In an attempt to highlight some of Guyana’s emerging talent, particularly from our premier art institution the E.R. Burrowes School of Art, I decided to extend my platform so that the public could be better acquainted with future Guyanese art practitioners. This week’s feature highlights Odessa Carmichael, a young artist whose works are predominantly textile designs and paintings.
Dominique Hunter: Tell me a little bit about what led to your decision to join the art school.
Odessa Carmichael: I was influenced by my secondary school teacher Mr. William Wilson [also a graduate of the E.R. Burrowes School of Art]. He was one of the greatest sign artists I’ve ever met. After looking at my work, he thought I was qualified to go to the E.R. Burrowes School of Art and so he took me himself. At first, I didn’t want to go since I didn’t think I was good enough. We wrote the application one year before I actually went there but I just stayed home with it. During that year (2008) I was working as a typist at the Union/Naarstigheid NDC in Bushlot on the West Coast of Berbice. I was there every day, drawing and getting frustrated because I didn’t really want to be a typist. Although I was qualified to be a typist/clerk, I didn’t want to do that. Eventually I realized who I really was and where I should be. So the next year I looked for the application. I went to Mr. Wilson and told him that I was ready. That’s how I started Burrowes.
DH: Describe your experience at Burrowes.
OC: When I got to Burrowes, I realized that I needed to work harder if I wanted to be an artist. It was really a challenge at first. Once I grooved in and understood exactly how to balance the workload, I was able to get through to the end. First I applied for a certificate. I completed that and graduated in 2011 with a major in textile design and a minor in graphics. After that, I started teaching at Beladrum Primary School from May 2012 to September 2014. Just before school reopened in 2014 I realized that it was time for me to go get my diploma. I was too good to be at a certificate level. So I went back to Burrowes to get my diploma. But in my final semester (January 2015) I had an emergency surgery done the morning before school opened. I was ill for a year so I took that year off. Then I went back in January 2016 to complete my final semester.
DH: Tell me about the work you chose to produce. Why textile designing and painting?
OC: I liked designing but I didn’t want to be a fashion designer. I love fabric and I like the flow that you get from fabric. It’s really an amazing thing to see that you can transform a white piece of fabric into something beautiful. I was also influenced by my mother, who is a seamstress. I like to see unique clothing so that’s why I decided to choose textile designing. When I started Burrowes I really wanted to do painting and graphics but I didn’t get to do graphics. So when I went back to Burrowes I ventured on to painting. As a painter you get to show everything emotionally within your work. I love nature and so my theme [for this exhibition] is “Country life.” A lot of my work is about nature, its beauty and the relationship between [self] and nature.
DH: Describe some of the techniques you’ve used in your art.
OC: As a painter I’ve worked with techniques including the palette knife technique. I also did some studies of light and I’ve used cubism as an abstract technique. I’m not much of an abstract painter so that was the closest I got to [abstraction]. All of my drawings are still life drawings. I’ve looked at areas in the National Park [as well as] mounted set ups. My figure drawings are of the [school’s] models. I’m a realistic person so I don’t like to imagine too much. I just like to bring out the beauty in nature. For my textiles, I explored techniques including tie-dye, batik, block printing, dry brush, nozzle painting, multi-colour dyeing, multi-colour batik, stenciling and superimposition. I also used [textile construction] techniques such as macramé, tapestry, card weaving and knitting.
DH: Did you encounter any challenges during your time at Burrowes?
OC: The first time I went to Burrowes was financially challenging since I was traveling from Berbice every day until a certain period when I started to get really sick. Then I stayed at different places and had to move often because I wasn’t comfortable or couldn’t get to work late. So I would stay in Burrowes until 11/12 o’clock at night. I’m a dedicated person and when I want to get something done then I would work really hard to get it finished. But this final semester was not difficult. I started to think of ways to get through it since I was financially drained after being sick for so long. I went to the Public Service Ministry and they gave me a scholarship that enabled me to complete my final semester without any financial difficulties. I feel like the hard work has now started because getting your work sold is difficult. Getting yourself known is another thing.
DH: What do you envision for your future now that you’re done with the art school?
OC: I plan to go back to teaching after I’m done here because I love to work with children and I also like to share what I’ve learned. I will teach the youths of tomorrow some of what I’ve learned because I don’t want to go back to the Creator with all of this knowledge. I will also be showcasing some of my work in Berbice by having some exhibitions. I already have two venues available for this. I also plan to start my own business producing personalized artworks and decorating for events. I want to start exporting once my business expands. I’ve already been getting offers to have persons sell my work online.
Odessa Carmichael along with eight other students (all female) exhibited their art works at the recently concluded examination exhibition at the Umana Yana, as part of the requirements for graduation from the E.R. Burrowes School of Art. The graduation ceremony for the budding artists will be held later in the year.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on September 11, 2016. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: