Nigel Butler: Telling his people’s stories through art

Nigel Butler, a former Burrowes School of Art student, is making great strides with his unusual artwork around Guyana. Nigel’s work is fresh and nothing about it says textbook.

Each piece of his intriguing artwork tells a unique and fascinating story of his people; Nigel is part Arawak and part Macushi. He majored in graphic designs and minored in sculpting and is now a freelance graphic designer. However, he has found his niche, so to say, in painting and designing clothing.

The artist who hails from Surama Village, North Rupununi grew up in South Ruimveldt with his grandparents. His mother Renata Allicock, an embroiderer, would teach him embroidery and fabric painting whenever she visited, and he grew to enjoy them. After graduating from South Ruimveldt Secondary School, he went in search of work. During this time, his grandfather and aunt who always admired his art, encouraged him to take up summer classes at Burrowes in 2013. But after completing the course, Nigel was eager to learn more, and he entered the school full time in September that year, graduating in 2016.

Art for him, he said, is an expression of who he is and what he hopes to become. Most of his work reflects his people as warriors, who continue endure and continually hope for better.

“My paintings portray the indigenous life in an idealist/ abstract way,” Nigel said. He added that people easily relate to his work because it tells of the history of the first people, more so because most persons can relate to the culture in one way or the other.

His stay at Burrowes, he noted, taught him a great deal of patience. He learned to network and socialize with people and learnt basic skills which would aid in him better explaining himself and all that was in his head on canvas, so that his audience would have a clearer view of the stories he tells.

Recognition for him was one of his biggest challenges, said Nigel and what makes this even tougher is trying to sell to people who aren’t as exposed to art. He stressed that in Guyana, there is no proper approach to art and because some people are not educated on it, they do not appreciate the time and effort that goes into creating art.

Nigel believes it is not introduced well and should be more promoted in the school system. He added that because art was never considered much of anything in school, those who were part of the stream were often stereotyped as ‘less than’ children in other streams.

The art industry, he expounded, would be better boosted in the work produced and in income if more galleries are opened. He strongly feels that although art is a form of expression of the creator, many artists are stifled in Guyana and their work shunned or never given a chance because of the political expression of some. There are others who prefer to not just bring originality but to step away from textbook art to expressing more out-of-the-box pieces. Artists, he stated, should be embraced for their originality and be allowed to freely express themselves.

Since he began painting, Nigel has entered three competitions and placed third in the Guyana National Visual Arts Competition last year with his painting ‘Tam Bi Ku’, a Macushi word meaning ‘Warrior’. This is one of his major accomplishments. He hopes to participate in the next competition scheduled for 2019 and at the same time is on the lookout for other competitions he could take up.

Nigel, the designer, works along with Vanda’s Designs and his work would have made its debut on pieces at Guyana Fashion Week 2016, which was held at the Pegasus Hotel. As it turns out, designer Vanda Allicock-Calistro is the artist’s aunt. She contracted him to paint for her collection. After this there was no going back; Nigel is already looking forward to this year’s Guyana Fashion Week.

Among those who have been an inspiration to him, Nigel shared, are his mother, then his cousin, Kenneth Butler who he grew up seeing doodling and drawing all the time and mentors and artists Winston Craig (sculptor), and George Simon (painter).

Many of Nigel’s paintings follow a pattern of a portrait of someone with landscape for a background. This is done to tell a story. For the artist, the most challenging part is the portrait, and this is where all the patience he learnt comes in. Sculpting takes him one to three weeks sometimes, while his painting can find him at it for three days and at other times, just hours.

A man who likes listening to music, Nigel admitted that many times the concept for his paintings come from listening to music. This same music soothes him while he works. Other times, boredom is his other inspiration.

Whenever he’s sculpting, Nigel uses wire, cement or wood. At one time he used all three and when he paints he likes to use washes and opaque techniques.

Nigel hopes that in the near future he will have a solid foundation for his art and will become a household name in Guyana. If things go as he wishes then, he will someday open a gallery, where artists will be encouraged to not just be original or unique but to find themselves and to freely express.

Interested persons can contact Nigel via Facebook or can call him on 674-2782.

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