Tuesday, May 14, 2013

After Garry Butte

I have long been fascinated by the art of Gary Butte. A young St. Lucian painter, his work reflects nothing of the traditional pastoral views of the famous twin Pitons of Soufriere, no fishermen, no sea scapes or landscapes. My usual comment on his work is 'not a Piton in sight.' Gary seems to have dug down past his young imagination to find some memory, some connection with some perception of African images, touched with Amerindian motifs. He has thus produced some of the most unique work, certainly among his St. Lucian contemporaries, and it would be good to have good art reviewers see how he compares with contemporaries in other Caribbean nations. With the help of the Alliance Francaise he has toured Martinique and Grenada, and has gone as far as London with his exhibitions. A tour of Mexico is lined up.
Several months ago, I selected a number of his works, saved them into a manuscript, and began to meditate on them with a view to writing some poems out of them. My approach was to make this an intuitive response to his work. I wouldn't approach it with preconceptions; I wouldn't plan any formal structures; I would allow the work to speak to my own innards, and bring out of me what it would, in content and form. I selected seven pieces. A I meditated on the work, I found marvellous correspondences between it and the work of the Kamau Brathwaite of Masks. You have my word that only later did I remember that Gary's most recent exhibition was titled Mask Parade (2011). So the poems counterpointed lines from Kamau in epigraphs, in a kind of jazz improvisation, as I played my riffs against Kamau and Gary.
Anyway, I've recently completed the poems after many months, and offer the first poem here. The titles were those Gary gave to his work.

After Gary Butte

So crossing the river

and walking the path

we came at last to Kumasi.” – Kamau Brathwaite


Prologue:       The merchant

Did he arrive at sunset’s orange hour

or with the anonymous midday bustle

markets busy before Sabbath—

and evening or noon height, him,

 stranger with strange wares

looking for a berth

in the fabled city.


Who wants cantos from placards of bewildered widows?

Totems to soft bones of decimated embryos?

Androgynous  puppets parading obscenely behind certain jars?

Any credit for dark sayings of Babylon, Bhutan or islands of the sea?


Fifth Avenue needs no merchandise of prophets—

with their Greek vases

their silicon tablets

their first editions

high speed subways and twin towers—

won’t spare a dime for this third world primitive

his ark of Mesopotamian innocence

his naive style.
(c) Gary Butte
(c) Kamau Brathwaite
(c) John Robert Lee 2013

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