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The pen was Walcott’s gift
Acclaimed poet, playwright and Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Walcott did bestride the literary world like a colossus. He was equally comfortable at home in the land of his birth, St Lucia, his daughters Elizabeth and Anna’s Trinidad, and the wider world in the US, UK and Europe. The world was his oyster which with his words he opened. His Homeric epic poem Omeros is considered by many to be his magnum opus.
Tributes continue to pour in since his death on Friday at his home in Cap Estate, north St Lucia, after a prolonged illness.
One of them is artist Donald “Jackie” Hinkson, whose work Walcott critiqued in his role as art critic and also as staff writer with the Guardian newspaper in the 60s.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian yesterday, Hinkson said “His generosity, honesty in his criticism, his ability to work and produce and the brilliance in what he has done add up to a giant of a life.
“He didn’t tolerate superficiality when coming to the arts and the talk about glory and self-aggrandizement.
“In all the decades that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him refer to how good his work is, he might tell you he was pleased with a particular piece or not but never picked up for himself.
“If you told him that you liked his work or “nice work, it touched me”, he would mutter a thank you. That is a lesson a lot of people in the arts could learn about self-absorption.”
Hinkson said he first met Walcott in 1960 in his capacity as an art critic and an excellent one at that, arguably the best in T&T, when he was a teenager aspiring to be an artist.
Hinkson said what was astonishing about the future Nobel Laureate for Literature was in spite of his brilliance as a writer and a poet, Walcott had such a deep knowledge and history of painting and was himself a practitioner and had painted all his life.
He said Walcott alluded to painting in many of his poems and, in his heart, he wanted to be a painter, paraphrasing from his book-length with Walcott’s own watercolour and oil paintings in “Tiepolo’s Hound” that his gift was with the pen; “I gave up the brush for the metaphor.”
Hinkson said in 1961 along with Peter Minshall, Pat Bishop, Alice Greenhall, Arthur Webb, they held an exhibition at the old Woodbrook Market on French Street in Port-of-Spain, then the headquarters of the Trinidad Art Society, which was favourably critiqued by Walcott.
He said since that date, Walcott had taken a liking to his work and that kind of constant interest was an invaluable help to him.
Hinkson said not only was he a great critic, what he could not get over was the generosity towards him, the fact that Walcott was willing and keen to see what he was doing and give honest criticisms.
He said Walcott was fair but he did not mince words, when it came to art, writing and anything creative; someone could be his best friend and he would call it as he saw it.
Hinkson said Walcott made a point to keep in touch with him for the past 56 years anytime he was in Trinidad and he would reciprocate visiting him in his native St Lucia.
He said they would contact each other and Walcott would make sure to come to his studio to see what he was doing.
Hinkson said Walcott was particularly keen on water colour which was the medium he liked and to some degree it dominated his work as well.
Hinkson said what amazed him about Walcott was that he was a prolific writer and he believed in hard work.
He said the poet did not want to hear talk about who was important in what field, Walcott wanted to know what someone was doing, what he was working on or producing and his life. Hinkson said the amount of work he had done was exemplary, which was another aspect of him he would like to emulate.
Next week in your Sunday Guardian, look out for a special selection of Walcott’s work.