Carol Crichton’s Piercing Gaze
Educated at the School of Visual Art in New York and mentored by abstract painter Eugene Hyde, Carol Crichton has charted her own path through the murky waters of the Jamaican art scene. Her brilliantly coloured canvases have a ‘come hither’ effect on viewers, drawing you in, then detaining your gaze with the symbols, patterns and signs she tends to dwell on. Hers is a restless brush, wandering all over the surface of the island with a cartographer’s curiosity, not merely to produce sterile landscapes, but also slicing into the psychic and cultural imaginary underpinning the Jamaican nationscape and the people thereof.
Like Kei Miller’s Rastaman in The Cartographer Tries to Map His Way to Zion, Crichton finds no measure of peace in Jamaica’s bewitching ‘Great House’-studded landscapes, laden by the “brutal architecture” of its history. In painting after painting you see her picking up a piece of the puzzle that is Jamaica and pondering it…how does this fit, where does it fit…what is the larger picture this is a part of? Her brush is an adventurous one, not wedded to any particular style but experimenting with themes and image material—exploring postage stamps, colonial photographs, her own body prints—working them over into palimpsests that layer beautiful surfaces against the sinister semiotics of the postcolonial Plantation.
For Sale by Owner (Habeas corpus) places prints of the artist’s body below webs that decorate but also contain. In Emancipation an old colonial photograph of formerly enslaved folk, dressed to the nines in robes and hats pose in front of a landscape decorated with fantastically twisted and plaited palm fronds. In the foreground a little toddler looks back at someone or something and bloodstain like marks invade white surfaces bearing handwritten messages. “Where are your children today?” “I wish i could tell you better has come.” In “Burnin” a circular motif resembling a coal stove grate or a drain recurs, punctuated by black, ochre and red tile-like shapes, with irregular rivulets of blue floating on top, producing a canvas strongly reminiscent of the famed Guyanese painter, Aubrey Williams.
In several works Crichton activates song titles, particularly ones by Bob Marley, such as Chances Are, a grid-like painting juxtaposing a series of objects and motifs in fluid combinations. The cross, skull and bones, hearts, spades and jokers—all playing card staples—, checkerboards, banknotes, alphabets, numbers, razor blades, superimposed on map-like backgrounds, recur like leitmotifs in Crichton’s artworks. She is like a sailor adrift at sea, trying to plumb her coordinates, the disparate and puzzling set of clues she’s been given, to find her way back home. And what awaits at ‘home’? Perhaps the most powerful painting in this exhibition—Our Child—a small coffin shaped depiction of a naked toddler winged by the Jamaican flag, his legs in motion, striding ahead, his gaze glowering and resentful, a trouble-filled face that forebodingly answers the question, “Where are your children today?” Child or Nation? The question lingers long after you look away.
Carol Crichton’s work has been exhibited regularly, but like a well-kept secret, it has not attracted the kind of attention it should. Perhaps its time to look in depth at this quiet but insightful painter’s practice and give it the applause it deserves.
Aica Caraïbe du sud