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Tessa Alexander paints a familar picture

By Elizabeth Bissessar Sunday, August 13 2017

The safety of women is an ongoing global issue, and artist Tessa Alexander will not be left out of the discussion. She lends her voice to the conversation using the medium she knows best – her art. One of the pieces of Tessa’s recent exhibition, Mapping the Familiar, at the Horizons Art Gallery, is entitled Companions and depicts a feeling of uneasiness felt by some women, even in their own homes.

The painting shows a male and female walking side by side around the Queen’s Park Savannah.

However, they are not walking along the designated path but into the abyss of green fields, away from the “secure” path. Hidden within the painting is a collage of the words “Stay Safe”.

And this is just one of the many issues that she highlights with her artwork. Tessa has made her artistic voice heard around the world, and tells WMN her intention is “to paint things that are happening now, that we see and don’t see,” and to grasp an emotional response from viewers regarding current events affecting day to day life.

Mapping the Familiar comprises 37 paintings capturing the imagery of politics, Carnival, the Queen’s Park Savannah and the spaces around, such as men gambling or playing card games, coconut vendors and soup ladies. She says it brings to life the daily and cultural happenings and personas that can sometimes be forgotten and lost.

Tessa’s artistic journey began out of her passion for fashion while studying in Florida. She later opened her own boutique, Limin’ Casuals, but was forced to close it down in the 1990’s due to the poor economic climate. But this opened a new career door for her when she picked up her long time hobby of painting. When she had her first child in 1997, this further fuelled her passion and gave life to her first collection, Changing, which was a reflection on her new path - motherhood. Art, she says, is her own way of documenting the present as well keeping a record for the next generations. “I’m interested in looking at life, kind of the everyday finish of life and the very interesting things we take for granted.” She says her fascination with capturing this familiarity comes from “things that we are passing every day. Things that we do every day because we do it every day, we’re not taking it on. Not noticing it.” Tessa favours the use of watercolour in her paintings because of its transparency. Although she sometimes moves away from the traditional approach and uses watercolours to make her work pop. “What I love about watercolour and what some people have told me, is that it is like a transference from my days in fashion.” She also enjoys incorporating collages into some of her paintings to send a direct message to the viewer. She uses layers of local newspaper clippings that she collects over time and places them within the pieces. The technique is not obvious from a distance, a deliberate act by the artist. “I want when people look at my work, they see one thing and when they come up close they see more. I don’t want the piece to be evident as soon as you look at it.” Being a fan of the contemporary styles coming out of Africa and India, she explains that “even though we have our own spaces (culture), there is a commonality with the people and the things that people do.” She says Mapping the Familiar personifies the Caribbean culture through its rich colour palette of vibrant reds, yellows, orange, greens, magenta and blues.

The exhibition has ended but Tessa and her artwork continue to raise awareness of the world around us. She says her yearning to create is now second nature. “It’s something I’ve just had this burning desire to do. I literally feel like if I haven’t drawn in days or created something, I feel I need to do something.” For more information on Tessa and her work visit https://www.tessaalexanderart.com/

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