The creative mind and skillful hand behind all this awesomeness is the artist now known as Piggott, who some call Terrence and whom I’ve always known as Rupert or Pert. He is not new to the art scene. He’s been around for many years but somehow something of a hidden element. When I first saw his work in the early nineties, my thought was he was a “for real” talent and would be one of Barbados’s top artists soon. Years later, however, he would still be a mostly unknown name even though he does have a following, with local and international buyers who have been collecting his art for years.
His canvasses, large even then, were filled with pain and dark morbidity and brilliance reflecting both his grief over the death of his mother and his latent artistic genius. He agrees it was some of his best work. Time passed and then there was this fabulous showing in 2005 at Lancaster House with more massive canvasses and where his interest had turned to textures, incorporating raw rope and burlap extending beyond the edges of the pictures.With large sweeping strokes and churning seas, there were still undercurrents of darkness and death stalking in the paint itself. An introspective piece Inner Self was bought by the Barbados National Art Gallery for its collection.
In 2007 he was accepted to the Instituto Superior De Arte in Cuba, a place of great learning and where the teachers called him “maestro.” He disappears off my radar then surfaces with his Barbadiana series which spans a number of years, documenting typical market scenes and field workers, boats and so forth rendered with a casual smooth ease, colourful, sometimes woeful figures.
In the commercial marketplace and especially Rodney Arthur’s freedom fine Art Gallery, his work sells and sells, bread and butter art that pays the bills. for a while he seems to have traded in his dark edginess for the shallow safety of the commercially viable. But eventually the transformation begins, signs of the artist’s restless discontent; in the Revival series, there are more local scenes but the figures become stylized—the blades of cane and blades of the cane- cutters’ cutlasses slash and flay as they do battle with each other; the field workers’ heads are atrophied and their bodies extended, bent over and backing us, faceless, caught in lacerated colour, thick paint and tangled fibreglass fibres.
The market becomes a place of dappled cubes and impressionistic delight. There is something sweet with an original interpretive flair. More recently follows Absence – Presence, which explores the absence and presence of subject and self as he dives into a realm of pure abstraction and spirituality and by now he has become the Nu Edge Gallery’s top seller. Yet, amazingly, Rupert is still not a household name. Most people who aren’t in the art world or aren’t buyers, still don’t know of him in Barbados. His art sells, but he has never been one to sell himself. He is soft spoken, almost shy. Handsome, he has a lovely wide smile which transforms his face that is otherwise in deep contemplation with a furrowed brow, always pondering his next act of creation.
He, like most “for real’’ artists, lives and breathes his art and not a day goes by that he doesn’t create something. “I am an artist now, before and forever,” he says. He, however, considers his teenage daughter Tara Blu to be his “best creation ever.’’ He has been an actor and a model, owned a T-shirt and clothing company, and has been a bar/ restaurant manager but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t being true to himself or honouring his creative passion. Giving up the day job is the turning point for many artists, the moment when one makes that total commitment to one’s craft. It takes courage especially in places where artists are still hardly honoured or given their due. The journey for Rupert has been one of self discovery, reinvention, interpretation and the realization of unlimited potential; it is also the exploration of textural possibilities and unconventional use of materials, surface treatments and experimentation.
He reuses and recycles found and used materials. In his latest collection, for instance, are embedded old paint tubes, endless scrapings of paint from his palette and strips of old canvasses. Or like an alchemist or magician, he mixes stuff together and makes matter from nothing. From inception to completion, each piece is a wondrous journey. Although preceded by long periods of introspection, he prefers a spontaneous process, letting the paint flow and follow its own path and describe its own destiny, while the mind of the artist orchestrates and facilitates the process and the master designer remains very aware of his connectivity to the creator and the creation. In his deepest moments of dark despair, his muse and mistress, his art, has never left him. In those moments, she draws him out of himself and rescues him from drowning. Through her, he is released from inner turmoil and finds joy. In his self-effacing manner he refers to himself as a student, always learning.
The surprising element in this latest exhibition is the colourful, clear, bright sense of happiness and wonderment. Amidst the “oohs’’ and “aahs’’ one also heard the utterings of “brilliant,’’ “awesome,’’ “amazing” or “Well, it’s such a departure.’’ Those of the art world there agreed that it is time for Piggott’s work to be seen on an international platform, because the quality level of the work has gone beyond our “small island’’ framework. The artist clasps his hands together and bows to his guests; he thanks each individually for coming. He is not a big talker and not inclined to be out front, something he is trying to do more of now, though it doesn’t come easy, he says with that smile.
At the Biennale when the artists were to talk about their work on stage, he duct-taped his mouth and stood with arms crossed next to his painting. Terence Rupert Piggott—now you know. Terrence lives and works in Barbados. His work is part of numerous private and public collections around the world.