Walking into a café, six minutes late for our 4:30p.m. meeting, my eyes are searching for Daryl Kelly, the artist. I’d done the requisite Google search before our interview to acquaint myself with his work—his style is daring, unconventional and unexpected. Due to my limited art vocabulary, I decided to dub it ‘Pop art meets the Tropics’ and so, naturally, I expected to be meeting the Caribbean’s answer to Andy Warhol; an eccentric, artsy type who would immediately stand out in this plain, little café.
By the end of our interview, I recognised my mistake. I assumed I’d be meeting an ‘artist’—the noun—when Daryl is the verb. Art is what he does and will always do. It’s not just a title or a hat he slips on and off. It’s a part of him; constantly and quietly simmering beneath the surface.
“I finished up my Fine Arts degree at BCC [Barbados Community College] and started working with my Dad at an insurance brokerage,” he said. “But I’d always carried on painting on my own privately. For me, art was always more of a passion rather than about money.”
As one might imagine, there is something incredibly freeing about not relying on art for income, and according to Daryl, this freedom only enhances his work: “I like the idea of creating whenever I want and not making it a burden. I’m grateful that I have this work, because it gives me the space to do what I want with my art, and not be a slave to it.”
Turns out that, Daryl the artist, actually has a nine-to-five—he’s the Managing Director of Chestertons, a luxury real estate company. And even as we discussed desserts and favourite characters on Friends, Daryl’s business acumen and entrepreneurial savvy were never too far away. He is confident, articulate and it isn’t difficult to imagine him selling million-dollar homes with ease. Funny enough, however, Daryl, ‘the real estate mogul’, wasn’t the person sitting in front me either.
The person before me was someone who was equal parts Bajan and British, having moved to Barbados with his family 19 years ago. If he had to choose one last meal, it would be macaroni pie and fresh fish from Oistins with a side of pickled cumber, coleslaw and lots of pepper sauce. But when he sets foot in London, which he does relatively often, the first thing he does is find a good steak and kidney pie. He spends his weekends surfing and has a very typically Bajan appreciation for rum, while at the same time also having a very typically British appreciation for The Beatles.
This tension, the gentle push and pull, the duality of his identity—it doesn’t just find its way into his work, it inspires it.
“I’m constantly trying to marry the two; the vibrancy of life here in Barbados with the cosmopolitan spirit of London,” he says. “I lean on my experiences in the UK to take myself out of Barbados bubble. I think if I didn’t have that influence in my life, I wouldn’t be able to pull it into my art.”
By embracing the natural yin-yang of his life, Daryl has been able to carve a niche in both the local and international art scene, presenting Caribbean art in a different light. “I try to push the boundaries of what art is in the Caribbean. Especially with this latest collection… I could have painted some coconuts but instead I thought, why not paint the word ‘coconuts’ in big bold letters and call it art?” he laughs.
And it seems his approach is resonating. 2019 has been a big year for Daryl. His first solo show at the Grove Gallery in the Limegrove Mall in Barbados (ironically within walking distance of his Chestertons office), was a major success, selling out about 70 per cent of the show that night alone. Later this year, he will be taking his art around the world, showcasing pieces at international shows in Paris and Germany. People are enthralled by the dynamism and authenticity in his art and it shows in his increasing popularity.
And despite this propensity for art, I still didn’t meet ‘Daryl Kelly, the artist’. Instead, in a little more than an hour, I met a surfer, an adventurer, an amateur chef and a businessman with a passion for art. I listened as he seamlessly transitioned from talking about the influence of Picasso and Max Beckmann on his work, to reminiscing on that one time that he and his friends nearly drowned sailing off the coast of Martinique. And though our conversation quickly jumped from topic to topic, art was always hovering nearby.
By the end of it, I realised that one simply couldn’t classify Daryl as any one thing. He’s just Daryl.