A respected artist is a productive artist. An artist who has been invested in is a successful artist. When combined, productive and successful artists contribute to the formation of a strong and renowned arts industry in a country.
This, in essence, was the message from Barbadian and international award-winning sculptor Ras Ilix Heartman as he spoke to Barbados TODAY at his Temple Yard, Cheapside, St Michael, workshop this morning.
In a radically frank interview, the talented sculptor of 27 years said the reality for creative artists in Barbados was that they struggled to get their pieces sold, and had grown accustomed to “disrespect” from the average Barbadian and policymakers of the industry.
After years in the industry that contributes to the island’s social and economic landscape, Ras Ilix believes the time has come for artists to get due respect.
“And most of these people in charge of culture here ain’t really no grass-root people. Them is just people that just study and get a job and holding a position.
“Otherwise, the creative arts would get pushed more seriously. Even these corporate businesses don’t buy work from the artist, them does go abroad and bring in a whole heap of [rubbish],” he said.
The sculptor indicated that while representatives from corporate businesses visited exhibitions and art shows and commended artists for their outstanding productions, they hardly invested in the sector. He suggested that the arts industry in Barbados was in fact “a clique and is about who you are and who you around”.
“The real grass-root artists don’t get the support. They would tell you the work look good, but them ain’t going spend money. I don’t know if them feel you can’t handle the money. And art ain’t nothing that does just sell; art is sell to people that got the knowledge of dealing with arts.”
As for the policymakers of the creative arts industry, Ras Ilix believes that they should do more to support the cause.
“The arts in Barbados don’t get that support, although there is the National Cultural Foundation. You can’t wait ’pon them; the artists got to get up and make things happen. Still all of them people does have a month’s pay and them people does get them survival.
“These people in Barbados are not taking the artists seriously and Barbados got some of the most authentic artists in the world right now.”
But Ras Ilix insists the lack of respect and support will not discourage him.
“As long as I create, I have value and if anything happen to me, I have a legacy that I can leave for my children,” he declared.
How did Ras Ilix, whose work may be found in homes and businesses across the world, become involved in the industry?
Sitting comfortably on a piece of a tree trunk, the artist said he had sculpted his talent in the late 1980s after being encouraged by others already in the industry.
“I had to do something that I could maintain my family,” he recalled.
Moving into a reflective mood, he added: “I used to deal with food and then a woman come and ask me one day to do a piece of work for her, but then she never come back; this was 1987.
“In 1989, there was the festival in Cuba and some artists were offered to go to Cuba [to attend the show]. By the second night in Cuba, a man holler, ‘Ras, you no ordinary person, you got energy that people don’t know nothing about. You got to learn how to harness your energy and you going be a good artist. You ain’t no cook’.”
When he got back to Barbados, Ras Ilex turned down his pots and hung up his spoons. It was the beginning of a serious career as a sculptor. And though not monetarily rewarding, the entrepreneur said he was satisfied that his legacy of sculpted work using mahogany wood had reached far and wide.
“I got a collection of work here, and a collection of work in New York. And you get more support ’bout there [New York] than ’bout here,” he said.
Facing a challenging times and his claimed lack of respect for and investment in him and other artists, Ras Ilix said he was more focused on continuing to produce work as he builds his legacy.
“I creating my own gallery that I could house my own work and show my own work. I don’t worry. In the international world, the artist big. When I in America, I does live like a lord as an artist.
“I showed my work at the Barbados Counsul General’s Office; I showed in Miami; I showed in Washington, DC; I showed in upstate New York; I showed in 30-somebody states in America with the arts.
“The way I get treat in America with the arts I never get that treatment here. When I in Barbados, I is a nobody. I is just a man that does walk ’bout the street bareback like some vagrant. Nobody don’t really know about me unless them really know me. But I don’t really got no problem with that, because I free-spirited and don’t worry about what people think or feel.”
Though it’s his top priority, sculpting is not all this Rastaman does for a living. Farming too is on his daily agenda. And this morning, when the Barbados TODAY team visited, as he sculpted, he supervised his tray of coconuts, bananas and other fruits, and vegetables on sale.
“Without planting food, I couldn’t maintain myself, because art ain’t nothing that sell every day,” Ilix said wryly.