Guyanese painter brings color to cultural art

Stanwyck Cromwell talks about his understanding of Caribbean art. Stanwyck is a Guyanese-born, second generation artist, and an adjunct professor who has spent the vast amount of his adult artistic life in the United States of America.  (Zhelun Lang)

Caribbean painter Stanwyck Cromwell ties strong connections between colors as they are interpreted through various cultures and highlights the importance that color can have to not only a painter, but to the spirit of a people and a place.

“Every time you look at a piece of art, a dialogue begins. It is often one between your own mind and the painting, and that is different for every single person, because of who they are,” Cromwell said.

In the basement of the Wood building, Cromwell gave his lecture alongside one of his own works created in 2002. An acrylic painting that was largely abstract but had many identifiable shapes and forms, like flowers, fruits, landscapes, and human facial features bursting with color, all bisected by flowing line work, radiating gradients of tropical colors and textures that guided the eye gently around his piece.

Being of Caribbean descent, Cromwell was heavily influenced by the colors of the many cultures that were prevalent in the local wildlife. He went on to explain growing up in this environment made painting with such wild and vibrant colors similar to human instinct: there was something innate about painting in bright colors, like dancing to music.

“I enjoyed Cromwell’s notion of blue being not melancholy but the blackest of blacks. This is becoming more thematic within communities of different black artists so it feels good to get to know Caribbean art a little better,” sociology graduate student Adanae Zawdu said. “I loved that he was able to communicate the colors of his community and landscape of his upbringing despite how many years he has been away from his country.”

Colors can have significance and meaning that can vary intensely in different cultures.

“Nowhere is it written that red is the color of love but still we see here that it is the color of valentines day,” Cromwell said. “If you were to give a girl a dozen black roses, would it still carry the same sentiment as red ones?”

The Caribbean islands are a wild and vibrant crossroads of huge and diverse cultures, languages and art, which is expressed in much of Cromwell’s work. There is influence from the English, French, Dutch, Spanish and African, and within these islands and coasts. The local artists diversify themselves based on what is near them, like limestone statues near the shores, commercial byproducts near port towns and wooden carvings further inland.

Cromwell also provided insight to the two types of art that can be encountered in the Caribbean: tourist art and museum art. He helped the audience understand the significance of this difference with an analogy comparing street food and restaurant food. Where the street food is designed to seduce in the moment, it is ultimately not as fulfilling or satisfying as what a restaurant might produce.

Although the question of what Caribbean art is seems to be established by textbooks and critics, Cromwell depicted the contemporary artist as something entirely different. Self-expression is not a career path that is encouraged by a large majority, which raises the question of what to do with these people who refuse to deny self-expression. The old school is out, according to Cromwell as “these new artists seek more extreme mediums and political messages, taking Caribbean art to new heights that are ever-changing.”

“I think it was very important when he touched upon the roles of artists being compared to that of priests, about what to do with these people who endlessly express themselves, about what their purpose is. I think largely the U.S. has not had that conversation yet so it feels good to go to places where that is happening,” philosophy graduate student, Darian Spearman said.

More of Cromwell’s work will be up in the Benton and welcomed with a reception on March 23 at 4 pm, where he will give another talk about his work and its manifestation of his personal philosophies. The gallery space is open and free to the public until May.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.