private art tutor. Marshall is a mother of two boys and shares her love of art with her husband, Nicky Marshall.
Marshall prefers to use images rather than words to express her experiences and feelings, and much of her work is an overflow of situations, thoughts, and concerns, both past and present. Her pet themes deal with racial issues, women’s issues, spirituality, alcoholism and escapism. Although serious topics, she portrays them in playful ways.
Since graduating from the Barbados Community College in 1998 with a Bachelors in Fine Arts (First Class Honours), she has had the privilege of exhibiting locally and internationally, including in London, France, Cuba and Belgium, mainly working in assemblages and printmaking. In college she discovered the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell, who inspired her and set the foundation for her work at an early stage. Marshall also paints, and is currently experimenting with video, sound and photography. She draws on any technique that will help her achieve her vision and is not afraid to adapt, learn something new or collaborate.
The first week of my residency at Fresh Milk went by in a swoosh. I quickly felt at home here, and was able to settle and take advantage of “my time.” Coming into the residency, I already had some concepts in mind and was eager to develop them. I decided to start working on an installation using clay. While creating this, I’ve been pondering denial and the human survival instinct of hiding truths, either from each other or from ourselves. I managed 6 small pieces so far and am feeling accomplished.
I am blessed to be sharing this creative space with Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell and Leann Edghill. Mathew and I engaged in a long, interesting conversation about Caribbean music, Barbadian music, calypso, soca and bashment soca on a long drive to drop him home one day. Consider me now more “edumacated.” He is passionate about cultural studies. Leann’s work intrigues me, as I find common threads between our practices, and yet our work is so different. I can’t wait to see what comes out of HER residency!
In between the interaction, the creating and the trying to source a variety of things, the Colleen Lewis reading room occupied the rest of my attention. Contemporary artists, Richard Bellingham and Rehema Chachage, caught my attention this week and I am currently watching the ART21 DVD series about art in the 21 st century.
Onward and upward.
I have been working on a few different concepts this week. Here is a look at two of them.
The clay sculptures for the installation I imagined are coming along nicely. Each piece is its own unique vessel, and none are premeditated. Their shapes are quite fluid and remind me of sea life. I wanted to add texture to some of them and decided to go with coral and shell patterns. In trying to approach the subject of denial, it is my intention for these pieces to convey weight, time, care and an element of ‘what is hidden’ within the work. There is nothing I love more in the creative process than to start with a vague idea, be sensitive to the medium and observe the work evolve on its own. I have about 80-100 to make!!
I was inspired to do this piece after having to face a difficult time in my life, which pushed me to apply for this residency. In 2012, I lost my father to suicide due to a lifetime of alcohol abuse. It’s been 4 years (even though it feels like only 4 days at times) of numbness, questions and deep reflection; a time of cocooning and rebirth. The entire experience has inspired me to explore more about alcoholism (drug abuse), especially as it relates to our local (perhaps even regional) culture.
I am grateful to The Substance Abuse Foundation which is a place of healing for addicts because they have been very supportive in helping me find some statistics. Thanks to Larry Mayers and Bernard Pooler. I also had the privilege recently to sit with Kurlyne Alleyne and hear how she uses art as therapy with the patients there. I have such high respect for this organization and the people who work there. I feel proud of those who have walked through their doors to find healing as it is a very brave and honest act, and shows a tremendous strength and love of self.
In my efforts to gather some information I created a little anonymous survey. If you are a Barbadian please fill it out. Thanks to all of you who have taken the time so far. I hope to use the sentiments and statistics for future work.
I truly believe that love saves lives, and this brings me to the next concept I have been working on. According to Barbados Free Press in an article written in 2010, the number of car accidents reported was estimated at 240% higher than the UK, and in 2015 Barbados Today also reported that there was a rise in road fatalities from the year before. Police say drunk-driving and speeding are among the leading causes of accidents. Anesta Henry’s report expresses my personal sentiments through the statements of Richard Cox, the public relations officer of the Barbados Road Safety Association, and Ronald Stanford, Assistant Superintendent.
I have been challenging myself as to whether or not I am being loving and responsible when I watch someone who has spent a night drinking get into their car and drive away? For those of you who don’t know, we don’t have safety laws to prevent people from drinking and driving, we don’t even have breathalyser tests. I have watched many leave the “partay” even with their “one fuh de road” in hand (what a terminology!) and said nothing – I just prayed they made it home safely. Seat belts are required now, and I wanted to incorporate one in a piece as they have been proven to save some lives. I cut the belt into hearts in the way children try to make patterns with folded paper. It was all experimental. The cutting caused the belt to fray, and I found myself drawn to the very tactile and now fragile properties of this new object. I want to do another one. I hope that my work creates dialogue that promotes change.
I took some time this week to walk the grounds here at Fresh Milk. I took in the scenery and calmed my thoughts. Discovering new places and new things always brings out our inner child, so even though there is seriousness in thought, playfulness is never far from reach. My imagination was sparked…I discovered an intimidating snake-like creature with many arrow-shaped heads, a wondrous tree with many rooms, and a troll under a “bridge”. And had a stare down with a cow.
This week was the most fulfilling week thus far.
Moving forward in building and developing the concepts I’ve been working with, I continue to enjoy creating, molding and shaping the clay vessels for the installation. I am reconsidering the amount to produce and how they will actually hang; whether above my head like a ceiling or at different heights where the viewer becomes more of a participant in the piece, walking in, through and around the work. I am leaning towards the latter.
After having a studio visit with Art historian, Author and Head of the Division of Fine Arts at The Barbados Community College, Dr. Allison Thompson, I was challenged to explore the fragility of the work more, which is an aspect we both find intriguing. Since then, I have been more daring and have started pressing the clay between my fingers to create paper thin sides. The vessels are very brittle now, and I am holding them like I would a premature baby as I do the finishing touches. And yet even with the desire to be gentle, I have thrown caution to the wind as I expect some may crack and some may even break and may need repairing after firing. Now, I am excited to see the results and I actually WANT some to break!
I am very grateful to Julianna Innis, an amazing ceramicist, who also came to visit me this week as I requested. I wanted to show her the ceramics and get her feedback. I had recently done a Raku Firing workshop with her and Joanne Johnson at The Barn Art Centre, and I wanted to incorporate what I learned into my ceramic installation. She has agreed to assist me.
I also made some progress on another concept. It consists of two large 3-Dimensional pieces using bean bags. One of these bean bags once sat in my living room, where the idea was first conceived. This bean bag provided a comfortable place to relax and read, watch TV e.t.c. It got me thinking that when a person is in such a comfortable spot, it becomes hard to move out. I want to reflect the Caribbean’s relaxed way of life (which is one of the reasons I love it here), but from a different perspective – one which challenges the “no worries, man” attitude which can lead to the neglect of some very important issues – like our complacency towards alcohol consumption. I think of the traditional travel posters which promote the Caribbean with a collection of images such as a beach chair, umbrella, beach and a potent drink, for example. Very inviting not only to tourists but also to locals. Nothing is wrong with this in itself, but my concern about our culture is that at most events, whether be it a dinner, a beach picnic, painting class, a sport or even a child’s birthday party, alcohol is not only available but it is expected.
The bean bag I decided to work on first is large, fluffy, wine coloured, and subliminally calls you to curl in. Extending from beneath are eight octopus-like tentacles adorned with hooks and weights and whatever else I can think to put on them. Should you stay there too long, a tentacle may just grab you, making it even more difficult to get out. Statistics have shown that people who are more susceptible to alcohol abuse as they age are those who start at young ages, those who grow up watching their parents drink or have alcoholism in their family history. I have only just attached these tentacles, and I am loving everything about the work so far; have you ever had a vision in your head, and when it comes to fruition and fulfils everything you expected it to be, you just want to dance? Well, I had to pelt a little waist in excitement.
One of the most challenging aspects of the residency for me has been writing this blog. Writing about my work in terms of context and process is something I have not done in a very long time. I have found the exercise has helped to bring focus and better prepares me to talk about the work. I realised this when I met with Dr. Thompson and Ewan Atkinson; I had requested Atkinson for a studio visit with me as I trust his aesthetic critique, and I know he isn’t going to sugar coat any of his responses. I found myself more sure of my ideas and more clear in my explanation of the works’ development. I may just start my own blog before the end of the month.
I also discovered Theaster Gates this week. I was amazed that he had done a whole series with fire hoses. It reminded me very much of the seat belts that I have been using.
Leann and I are currently trying to decide what our community involvement will be. This is a welcomed requirement of the residency. We have decided that we would do something together at a local school close by, but when and what is still to be determined.
The final week at Fresh Milk was filled with excitement and disappointment.
I completed the large 3 dimensional piece that I started last week. This was definitely one of my highlights. I hand stitched about 70 egg-shaped sinkers and three large hooks onto the tentacles. Although I thought the work to be finished, I was unsure and asked Annalee for her insight. Her response was, “I am thinking it could have a little more.” Having recalled Ida Applebroog’s quote ‘with art it either has to be too much or not enough’, Annalee’s response confirmed for me that I was indeed finished. That quote has not left me since I heard it, and it has shifted the way I look at art generally and at my own work, having a huge impact on my decision making during the creative process.
In my opinion, this work poetically fulfills all the expectations I had of it from its inception. It is inviting, cozy and fun, yet dangerous to play with, heavy and somewhat burdensome; large and striking, obvious yet ambiguous.
Another highlight of the week was that Leann and I watched the birth of a calf. It was quite an ordeal because the calf was too big and had to be helped out. It took a team of people to help the cow and calf make it through without harm coming to either of them. I have found being here in the “country” and on a farm quite interesting. One night there was an amazing perfume aroma similar to that of tuberose. Apparently, it was a green flower in bloom on a tree. I believe it is a Ylang-Ylang tree. Here, I am surrounded by scenes and smells that I do not see regularly, so I feel like I am truly “away”.
This week Tropical Storm Matthew swirled by and the country was on lock down, so that meant I lost a day at the studio and an important meeting was postponed to October. I had planned to do a few more clay vessels, but I was unable to due to this, and so continued with the other plans I had for the rest of the week.
Before leaving the residency I wanted to make one more pattern in another seat belt. Ironically, the first seat belt I found was grey, which I painted a significant blood red, but the recent ones I found were already red. I still had to paint them though, as I discovered while creating the first one that the paint helped to stiffen the fabric to stay in folded positions. I cut the belt into a pattern of people holding hands; it’s a common pattern kids use when creating these in paper. I decided to paint each person a colour – white, light brown, dark brown, black and red. The colour was a reference to the many races that make up our culture and that all are affected by the overuse of alcohol; however I did not like the aesthetic, and decided it was unnecessary to have all the colours as the monochrome red referred to all people without making it obvious. So I started again from scratch, and am way more satisfied with the outcome. I honestly love when the fabric shears and comes apart. I don’t wish for that to happen too often, but treasure when it does and I try as best I can to preserve it.
While here, I also worked on a few other concepts which I have not yet mentioned: a work using bottle caps, a video and sound compilation and another with found objects. Only one of those is fully realised and completed, and that is the video and sound compilation. Knowing that I would be doing this residency, I had decided to record a sound to bring with me in case I wanted to use it. At the time, I was totally unaware of what would become of it. The sound is a memory, a classical conditioning. After I left home, and for many years since, when I heard an ice tray crack and the ice hit the glass, my whole body would tense. My body was automatically responding to a sound that brought unease and signalled it was time to tread carefully. It’s been seventeen years, and the residue is still there. I have always been aware and amazed by it, and for some strange reason I wanted to record the sound and do something with it in an art piece one day.
I had never done anything like this before so I asked a dear friend of mine, Simon Pipe, who is an accomplished musician and song writer and who has his own recording studio, if he would do the recording. It was quite a different experience being in his studio, and I realised quite suddenly that sound was becoming my medium the same way I use objects or paint. We cracked ice (this we had to do over and over again, as it had to sound exactly right), dropped ice into the glass (also a specific pitch and a special glass had to be bought), we broke the tin seal, twisted the cap and poured the liquid. Now listening more intently, each sound had a beauty I didn’t notice before. And through its creation I found my reaction to what I heard changing.
Around the same time, I had a totally separate thought picturing a video I wanted to produce, but similarly wanted to bring the video with me to the residency in case I should want to develop the idea. I called on another creative friend, Adam Taylor, who is a photographer, graphic designer, and now music video producer. I needed him to record my feet crushing eggs; if anyone knows my work, walking on eggshells has been a revisited theme. I knew exactly where it had to be shot and how it had to look. So with a dozen eggs and some black velvet, we met at the parquet floor for the shoot. I crushed egg by egg with my feet, the yolk and the thick clear albumen oozing between my toes, slimy and gooey and quite therapeutic. It was gross and exhilarating at the same time. At some points in life, we just need to stop tip toeing and just let the eggs break. It’s messy but it’s authentic and it’s necessary. The video came out perfectly with only a little editing needed.
With no clear way forward individually for the two pieces, I decided to put them together. It was absolutely riveting. The sound of the egg crunching mirrored the sound of the ice cracking and the liquid pouring into the glass juxtaposed with the splashing of the liquescent egg was intense. I had unintentionally – and yet intentionally – made something very sensuous.
And so I come to a bittersweet end to my residency.
What’s next? I am not ready to leave. Here, I have found my “voice” again as I set out to do, accomplished the development of various ideas, and managed to complete more than one piece which is more than I anticipated. My new challenge is how do I maintain this momentum when I return to my “normal” life?
Thank you to the Barbados Central Bank for making this residency possible. I am truly grateful for the opportunity. Thank you for recognising the potential that the Fresh Milk platform can bring to the national development of our island.