Talented all-rounder’s artwork graces Butterfield’s gallery

Customers walking into the second floor of Butterfield House are being treated to the varied and diverse art work produced by artist Tulsi Bodden. The Journal takes a tour and chat with the artist to find out more about her stunning new exhibition, ‘A Serpent’s Tale’.

Butterfield’s art curator David Bridgeman spotted the work of Tulsi Bodden on Cayman 27 Artists Expressions earlier this year. The hitherto unknown artist caught his eye with ‘Golden Eyes’, her stunning study of an octopus, vividly set off against an impenetrable black background.

“David asked me if I had a good number of pieces that he could use to feature in Butterfield’s latest art exhibition,” she says. “I think he was a bit surprised at just how many pieces of art I had!”

David confirms: “Her work is varied, ranging from drawings to figurative paintings and abstractions. I was looking for artwork that was different and Tulsi’s art strays away from the usual interpretations of the idyllic Cayman landscape. Tulsi’s work contains mostly narratives. Narratives in art represent events taking place over time. In Tulsi’s work the events appear compressed into a single image. There are images of intricate serpents and sea creatures, forests from distant lands and engaging moody, mixed-media abstractions.”

David says her work was the perfect choice for such a public space where staff and customers can’t help but interact with the art as they pass through the Butterfield Hall of Art.

Tulsi, who hails originally from Swaziland, says she has her mum to thank for bringing out her artistic streak. “I was never without a pencil and paper when I was young. We travelled a lot and it was a great way to keep me entertained. I don’t think I really watched television until I was a teenager.”

The catalyst for her recent push to establish herself as an artist comes, she says, from a desire to be a great role model to her five-year-old son.

“I’ve suddenly decided to push myself that bit further. I’ve also recently enrolled with UCCI, undertaking a legal studies course,” she confirms.   

The title ‘A Serpent’s Tale’ came about for a variety of reasons and was David’s brainchild. Tulsi’s father’s family name is Mamba, like the snake found throughout Southern Africa; Tulsi was born in the year of the snake; and, like a snake shedding its skin, Tulsi believes she is metamorphosing into a new skin with this varied collection of artwork.

Beginning at the entrance of the exhibition, Tulsi explains that the sculptural silver piece titled ‘Metallic Texture’ that seems to be pulling itself out of the painting was an exercise in creating texture and shadow.

“I wanted to show that art is not necessarily contained within a frame, that the picture itself can have a life of its own,” she says.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is an intricate design that draws the viewer deep into the piece, almost mesmerising in its intensity.

“I used to doodle a lot at school and this intricate, controlled artwork is an extension of that concentrated work,” Tulsi explains.     

Further examples of her highly detailed pen and ink studies can be seen at this exhibition. In particular, the Cayman sea serpent is an incredibly detailed and flawlessly executed fantasy piece.

“I get totally engrossed in what I’m doing,” Tulsi confirms. “It’s actually very soothing as you get lost in the artwork. I have to remember to step away from the piece at certain points to look at it with a fresh perspective.”

Moving off in a completely different direction, Tulsi says she was so moved by the plight of the Haitian people after their terrible earthquake that she just had to put brush to canvas. Thus the pain of that terrible scene is depicted in all its sadness on canvas in ‘Cry at the Epicentre – Haiti 2010’ from her ‘Don’t forget us’ series of work. Tulsi says this particular piece is valued at CI$3,000 and if she manages to sell it she will donate half the proceeds to Team Cayman for Haiti (a local charity group) working with Haven.

“I’m moved by so many plights, such as child trafficking, rape and so on that this painting is part of a series that I’m working on, in order to highlight the suffering of others,” Tulsi furthers.
Taking yet another turn in this exciting artistic journey, Tulsi says ‘Blue Play’ is simply an exercise in having fun with her son.       

“We paint and draw all the time. These particular pieces came about when he was worried that he had made a mistake in something he was working on. I showed him how it could be turned into something beautiful,” she says. “We had great fun with oils, acrylics and sand to make these two pieces of artwork.”

One of her most striking pieces is an ode to the African Ndebele tribe which celebrates the rich reds and oranges of the tribe via swirling snake-like imagery that seems to sum up the entire exhibition.

“I wanted it to be serpentine as well as very textural,” Tulsi says.

Her final piece, titled ‘Craze’ was painted clearly when Tulsi had some feelings that needed venting.

“I would thoroughly recommend painting if you need to express yourself,” she says. “Painting can take you out of any mood and bring you to a relaxing place.”