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Superville in black and white

Monday, September 15, 2014
Artist Martin Superville, left, doesn’t like being photographed. He’s seen here chatting with his friend Derek Drayton at an exhibition earlier this year. PHOTOS: ANDRE ALEXANDER

Artist Martin Superville was playing undercover agent last Thursday night at the opening of his latest exhibition at On Location on De Verteuil Street, Woodbrook.

Was this the same painter whose vibrant bele dancers and folk characters were hanging on the walls of banks and corporate offices, and in the collections of devoted supporters?

We have come to expect exuberant paintings of “Trinidadiana,” of beautiful women dancing and singing; we look for bursts of colour, movement and torrents of energy.

Instead, there were quiet seascapes and Tobago beaches with palm trees, and a series of smaller black and white paintings of sailboats riding the waves. If I had to give the exhibition a name, I would call it Wind and Water. 

Superville was not entirely out of character, though, and the nubile maidens and nostalgic scenes of T&T yesteryear commanded their space. The collectors were as responsive as ever. 

A forest scene, with a dirt path covered in pink petals, was snapped up right way. 

A favourite was My Last Dalliance, of two young women bathing at a river. Gang Gang Sara—the Palimpsest Woman, inspired by Tobago lore, was imposing and doe-eyed in her elaborate skirts. 

Superville, who is largely self-taught, has been painting since he was a boy, but began painting professionally in 1988 when he was in his early twenties. He lives in Tobago and runs an art gallery there, and sometimes takes on the role of tutor and guide to aspiring artists. 

His current exhibition is a joint one with Paula Cooper who had about 50 small acrylic paintings—heartwarming depictions of country life, waterfalls and rivers, boats and old traditional houses. 

Particularly engaging was a seascape where the foam on the waves resembled white lace on an indigo background. 

But I kept returning to the interior space in the gallery where the beautifully-framed black and white paintings called Tobago Angostura Sail Week were hung. 

They were stark and striking—and Superville had forgotten to sign them. He promised to get around to it—before he ducked away to shake the hand of an ebullient guest. 

I want to see more black and white from him, not that Superville has never painted with absence of colour before, but he seems to be developing a new outlook. 

I want to see what else he will do, with his seascapes and landscapes. The lovely women with the perky bosoms and the Creole beauties with their headties and layers of skirts will always have their admirers. 

They will always draw applause and make us smile and laugh and feel happy and warm.

But while every successful artist has to confront the commercial aspects of his work, there is always the need to explore. 

Let’s see where Superville will take us, as we tiptoe off his flower-strewn path into the unknown.

The exhibition continues till September 25.


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