SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert) – Duncan La Mar is a well-known painter on St.Tosia. He has a distinctive ponytail dreadlock Afro hairstyle under his straw hat and small but thick golden hoops hanging from his ear lobes, and a fuzzy white beard. Most of his daytime Duncan spends on the Kaya Loco Strip, the boulevard where creativity and entertainment are embraced with all oddities. Around ten in the morning, he toddles along the Kaya Loco Boulevard pulling his cart with the two scavenged bicycle wheels. Duncan is a person who wouldn’t go anywhere before 10 o’clock in the morning anyway.
On the plywood cargo bed is all the equipment to set up the joint that he calls his mobile “en plein air” art studio. The easel, a bar stool, a sun umbrella and a large utensil box are all strapped down by bungee cords. Duncan usually sets up on the stone wall bordering the platinum beach in the stretch between the “Windhole Resort and Beach Hotel” and the marina of the ”Puerto Olvidar Imperial Yacht Club”. It is a prominent location where the lightly dressed eye candy promenade in a happy bouncy strut, with big sunglasses and their noses in the air, while enjoying the attention they get from the million-dollar troopers who on their turn enjoy the sexy vibes.
Duncan unfolds the sun umbrella which shows a bit of wear and tear on the faded orange colored canvas that once must have been as bright as the blossoms of the island’s flamboyant trees. Under the sunshade, he opens up the tripod easel and at the cross bar he attaches a broken clothes hanger with a roll of toilet paper that he uses to clean his brushes. A linen canvas is put on the easel. From the box on the cart he takes the brushes and tubes of oil paint that he needs for creating a new piece of art and puts them on the paint station console of the three-legged art facilitation apparatus.
As he positions the barstool in front of his workstation a voice from behind inquires:
“Hey Picasso, another day of inspired hard labor?”
Without turning around Duncan knows the familiar voice of Constable Fushkin doing his rounds and looking for a bit of a handout to fix up his humble salary as police officer.
The artist grabs in his pocket where he has a 5-dollar bill ready for this daily corruptive routine.
“Here lawman,” he says as he hands him the money, and adds: “You would be the perfect motivation to create a dark piece of art and call it ‘Evil in Paradise’.”
The constable has no understanding of fine arts and no clue of what Duncan is referring to. With a big dumb and dirty grin and in an attempt to come over as having some sense of humor he asks sarcastically: “Need a receipt for your accounting?”
“Beat it, man, beat it,” Duncan responds as he is sorting his paint brushes and he mumbles for himself: “You are distorting the vision I have for my next brilliant and astonishing creation.”
Duncan is perfectly happy not doing a whole lot. He believes that freedom includes freedom to do nothing. He also believes that freedom is to do things his own way.
"It's all a ‘whim’, man! I do my own thing and paint badly, but I just pretend that it is my style. Oh, it’s a fact man. It takes courage to paint the way I do. It’s a fact.” For not knowing what he is doing, he does quite well. To Duncan “color felt” is nourishment and the messenger of illumination; color is his language and color abstraction is his lingo whereby differentiation is used to shape the conceptual reflection of the moment; a pictorial diary that inspires him to capture the ever-present storyline of daily life in St.Tosia.
“I do things with paint that no one asks me to do, and no one would really want it, but the well-heeled socialites tell each other that they ought to have it. It’s a fact, man, it’s a fact. But it’s fine with me.”
While most of the members of the artistic community on St.Tosia are struggling to eke out an existence, Duncan is doing very well painting his pictorial quirky “whim” in bold luminous cadmium green, red, orange and yellow colors, inspired and nourished by the tropical Caribbean surroundings. Almost flagrant, his art sparks with life, engaging the senses of the viewer.
Shortly after sunset, Duncan packs his easel, sunshade, bar stool, and the art utensils box on his cart, straps them down with the bungee cords and grabs the cart by the hinge and tows it to the “Hakuna Matata Shack” at the East end of the Kaya Loco strip, the hang-out of all artists. In tune with the meaning of the Swahili phrase Hakuna Matata, akin to “don’t worry be happy”, it is a crazy, funky fun place and one of the hottest social scenes for marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, and actors gathering round and arguing fueled by either intellect or alcohol. There are two elements at least, that seem essential to them. The first is devotion or addiction to art or some form of creativity; the other is poverty. They take pleasure in practicing an unconventional lifestyle in the company of like-minded artistic talents who are untroubled by the disapproval of society. Without exception, whether wannabe artists who lack the X factor, or established successful creative performers, they all enjoy being part of the Caribbean zest of life.
The Hakuna Matata’s walls are littered with a collection of artworks by artists who couldn't pay their bill. It would make art lovers and collectors drool with envy. The pieces are held until the artist can pay or until someone will buy it, whatever comes first. The scarce light of flickering candles and oil lamps give the accommodation an aromatic ambiance. The center piece of the lounge room is “Ye Old Winston”, the round mahogany debate table where the torchbearers of conservative resentment can discuss in a fact-free zone amid a fog of double-talk which represents the spirit and freedom of thought and speech. It is the meeting point where unusual ideas are hatched and mulled over and inspiration is a gratification.
Of course, that inspiration comes in many forms to the individual liking, but inspiration is a topic of endless discussions which give the gathered artists the strength to continue when they may get tired or burned out and therefore they believe that debating and arguing at “Ye Olde Winston” is meaningful. Every evening there is a mélange gathering of minds. Just to name a few:
Jean Baptiste Mallau is the poet who came to St.Tosia to "sin disgracefully" and write inspirational poems. He believes that the root of all inspiration is the idea that nothing is complete without trying anything at least once and only then his life will become meaningful. “Joie de Vivre” is his trademark. It is common knowledge that members of the opposite gender prevail among the admirers of his poetry and they seem to cannot get enough of his dreamy phrasing and romantic rhyming in the tropical island nights.
Lord Spencer is the singing and songwriting “Soul of St.Tosian Calypso”, a former auto mechanic and specialist in fixing tires, who turned itinerant vocalist. He is one of the most prolific musical performers in the Caribbean. At age sixty-six, he still remains as committed to his musical craft as when he was young, and he first devoted himself to a life of melodic expression and musical intimidation.
Jahi Kamanda is a wannabe play writer and the stereotype of the struggling and starving artist who believes that life is an exhausting amount of work and only inspirational ideas can help renew himself to complete his ever-unfinished series of theater play fantasies. To make ends meet, on Saturday nights, he plays the piano in the bar of the “Casa Rosso” house of ill repute.
Dick Doherty, once a technical writer of NASA, channeled his enduring spirit of space adventure into writing columns about the celebrities visiting St.Tosia for a gossip boulevard magazine back home. He claims that for him inspiration is knowing that what he does matters deeply to the universe and his observations and comments about the lifestyles and behavior of the superstars in the dialogs are often as from an astral flying object of a third kind.
And then there is Alvaro Mantaquin, who is dressed ragged as a cocklebur. He is devoted to a simple life of “genuine focus” and finds inspiration in uncorking bottles and to become filled with strength and vigor to fulfill his life's purpose to paint overlapping washes of color that are sumptuous and create intensification and movement. He manipulates the angles of his subjects on the canvas in order to gain an original perspective as seen on St.Tosia. The interplay of objects juxtaposed against varied shapes and decorative backgrounds shape the effect of cocooning his creation and telling a fairytale.
In the “Hakuna Matata Shack” of St.Tosia there is no end to discovering the mystery that leads to experiences which draw to a higher understanding and consciousness of Tosiatic art and its creators.
Visitors from all over the world and especially the so-called millennials love the uniqueness of the St.Tosia community. The art and artist are part of the Tosiatic authenticity.
About the author.
The almost true stories and almost believable stories of St.Tosia are written by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert who claims that it is what he has experienced while residing on St.Tosia and monitoring what else is going on in the Caribbean.