It is a fitting end to a film that is about an artist coming to terms with self-doubt over the trajectory of her career and with her own peculiar emotions.
The Solitary Alchemist is an intimate study of the life and art of Trinidadian jeweller Barbara Jardine (also known as “Barbie”). The work traces Jardine’s history, from her education at London’s Royal College of Art to her return to Trinidad in 1974. The focus is on Jardine’s struggle to come to terms with her own life decisions and her growing sense that she has not received the recognition she deserves as an artist. The film, three years in the making, went on to scoop the award for best Trinidad and Tobago film at the TTFF. At a screening earlier this year at MovieTowne, Brown explained her inspiration for making the documentary.
“I have childhood memories of my mother dressing up, getting ready to go out. And then, when I was 16 I saw an exhibition of jewellery at Precious Little and Barbie’s piece, In Memoriam, was there and I was absolutely gobsmacked as I had never seen figurative work like that,” Brown said, according to a post at the TTFF blog. Brown later edited a book about Jardine which was written by journalist Judy Raymond and entitled Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith.
The film works best as a character study of an artist and her process.
“Being an artist or deciding I wanted to be an artist was simple,” Jardine says at its opening. “I was six years old when I remember telling myself, ‘I am going to be an artist.’ What that meant was a kind of rather romanticised view of painting in a smock and creating wonderful images...I always knew what I wanted to be.”
“I was always very drawn to the traditional, labour-intensive, mediaeval techniques. There was an alchemical magic about it which always attracted me,” Jardine also notes.
“An artist is somebody who deals with emotion and I certainly in my work deal with emotion. When I’m working on a particularly intense piece there is a coming together of focus, co-ordination, thought processes and an intensity of creative concentration that makes one feel acutely alive.”
This is a fascinating look at the craft and processes of a fine jeweller. But it is also an examination of the artist’s own turmoil and self-doubt; universal themes audiences will connect with.
The film, though, is perhaps too long and would have gained from some tighter editing; some of the commentary is repetitive and/or unnecessary. While there are fine examples of cinematography, a few of the shots of the artist’s intricate pieces did not gain from being dimly lit. The title of the film is also something one takes a while to get used to.
That said, this is a fine production, with a competent score, that hints at the complexity of a woman engaging in a constant process of self-discovery. The dedication to Wayne Brown reminds us that artists, like the rest of us, grapple with inner struggles in the face of a finite end.
The Solitary Alchemist is screening on Flow throughout the month of December, on their pay-per-view channels 352, 353 and 354.