The latest art and photography exhibition at Full of Beans café combines the work of two very different artists into a seamless showing of their talent, a product of their individual attempts at making sense of the world around them, whether at home or abroad.
Teaching together at North Side Primary School, Kushana Gentles and Janice Brown have been friends for a few years now, meeting as volunteers at the National Gallery and each admiring the other’s talent for artistic works. Yet their journeys of artistic development could not be more dissimilar.
Gentles was born in Cayman and has a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah, Georgia. She was the National Gallery’s Education and Outreach Officer and now spends her time teaching reception year children at North Side Primary. While Gentles has exhibited in the States and Cayman, she says the Full of Beans exhibition with Brown has been her first major event in some time.
And while this exhibition shows her fine painting skills, her growing love for photography is also on display. Her increasing confidence in this genre has also been recognized nationally – Gentles placed second in the Cayfest photography exhibition Amateur Close Up division in 2010 and won an honorable mention the following year.
Brown is a native of Scotland, having first arrived in the Cayman Islands in 1984 to visit family. In 1999, she moved on island to join them. As a self-taught artist, Brown has been an avid painter since 2003. Well-traveled throughout Europe in particular, she has enjoyed bringing places she has visited to life through her bold use of color and imaginative composition.
It was Brown who encouraged Gentles to join with her to exhibit at Full of Beans, eager for Gentles to show off her artistic development during the past few years.
“I love Kushana’s paintings where she has captured an action or moment in time in such detail,” Brown says. “There is so much to look at and identify with. Her photography is fun to watch, as she will always come up with a different angle or perspective view to really make you think about her subject.”
Gentles says she was delighted to be asked to join Brown in this latest exhibition.
“After a few discussions on the subject, the ideas started to flow,” Gentles says. “In particular, I really wanted to showcase my artwork, as what I have on display is my summer in art form: paintings born out of my everyday life in North Side.”
Thus, the North Side Connection seemed like a good title choice for the event.
Gentles says she is inspired by everyday things that people may not necessarily notice.
“I look at the way light hits a subject, the way the angles work. All those little things intrigue me. It’s what I look for, what draws me in,” she says, referring to her artwork Crab Piece in particular, a superb study of an everyday scene of a man smashing into a crab to reach its flesh.
“The angles of the table in this piece drew me in, as well as the angle of the hands,” she says. “It’s the interplay within the subject that interests me and hopefully the viewer.”
Her painting titled Bucket to Pot continues the theme, with crabs boiling away, ready to be eaten.
“I love the angle of the pot in this painting,” she says. “I enjoy painting or photographing subjects at interesting and unique angles, not simply straight on, which is too boring for me. It gives more depth and adds interest.”
Her photography is a treasure trove of close-ups of nature, with very little passing by her eagle eyes.
“They call me ‘Paparazzi’ at school,” she laughs, “because I always have my camera with me. You just never know when the opportunity might arise for a photo opportunity.”
Tiny soldier crabs, a bright saffron finch, Cayman’s uniquely intertwined and sometimes foreboding mangroves, a deceptively simple but nonetheless intricate Noni fruit – all are featured as photographic studies in this exhibition.
“Close-up photography is intimate,” Gentles says. “I like to highlight things that people might not see ordinarily and say, ‘Look at what you are missing!’”
Capturing the energy and force of nature
Brown is a Year 5 teacher at North Side Primary School and an established art lecturer and teacher who has worked with the National Gallery and the Visual Arts Society, and also conducts her own workshops. She has been drawn to Cayman scenes since she began painting. The North Side Connection highlights some excellent examples of her work, including rugged and dramatic scenes of the Brac, such as Sailing By the Bluff, Cayman Brac and Blow Holes East End, Grand Cayman, which capture the energy and force of nature.
Employing intense, bright colors and a natural ability to harness nature and place it on the canvas, Brown recently turned her attention to painting scenes of her travels to Italy and also her native Scotland.
The works titled Oban, Scotland, Duart Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland and Glencoe and Loch Levers all display a totally different color palette to Brown’s traditional aqua, pink and green. Instead, the brooding hills and lochs of the Scottish highlands are depicted in all their glory in purple, navy and dark green.
“It was challenging to get the colors correct to reflect the temperature,” she says.
Her paintings of Italy (Canal View, Venice and Italian Countryside) were equally challenging, she says.
“I wanted to be able to convey the sights, the smells and the temperature,” she says. “It was hot in Italy, but it’s quite a different heat to that of Cayman. The challenge was to convey the difference.”
Brown’s lively and colorful Dance Party, Jamaica is a complete departure from the rest of her exhibition, a fun and whimsical display of her trip to the island that she wanted to convey in all its life and energy.
The North Side Connection is Brown’s third exhibition, and she and Gentles say they have very much enjoyed their collaboration and hope that viewers will be inspired by their work to perhaps take up a paintbrush or camera and detail their own surroundings.