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INTERVIEW WITH LEROY CLARKE

INTERVIEWER: TONY HALL

 

LOCATION: Leroy's studio/home in the forests of Mt. Aripo, Trinidad

DATE: August 1985


The interview begins while Leroy is cooking.

 

TONY:

You are chatting with me. I hear a talk in town, in fact not just in town but all over Trinidad that you are the number one painter in the world.

LEROY:

All over Trinidad? You're very limited in terms of travel.

 

TONY:

Well yes I am (laughs)

 

LEROY:

I hear that I am one of the best in the world and I kind of agree.

 

TONY:

You agree?

 

LEROY:

Yes.

 

TONY:

How come you're one of the best in the would, if not the best …

 

LEROY:

No, I'm not the best I know that. But I'm one of the best

 

TONY:

So how come you do have to cook for yourself?

 

LEROY:

That's why am one of the best. Most other things I do for myself. It is about something called individuality and risk, taking risk and so on, that can build up a sense of being. You can't really build up a sense of being by being with too many people. You understand? That is one reason that Trinidad doesn't have a sense of being you know, we are too much people together. You know what I'm saying?

 

TONY:

So we should all live in our own little Aripos?

 

LEROY:

No, not quite, probably symbolically, I'm aiming more at symbolism. You see I found that there is this need to taper off. We are all at the base and one had to step off of the base, in other words step off of the time, become timeless in the time, come out of the crowd. You find that from the time you do that, in any one of us, there is, you know, a problem. For example if you take where we started where I said that I am one of the best that is a way of me confronting. If you think I'm not one of the best then we have a fight and I am looking for fight.

 

They move into the studio and stand before a large painting

TONY:

Yes, Leroy looking at the paintings I like what I see and so on, in fact I'm overwhelmed but ahm, I wonder if a person needs to know the references and the context and so on and understand the meaning of all the little squigglies and so on before they come to really like the paintings. I mean take this one here for instance. ..

 

LEROY:

In the first place for you to look at what I might call the signature piece of my most important work, El Tucuche, and use a term like 'squigglies'…

 

TONY:

But I like it you know.

 

LEROY:

That's OK, But when you like it from a 'squiggly' prospective or a squiggly understanding it kind of increases a kind of burden on me. These are not squigglies, we're talking here about rhythms. I believe that when you look at a painting like El Tucuche for example, this painting here before us, you will see that there are different rhythms which are highlighted that suggest different meanings or different aspects of the mural.

 

TONY:

It is obvious that I feel that.

 

LEROY:

Yes you do feel it. I'm just simply saying that when we say 'squiggly', because of what I am doing, I think it is very important that people know exactly what I'm about. I am giving little or no chance for their own interpretations at this point

 

TONY:

When you say 'their own interpretations' in terms of how you want them to interpret it you want them to interpret it that way.

 

LEROY:

Yes that is my beginning point or my point of departure. I want people to understand exactly what I'm putting down there. I don't want them to start with the idea that this is an abstract sort of thing. This is not a abstract, these images are put down there with precise meanings it is an epic and I am at the end of this epic and I should know exactly what they mean and I want people to understand them from that context. I don't want people to feel that the red is there because I like red. I am not a butterfly or some other insect or a bee. I know exactly why I put red and the combination of red with yellow or what have you, these are definite forms. I'm thinking of years from now when we have understood our own symbolism and we have a kind of dictionary of it all in a living sense, a living dictionary of it, it would be very easy for us to look at our arts, whether it be dancing or music and identify exactly what they are saying so I don't want anybody to be mistaking what I am doing. What I'm saying right now is we are building, creating or forming a language. I am very serious about that.

 

TONY:

What you are saying is that when I look at this and feel something I am in fact learning about…

 

LEROY:

I am very serious about that

 

TONY:

So I will move from squiggly to rhythm.

 

LEROY:

Oh yes you will. I mean I'm not against you thinging but I must also confront your with it.

 

The interview continues standing in a river near the house.

TONY:

Leroy listen, we were talking about the process you say where Trinidadians become acquainted with the icons becoming acquainted with themselves through understanding the painting even though they may not understand it initially. But do you think. that way out here you can be part of that process? Don't you think you should be in the community and actively working on it? Why this isolation?

 

LEROY:

I believe that if you want truly to test one's your commitment you should create some problem, created some distance those who want to find out will arrive here I am tired of carrying things to people.

 

TONY:

So the isolation is an active part of the same process, the knowing of self…

 

LEROY:

Very well, in terms of becoming one has to separate oneself from the crowd, the mob, and leave that and go into the bush. As a matter of fact when we go back into some of those classical dramas we understand the protagonist, that that is exactly what he has to do. But in us is that adventure, that individuality, is just that when we go down Frederick Street* and Independence Square* there is less of it. Less and less. The more we become part of a political party the more we are less of it. The more we become a civil servant or a member of a union we are less of it. But out here, I have to defend myself against a number of things and find a way through the Bush. When I first came in here I must say that I was terrified, there was no road at all…

 

TONY:

The bush have the answer.

 

LEROY:

Well, the bush if you are to use 'bush' symbolically, because you can be in Port of Spain and there is a kind of bush there. There is a lot of bush and there is no pun intended. (laughs)

 

TONY:

There is plenty water here

 

LEROY:

Yes all this is very beautiful and I really like it. What more you want me to say? You run out of questions or what?

 

* The centre of the Capital of Trinidad, Port of Spain

 

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