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 ligh
t 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 sin
ce 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.