Shallon Fadlien is a Saint Lucian artist resident in Canada. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Ontario College of Art and Design. Her signature style features bold colour and simplistic lines that reveal bodies and forms that intertwine and blur the lines of realism and spatial relationships. In this Spotlight Artist interview, she speaks with Saint Lucian poet John Robert Lee, who has written an ekphrastic cycle of poems titled ‘Song and Symphony’ in response to her art.
So much of your art seems to draw on the “fantastic”, the carnivalesque, masquerade, folk-tales, as you probe the reality of human experience. Do you have an interest in “speculative fiction”, sci- fi, fantasy, other worlds? Has this literature been an influence?
For most artists who work without using photographs as a primary source for their ideas, the notion of the subconscious or latent memories is very topical. I am often asked where my inspiration comes from and I would have to admit that both the subconscious and memory contribute to my work. I never know what I am going to produce when I pick up my pencil. While some may say this type of creativity is facile and that one should create with intent, I think they fail to realize the work that is born has been festering below the surface until it finds its form, and then it is refined and artistic decisions made to allow it to find its true expression. My work does sometimes depict elements of the carnivalesque and folklore because my spirit has been nourished on these vibrant areas of Saint Lucian life. The sci-fi and fantasy and other unworldly elements are definitely a result of the literature I have been exposed to, as well as what I watch on television or in movies. I can’t say that I’ve been influenced by any one particular author, but it is the idea that people have harnessed their imagination in such a profound way that intrigues me, and causes me to marvel at the possibilities. That is a challenge that I find appealing: to create something different.
Has living in Toronto given you a nuanced perspective on Caribbean life, a necessary distance to better frame your perceptions of home?
All your art seems, although not aggressively so, to look out on your world from a female point of view. Is feminism, and its necessary politics, a conscious influence on your work?
Being a woman, I think that feminism cannot be divorced from my art. Often, when looking at an artistic depiction of a flower or flowers with a gentle brush stroke we make the assumption that the artist is a woman. The same way we see colour in a singular, unique way, as artists we bring who we are and our idiosyncrasies to whatever we create. I do not consider myself aggressively feminist, but certain issues are of concern to me. One such issue is that women be recognised as being able to make valuable contributions in all areas of life, not just the traditionally designated areas. I did my thesis on Ecofeminism, again trying to emphasize the idea that it is only a balanced perspective combining the male and female approach that will allow us to find our way again on a number of worldly issues which seem to have gotten away from us. I addressed a few dichotomies, chief among them being our perceptions of the male and female contributions to the art world. How many female master artists can you name? Throughout early historical periods, art was mainly seen as an elitist male occupation while craft was the contribution of the females. My thesis involved sewing, traditionally viewed as a female pursuit, on a painted canvas.
What are the challenges you perceive facing Caribbean artists, at home and in the Diaspora? And what particular challenges do you find, at home and abroad, as a female artist?
Is a return to the Caribbean, and your Saint Lucian home, in your near future?
At some point, I do anticipate I will return home. Anyone who has left the place that they consider home always has a desire to return. I think memories play an important role in determining depths of nostalgia. I do have great memories of Saint Lucia from childhood to adulthood and of people and places and experiences that ensure I return year after year. Who can forget the smell and taste of a good Julie mango that has freshly fallen from the tree, the smell of ripe pomsitè (golden apple) or the now rare scent of hog plums as they litter the ground? Which Saint Lucian artist can resist the rays of the sunlight as they paint rich colour on everything they touch with a brilliance never seen in some places? Who can resist the lure of those rolling green mountains and the gradated, inviting blue hues of the sea?