Issue 221, Summer 2017
Hurvin Anderson is an artist living between two landscapes: the one he was born into, in Birmingham, England, in 1965, and the one his parents and older siblings left behind years earlier, on the island of Jamaica. Anderson has described his paintings of Jamaica and Trinidad as an effort “to get to know these places in a secondhand, hard way”—the way of imagination. He has a lifelong interest in islands and parks as “utopias,” he says: “It is their supposed perfection that I find intriguing.” In many of his Jamaican paintings, a decorative security grille cuts through the scene, parallel to the plane of the canvas, its abstracted pattern serving both to interrupt the illusion—to “destroy” the view—and to seal it in.
During an artist’s residency in Trinidad, Anderson became fascinated with a tennis court at a nearby country club. Although he painted it repeatedly, in varying degrees of abstraction, the works were somehow incomplete. “I hadn’t served the scene well,” he says. Over time, he realized that this landscape (like others that followed) depends on the chicken-wire fence, whose hexagons place the court out of reach and also reveal the painter’s organizing eye. In a series of silk screens and paintings titled “MRs. S. Keita,” Anderson pays homage to the Malian photographer Seydou Keïta, whose portraits use boldly patterned textiles to frame not only the subject but also the photographic studio, as a space charged with intimacy and fantasy, a space apart from everyday life.
Some utopias in Anderson’s work lie closer to home. The park where he grew up playing soccer recurs again and again. So do the attic barbershops of his childhood. But even these are invested with what Anderson calls “timelessness, or never-ending time.” The barbershop mirror, with its pantheon of black heroes, from Malcolm X to Lieutenant Uhura; the chairs, often facing away; the patches of brilliant, clashing Caribbean color—all of these insist upon both the underlying grid of the painting and the unchanging present that it depicts.