As a hub of creative energy, Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts is a shifting art space, reflecting its many residents and visitors in the splashes of artwork in its public spaces – yet tucked away into an unassuming façade in the heart of Chippingham.
Most recently, however, its back entrance has transformed at the hands of international artist-in-resident Chawne Paige and a dozen volunteers into a welcoming space appropriate for the exciting creativity buzzing behind its walls.
Paige, who spent three weeks in Nassau at Popopstudios ICVA this summer, first noticed the space lacked an appropriate entrance fitting for its role in the community when he arrived from Iowa, USA, to begin his residency. Urged by Popopstudios ICVA founder John Cox and assisted by its Education Officer Katrina Cartwright, Paige and a group of twelve volunteers set about giving it a facelift in the form of a wall mural.
The final space, bright and playful, shows off his skill as a digital designer, creating an abstraction of the Bahamian landscape in intricate lines that could translate into digital design yet was entirely drawn out by hand.
“Adding representational designs to my work, especially here as a visitor, comes off as problematic, because Bahamian culture is so much more than the clichés we initially think of,” he said. “I was looking at the landscape around here and how winding the roads are, how plants weave in and out of each other, and the shapes of seashells, so that started to inform my choices, but it remains an abstraction of that.”
Indeed, the mural ties into Paige’s larger interest in landscapes and bodies of water – themes he continued to explore in his own personal work while at Popopstudios ICVA. Primarily working with plaster, Paige’s paintings and assemblages out of recycled or found materials marries his day job as a digital designer and his creative inspiration of water landscapes to create pieces that reveal the ways we negotiate space.
In a body of work he began last year, “Polynia”, Paige examined human emotions of patience and determination during life’s extremities through the phenomenon of natural ice holes – bodies of water surrounded by sea ice – in the Antarctic sea that were advantageously used by polar explorers to navigate such perilous conditions.
“I’ve taken that on as a personal philosophy – no matter where you are at or what your situation is, have that patience to keep your ground – or keep your state,” he said.
“Now I’ve come full circle – I’m on an island surrounded by water – so I’m on the next side of that dialogue, visually,” he continued. “The extension of the Polynia series, what’s also going to be related to that is a series of visual work directly connected to my experience here, so it will be a dialogue further down that rabbit hole.”
Approaching his residency with a candid openness, Paige allowed the landscape to fuel some powerful journaling, which will no doubt make its way into the work of his next exhibition.
“My infatuation is with water, especially the ocean – it’s the main driving force behind the work I do,” he said. “Ocean is sacred, something you don’t take for granted. It has power.”
“The seascape is a big part of what this environment is, so how that’s being manipulated by the sprawling economic developments here is kind of unfortunate,” he added. “There’s a dialogue there that I’m starting to have.”
Adding to that dialogue is the one Paige is strengthening between Popopstudios ICVA and his workplace of the Waterloo Center for the Arts in Waterloo, Iowa. As the digital arts manager of the WCA, producing eye-catching marketing materials, catalogues, posters and website and social media content for the arts center, Paige first made a connection with The Bahamas last year during the opening exhibition of the Master Artists of The Bahamas in the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
At Popopstudios ICVA, he not only had time to sort through his personal artistic process but also gain perspective on how the Bahamian art space functions in order to keep strengthening those international artistic connections and creative dialogues.
The Waterloo Center for the Arts, he says, is hoping to pilot an international artist residency project similar to Popopstudios – one which Bahamian artists can look forward to using.
“When I get back I’m going to be advocating for building a program to have residents come in and extend that hand back to The Bahamas, back to Popop and the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, to continue this conversation,” said Paige.
“The Waterloo Center for the Arts has a lot of investment in the Caribbean because of the collection of artwork we have from the region, so we have a vested interest in the cultural and artistic environment here and we’d like to always have that exchange.”
In his short time exploring the art spaces in Nassau and meeting Bahamian artists, Paige is blown away by the already strong connections fostered by the visual arts community and the powerful ways in which that plays out to positively grow its vital presence in The Bahamas.
At Popopstudios he’s witnessed the exchange between established artists and student or emerging artists not only in day-to-day passing interactions, but a variety of projects, formal discussions and educational opportunities.
“Here in The Bahamas that ends up being important because I can see a whole lot of advocating that is still needed for arts and culture in the community at large, so the stronger you build that community, the more work can be produced and seen and more fuel to advocate for the arts – either in education or exposure,” he said.
“This is a young nation despite its history, and I think if people can get engaged in the cultural conversation and participating in their environment, then positive, mindful change can come about.”
Ever thankful for the opportunity given to him by Popopstudios to be a part of the cultural conversation, Paige is content to leave his mural with their myriad of twisting lines as a tribute to these connections he’s made between Popopstudios ICVA and his workplace the Waterloo Center for the Arts in Waterloo, Iowa – one which will continue to grow.
“This project has really become a metaphor for my whole trip – a thread that connects my efforts in Iowa and the things happening in this community, and a growing web of connections and the interactions we are having,” he said. “It’s a visual language about what is happening.”
See more work by Chawne Paige.
The Nassau Guardian
Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012
Photo: Edward Russell III