Guyanese artist Antonio Butts believes that all of us were born artists. He says it is up to us to realize our latent talent. “I did not discover art; art discovered me. As children we are all born artists…born with creativity. Some are inspired, but only some realize and discover it. Some of the first (indigenous) peoples of the world: The Amerindians, Mayans and Aborigines were also the first artists…it was a form of expression for them,” Butts shares.
In an exclusive interview with The Caribbean Current, he says that his alma mater – Indian Education Trust College did not teach art, so he would seek out other opportunities for learning.
“I was hungry and determined to learn, so I would go to other secondary schools such as Central High School and Queen’s College and speak to the art teacher and sit in on their art classes.
I would join the American and British libraries at that time and borrow books and learn about artists like William Turner (English Romantic landscape painter and watercolourist); Albrecht Dürer (painter, printmaker and theorist of the German Renaissance) and William Homer (American watercolourist). It was just fascinating.”
One may ask where does he get his inspiration from?
“When I’m into me I get into my thoughts. I could be looking at a plant, but I’m seeing life, design, art and store it in my brain,” Butts beams with delight as he looks at a nearby plant.
He remembers his first experience as an artist and entrepreneur like yesterday. His inspiration came from his aunt who would take him to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Georgetown where he would later draw these amazing, majestic sculptures at about 6 years old.
After seeing this, his aunt took him to one of her friends who wanted a bouquet of flowers painted. He had no paints, so she purchased a box of poster paints for him and paid the young Butts ten dollars for her beautiful painting of the bouquet. “Wow, I was so elated!”
Butts shares that as a teenager, he went to the sea wall with friends to dig for clay and sculpt faces. “I never used paint, but again later painted the Kaieteur Falls which is the highest single drop in the world.”
My research later revealed that these falls are four times taller than the Niagara Falls and located in the Amazon rainforest where the Potaro River was said to drop to an estimated 221m with a width of nearly 100m (it is said to have dimensions of 741ft high and 370ft wide in the rainy-season).
His first job out of school was teaching art at a convent – Stella Maris Preparatory School. He enjoyed it for a year, then later worked at Guyana Lithographic Company designing pharmaceutical labels and packages. There he met Angold Thompson who was one of the top artists in Guyana. The two men became friends and painted together. They sold their paintings and entered competitions. The year they met Thompson won Best Picture of the Year and Butts the 1st prize for Best Artist in the newcomer division.
The young artist later got a job to do a sign and shares that though his father was not an artist, he advised him on a lot of things that as a young man he was not able to recognize.
He later earned a living in Suriname in 1970s doing graphic design and printing prior to moving to Trinidad. He designed the international Trade Booth for the Government of Suriname and worked for NCE Screen Printers in Guyana.
After the downturn in Guyana’s economy he made the transition to Trinidad where he did printing and designing of T-shirts in the 1980s. He also did graphic design for advertising agencies.
He shares with The Caribbean Current that he soon discovered that some of the culture in the sister isle of Tobago is similar to Guyana, however the adaptation to Trinidad’s culture was different and took some time, but he is proud to call it home.
When asked about his native country, he describes Guyana as a beautiful land with white sand covering the landscape. He explains that it is rich in agriculture and minerals such as gold, diamond, bauxite and oil. “There’s even a luxury bus that takes you to Brazil – 18 hours through the forest!”
This was a geography lesson for me and I was happy to refer to my trusty reference, the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book where I confirmed that Guyana’s population comprises 735,909 inhabitants with a land size of 196,849 square km slightly smaller than the US state of Idaho! Because of the terrain, the population is reported to be densely populated in the northeast mainly around the capital city of Georgetown, with notable concentrations along the Berbice River to the east. The remainder of the country is sparsely populated.
With decades of experience under his belt, today Butts works on multiple platforms and does glass engraving and painting, wood (burning or pyrographics), wire bending, sculptures and portraits. He uses acrylics, three dimensional sculptures with cardboard, pen and ink and experiments with canvas and various surfaces.
What’s his favourite kind of art?
“I work with any medium available that emotionally express how I am feeling at the time. But if I had to choose just one, I would choose acrylics as it affords me the comfort of space and it does not require much cleaning up after I’m finished painting,” Butts shares.
His art has been shown at the Brooklyn Gallery Workshop, as well as museums, exhibitions and galleries in Suriname, Trinidad and Guyana.
As he closes his portfolio of art, Butts looks up with a humble smile, ends the interview and sums up his art in one sentence: “My art conveys my Caribbean-ness, our Caribbean people and life in the Caribbean and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am proud of my heritage and it is my legacy as an artist and son of the soil.”
By Carolyn K. Correia – www.carolyncorreia.com
Carolyn K. Correia is the author of Thinking out Loud, How To Find Yourself and Claim What’s Yours and she missed the boat on love. She is also a communications consultant, freelance writer, blogger and motivational speaker. Learn more here www.carolyncorreia.com or stay updated on Facebook –CarolynCorreiaAuthor.
His list of credits includes:
2014 – Adjudicator – Trinidad & Tobago Calypso Organisation. (TUCO)
2014 – Guest Artist Open Studio-Brooklyn Gallery Workshop
2010 – External Examiner for E.R. Burrows School of Art
2001 – Present Coordinator and Skills Coordinator for the National Carnival Commission (NCC)
2004/ 2005 – Curator for Success Laventille Lions Club Art Exhibition – Trinidad Hilton Hotel
2003 – First Solo Art Exhibition in Trinidad based on the Steelpan
1980 – Design and layout of the Guyana Booth for the International Trade Show
1978 – Designed and painted the Set for the play ‘Living Together’ The Guyana Play House
1977 -Winner of National Art Exhibition & Competition – Georgetown, Guyana
2015 – National Museum, Trinidad & Tobago – Wire Sculpture Exhibition; Trinidad and Tobago Art Society – Group Exhibit
2014 – Fine Art Gallery – (Group Exhibit) – Carnival Art Exhibition- University of Bournemount, London – Caribbean Group Show
2011 – Banking Insurance & General Workers Union – Solo Art Exhibition
2007 – Success/Laventille Lion’s Club – Silent Art Exhibition
2006- The American Women’s Club – Live and Silent Art Auction
2005 – The Multicultural Club – Grand Charity Art Auction and Exhibition
2000 – Southern Art Gallery – 1st Anniversary Art Show
2002 – National Petroleum – (Group Exhibit)- Emancipation Exhibition
2001 – Studio 66 Art Support Community – Annual Exhibition of Fine Arts
1988 – Trinidad & Tobago art Society – National Art Exhibition
1979/82 – Various Art Exhibitions in Suriname
1972 – Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta), Georgetown, Guyana
1977 – National Exhibition & Competition, Guyana – First Prized Winner- Exhibition Hall, Georgetown, Guyana – First Solo Exhibition
For more art from Antonio Butts see his Facebook page.