In this second post on the upcoming Young Talent V exhibition, we feature the painter Michael “Flyn” Elliott.
Michael Elliott (or Flyn, as he is known to many in the art world) was born in Manchester, Jamaica in 1979. He was interested in art from an early age and in 1998 registered at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he studied painting and became attracted to photo-realism, which he initially used to document the physical environment of Jamaica. Photography has played an important role in the development of Michael’s work and most of his paintings are based on his own photographs.
In the years following art school, Michael grew an awareness of current affairs and social issues, not only in Jamaica but globally, and would seek to represent these by means of realistically painted symbols, including such disturbing images as dead, bloodied rats and chopped meat. The use of close-up views adds to the shock-effect of these images, as it confronts the viewer more directly with their disturbing character and underlying messages.
Michael does not limit himself to depicting the macabre, however, and also paints images that are more moody and poetic, whether scenery or still life, although these also carry implied social messages: his train series for example explores the shattered hopes about Jamaica’s defunct railway system, which was once a source of national pride, and, by implication, the broader economic challenges facing contemporary Jamaica.
Michael has exhibited regularly since graduating from the Edna Manley College in 2002, including the Annual National (2002) and the National Biennial (2006, 2008) at the NGJ, and various Mutual Gallery exhibitions, such as Young Generation. He has also received a Silver Medal in the 2008 JCDC/NGJ National Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition. He had his first solo exhibition at the CAG[e] Gallery of the Edna Manley College in 2008.
Jamaica today stands at a crossroads or, some would, say a T intersection. The world in general also faces this dilemma. Recent events have put into question the nature of man’s relationship with each other, and political crises, wars, religious tensions and many other manifestations of conflict seem to be the order of the day. Even the earth seems to be angry, perhaps angry at what we have done to it and each other, and there have been several catastrophic events involving flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. I believe it is my calling to use my art as a tool to raise social awareness and I would like to see Jamaican art as a tool for change that makes our society think and do better.
My recent work addresses a number of current issues including crime, political crisis, as can be seen in The Trillionaire which comments on the situation in Zimbabwe, and even more recently Golgotha, which brings up the question of the morality of the Church in today’s world, especially the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Did Jesus die for an institution with secrets behind the curtain? The earthquake in Haiti was the most heart-rending news of the first quarter of 2010, which has prompted the world in response to it. A day after the quake, I shifted my mind to the developments on the two-state island and this has led me to produce two paintings so far, Tous Saints (all Saints) and Loa Arise. Tous Saints features, similar to Golgotha, a still life of a skull, only this time encrypted on the wall behind are dates of significant happenings in Haiti’s history. The title of this piece could be a call to the many saints in their religion to save this rich culture from further cataclysms, from both political and natural disasters.
The following is an excerpt from David Boxer’s opening speech at Michael Elliott’s solo exhibition at the CAG[e] in 2008:
Michael uses photographs, his own photographs …. And I want to say something about such use of photographs, for too often I hear collectors and observers of our art, making what they feel are derogatory statements “Oh. He uses photographs” implying somehow that there is something wrong about this. That it’s copying. That it’s almost like cheating.
The use of the camera and photographs to assist an artist has been around from the very beginnings of photography. Many major artists from Delacroix, through Degas, though Picasso, and Francis Bacon have utilized photographs, both those that existed and had a life of their own or photographs taken specifically by the artist or commissioned by the artist to aid him or her in some aspect of the work. Delacroix was one of the first to recognize that there are essential differences between camera Vision and Human Vision. He was also one of the first to point out how immensely useful the camera could be to the artist. […]
So Michael uses photographs. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact there is everything right in that. Further, Michael uses photographs that he has taken himself. This is the standard methodology of the super-realist painters to whom Michael is tangentially related, though I wouldn’t use the word super-realist to define his work.
If I find fault with Michael’s method, and sometimes I do and I have told him so, it is the feeling that the translation from photograph to painting is at times too mechanical, which is what I feel about most super-realist art, that there is not enough “thinking” in the medium […]. These are paintings, and thus one wants to sense always that these are paintings speaking to us and not simple “hand-made” photographs. They must speak as paintings, and connect to the history of painting.
To be sure, this feeling of mechanical transference is diminishing in Michael’s work and I have watched his skills as a painter develop and I believe that he is on an upward curve, and that his painting, as painting is deepening. So too are his ideas about subject matter and iconography which are developing and becoming more clearly articulated.