Tammy Lavern Walker is an artist whose distinctive pieces set her apart with one particular painting having garnered much praise on social media. That piece, ‘Evolution’, is one of two that are currently on exhibition at the National Art Gallery, Castellani House and for which she won the Promise Award at the Guyana Visual Arts Competition 2019.
“When I started and completed Burrowes School of Art, I was known mostly for doing portraits, but … I get bored doing the same things again and again. I ventured out and I got into landscapes and now as you can see from my last pieces, seascapes. I felt like I could never paint water and I really wanted to try it and to challenge myself. I’m known for going big and I’m ambitious with my art. I don’t like people telling me what I can’t do so I do work that makes almost everyone question ‘Did you do this?’ Yes, yes, I did,” Tammy enthused.
A resident of Cummings Lodge, the artist was born to parents who moved to the city from Region One after getting married. Her parents, she said, were instrumental in the things she loved doing. Her father picked up on her talent at an early stage and ensured that he got her enough colouring books and crayons to feed her obsession. Even at a young age Tammy could not deal with colouring outside the lines and got emotional whenever it happened.
She went beyond crayons and vividly recalled an incident where she cut a hole in her grandmother’s tablecloth to make a door for her pretend house. Though she was certain she got into trouble for what she did Tammy could only remember how happy it made her feel.
Her passion for art picked up while she was a kindergartener at Turkeyen Nursery School and by the time she became a pupil of Graham’s Hall Primary, Tammy’s art overflowed onto examination papers. Whenever she finished an exam early, she would doodle in the corners of her test papers. This did not sit well with the teachers but by then it had become a habit. Visual Arts and History were her two favourite subjects. Later, when she sat the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination at Tutorial High, art was among her subjects.
Wanting to perfect her skills, the budding artist then enrolled at E R Burrowes School of Art. She graduated in 2014, having majored in painting and minored in ceramics. Reminiscing about life at the art school Tammy mentioned that she missed it. Burrowes was the one place she could do art all day without any distractions. She had some of her best days there. One particular time she would never forget was when she was creating her task piece in the run up to graduation. She was her own biggest critic and would always try to outdo her last artwork. The magnitude of the task piece she envisioned made others doubt she could pull it off. She not only did so but was the Best Graduating Student of 2014. This was all the validation she needed.
Since then Tammy has created more than 100 pieces, some were done digitally and others in ceramics. Besides ‘Evolution’, her other piece gracing the walls of Castellani House is called ‘Emanation’.
“The first painting I named Evolution because I felt like it suited what I wanted my painting to mean. The seas and the oceans have been around since the beginning of time. [Water] evolves in ways we may never truly understand. It gives and it takes away. It’s a force that can’t be conquered or controlled and will be here long after we’re gone. [It] all starts with a wave. Emanation is somewhat the same, just a calmer version; the results of the calm after,” she explained.
Like her favourite colour which is currently yellow, Tammy’s favourite creation changes with every new piece she completes. At present, her favourite piece is ‘Evolution’. “I call it a piece of my heart because I was in such a bad place last year, I had stopped painting. I feel like I was sick for part of 2017 and most of 2018. It’s like my spirit for painting just broke and I didn’t want to paint. I tried starting some new pieces, but they are still unfinished. When this year started and I heard about this competition I was like okay, I’m going to take part and I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. That painting gave me my passion back. In some ways it brought me back to life and reminded me of who I was and what I’m capable of. I chose to do waves and brown waves because it’s our water, it’s Guyana, it’s ours and I wanted to paint it and make it big and beautiful as it is! Too many times you hear people talking about our brown water and usually it’s nothing good. I was even asked why I wanted to paint it when I first mentioned it, but no one was going to discourage me, I had already made up my mind.”
‘Evolution’ is ten feet by four feet while ‘Emanation’ is eight feet by four feet.
Along the way she has had various challenges and most of which pertain to people, some of whom criticize her and her work. This has gotten to her on more than one occasion, as much as she tries to ignore them. “I’ve come to realize that the people who get bullied in life are usually the ones who are better than those who choose to bully them. We choose the higher ground and refuse to stoop to their level because as the great Michelle Obama once said, ‘When they go low, we go high!’ These are the words I live by,” shared Tammy.
That aside, the benefits of being an artist are bountiful. For the artist, it is like therapy, it makes one imaginative, emotionally strong and is always fun.
Tammy has for a long time now pictured a project she would love to do. The seawall, she said, is an amazing landmark in Guyana. She believes it would look even more beautiful if local artists are allowed to paint it instead of using it for commercial advertising. She once did so with other artists for Carifesta one year. It made the atmosphere so much brighter and it is something she would love to do again.
In addition to this, artists like herself can definitely do with more monuments, art shows, sculptures and more murals. Tammy would like more emphasis placed on the art industry, asking those who can make this happen to look at places like Paris and Rome and the millions of tourists they attract because of art.
Art, she noted, plays a pivotal role in society when it comes to monuments, creating trademarks and through teaching. It serves as a platform to bring awareness to important issues and can make anywhere a better place. She said it was sad that art is undervalued, and it is difficult for artists to survive, especially new ones. An artist is tested and considered of more worth depending on his/her experience in the profession. Society is too often not bothered about the unknown or new talents.
Tammy has been amazed by many paintings in both the local and international arena. However, she recalled being mesmerized by DaVinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, which was actually the first painting she learnt about and her first inspiration. What she mostly admired about the painting was how detailed and realistic it looked, and she wanted to be like the painter. This was before she knew of Burrowes or other artists. So, after she graduated from high school and had a bit free time on her hands, she decided to replicate the Mona Lisa. After about two weeks she was done and for her, it was just as perfect.
Asked to name three artists she would like to be compared to, Tammy said Ran Ortner, George Simon and Michelangelo. She is also inspired by the works of Van Gogh, Winslow Craig, Ron Savory and Ivor Thom. And Tammy is inspired by music. She does not have any particular song or genre but songs in general take away a damp mood, make her more relaxed and create a more positive mindset for her to get things done.
Tammy would like to visit the Louvre someday, sooner rather than later. Just the idea of having such an opportunity leaves her speechless. She hopes to paint it someday.
In Guyana, she longs to sit down in the interior and paint the jungles, savannahs, mountains, animals and all. These are not the only things she has her heart set on. The artist hopes to have her own “X-men of art schools” where she can teach. Tammy has also been toying with the idea of getting into culinary arts and that, she said, might be her next best thing to do.
For her, the most important artist’s tool is: “My hands. I mean, the canvas, the paint and the brushes are all important but without my hands I wouldn’t be able to create anything the way I do.”
Tammy credits her journey so far to her amazing parents, teachers who encouraged her and friends who see her for who she is.
Tammy is a part-time storyboard artist who works with Tinninben Animations. Her free time finds her spending time with her family, watching movies and favourite television series like “Law and Order SVU”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Friends”, “Lucifer” and “Scandal”.
“Art to me is history,” Tammy said. “It’s our trademark on this world. The things we leave behind for others to appreciate when we’re gone; for them to learn… who we were and what we will be remembered for as a people, as a nation. Art is everything we do; the way we cook, sew, paint, draw, build, write, dance… everything. It’s more important to the world than people think. It makes me happy, really and truly happy when I’m creating something new. It’s what I love doing.”
Follow Tammy on Instagram @tammy.23 and on Facebook at Tammy Walker. ‘Evolution’ and ‘Emanation’ can be viewed at the National Art Gallery, Castellani House until August 24, and are available for sale.