Janelle De Souza
The work of artist Jadon Matthews is an intriguing mix of realism and impressionism.
His drawings may give a sense of a shape as well as it looks so real you feel as if you can almost reach out and feel the texture on the page.
Matthews, 37, recently held an exhibition, Tones of T&T, featuring 29 pieces at Arnim’s Art Galleria in Port of Spain. The artwork was done in charcoal, soft pastels and a mixture of both. It was an example of his style which is both patriotic and nostalgic.
He told Sunday Newsday he likes to highlight the “ole time days” that youths no longer experience. For example, a boy rolling a bicycle rim with a stick or a woman using a swizzle stick to make callaloo. He also has a few pieces of old houses and the Port of Spain landscape.
“I like to do pieces about normal, everyday life and moments that we see and experience from time to time. I also like to remember the classic, vintage days as well as history.”
However, his main subject is human studies and facial expressions.
“From about age five, I have been fascinated by being able to do a drawing and getting it to look like the person. I’ve always thought humans are an important part of creation. We are significant and to be able, as an artist, to capture it, I feel fulfilled to do that.”
Born in Mayaro, Matthews remembers seeing his father use a stick to draw animals in the sand and wanting to do the same. Then, in first year, a schoolmate brought a copybook in which his older sister drew different sceneries and people. Every day he would ask his friend to see the book, and his passion for drawing sparked.
He and his parents moved to east Trinidad when he was eight years old and they were visited by a cousin who lives in Canada. The cousin was an artist whose medium was also drawing. It was then Matthews was introduced to shading techniques.
“We didn’t have many artists around to look up to. I didn’t have the exposure, but he visited and brought his sketchbook and he really inspired me. I would sit with him when he was working and I would watch him and I picked up a lot from him.”
Around that time he started art classes, mostly working with graphite pencils. There he learned about values, tones from light to shadow, and more.
Although he continued to have a passion for drawing, art was not seen as a career path so he was strongly encouraged to go into medicine.
“We didn’t have much exposure to the art industry, art business and all that and because I did well academically, medicine was the real focus. But halfway through secondary school, I realised what this medicine thing was really about and it was too much for me. I can’t take too much of seeing sick people and cutting people, it was too much for me.”
He, therefore, decided to refocus and pursue art.
One day, he carried a drawing of reggae legend Bob Marley to school. It was passed around from student to student until a teacher saw it. She advised him to carry it to the Top of the Mount art gallery at Mount St Benedict Abbey. The curator accepted it and, through the gallery, he sold his first piece at the age of 15.
He did art at the CXC level as well as a visual arts certificate course at the University of the West Indies. He also started his bachelor’s degree in visual arts at UWI but had to take a sabbatical. However, he intends to complete the degree at some point either at UWI or at another university.
“Then, I had a really dry period for about ten years. I thought I would have done my first show even before I turned 20 but I was doing consignment pieces, doing a few commissions and getting a few sales but I wasn’t able to do a huge body of work. I felt uninspired when it came to what to draw or paint. I was bubbling to do things but I didn’t know what to do.”
He ended up working in the public service but was unhappy.
However, about six years ago, ideas started coming to him. He started to see life through the lens of art, started to see what he wanted to depict, and started seeing his connection to TT in a positive light.
“I had gotten in touch with my country, the lifestyles, the people, and the history of the Caribbean.”
So, after 11 years working at two different government ministries, he left to pursue his passion.
He expressed gratitude that his family was very supportive of his decision to pursue an art career, especially his mother who has other creative relatives.
Matthews explained that he has an understanding of light and shadow and is not intimidated by hair and other textures and so can depict them realistically.
He said when he was younger, people used to sit for him but nowadays, people are too busy. Therefore, he works mainly from photographs, either by taking a photo with his phone or purchasing the copyright of images from photographers.
As a result, his portraits are of real people including friends, family, children of friends, and models with striking faces.
Matthews is looking forward to doing collaborative exhibitions in the coming months but in the meantime, he will be facilitating a workshop at the ThinkArtWorkTT Studio on Cipriani Boulevard, Port of Spain.
There, he will cover topics such as fundamental elements of art, human figures and portraiture on Thursdays and Saturdays for four weeks starting on January 20.