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Video: Yello Interviews Mural Artist Alanis Forde

by Karen Rollins Oct 21, 2019

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Barbadian artist Alanis Forde did not discover her talent for painting until she was 16, but once she found her passion, she was determined to make a career out of it.

While studying and developing her skill at Barbados Community College, Alanis, 23, was already receiving commissions when she was asked to create her first wall mural, in collaboration with fellow artists Anna Gibson and Akilah Watts.

That initial request would lead to further mural commissions at St Giles Primary school, Grantley Adams Secondary, Frederick Smith Secondary, Berger Paints Ltd, KFC in Warrens, Bargain Village, and Paradise Point Hotel.

Yello went to see Alanis and Anna as they painted a mural in Christ Church – watch the video to see their artwork.

Alanis also answered some questions about her life in Barbados and her burgeoning art career.

Where are you from in Barbados?

I grew up in Black Rock, St Michael.

How / when did you get into art?

I started to seriously pay attention to art when I was in 4th form at Coleridge & Parry School. Before then it was just a hobby.

My art tutor at the time, Arthur Atkinson, used to bring in his paintings and work on them in class and that was so inspirational. I remember thinking ‘wow, I really want to be that good one day.’

I did CSEC exams and worked on my technique and skill. I applied to Barbados Community College (BCC) and did an Associate Degree for two years and then my BA in Fine Art for three years. I graduated in 2017.

Did you believe you could make a career from art?

I wanted to make a living from doing what I love, so I was motivated to make it work early on.

You know, I went to school, money was spent on my education, so I was determined to benefit from that in all aspects. This is what I’ve chosen, so I push myself and take it seriously.

And I really have to thank my parents a lot for their support, because when I told them that I wanted to do art they didn’t say ‘no’.

When did you start getting paid work?

I worked on murals and portrait commissions throughout college because, before I left, I wanted to develop a client base.

I also wanted to practice dealing with clients and everything that comes with that, outside of the tutored assignments.

All that really helped when I was ready to graduate.

How did you get started painting murals?

I was collaborating with Akilah Watts and Anna Gibson and we became known as a unit. One of our tutors contacted us when another tutor was retiring, and his colleagues wanted to give him a leaving gift.

We met with them, and they wanted a painting with his portrait, which is my thing, the BCC building which is Anna’s strength, and flowers and a beautiful sunset which is Akilah’s thing. So, we collaborated on that mural, and that’s what got us started.

After that painting someone gave our information to a tutor at St Giles Primary, and it went from there.

Were you scared before creating your first mural?

No, because we’re ambitious. If you plan properly, it should work out.

Which mural are you most proud of?

I really like the Machel Montano and Bob Marley paintings at Bargain Village.

I also like the anti-bullying murals we created at Frederick Smith Secondary and Grantley Adams Secondary because they have an educational aspect.

What are your plans for your career?

My goal is to keep working, get bigger jobs and keep developing my skill.

Next year, I’d like to get a studio space instead of working from my bedroom, which is not inspirational.  

I’m also currently in talks to work off island in relation to my conceptual artwork, so it would be great to become better known regionally and maybe then internationally. But I don’t like to put a limit on myself. I like to keep things open.

Tell us about your conceptual artwork.

My conceptual work is about looking at the paradise I live in geographically, and paradise in a religious sense, and the impact that has on my mental state and wellbeing.

So, if you go to my personal website, you’ll see my work involves a lot of foliage, colours, and dark figures embedded or trapped in paradise.

When you first look at the picture, it looks pretty, because of the colours and the flowers, but when you look closer there are a lot of things going on within the space. Sometimes I feel trapped in Barbados, but it is beautiful.

Which artists inspire you?

I can’t think of anyone right now. I mean, I scroll through a lot of people’s work on Instagram and Pinterest, and if I like it, then I’ll follow them.

But I try not to look too hard, or follow anyone too closely, because you can end up becoming influenced by their style, even subconsciously. As an artist it’s hard to come up with work that is completely original, so you have to be aware of imitating other people.

What do you love about Barbados?

I love that we’re so small which is a good and bad thing. It’s good when I travel and realise how easy it is to get around Barbados.

I love how beautiful the island is, and how it inspires my work through the foliage, nature and the environment.

Where do you go to relax?

I don’t really leave my house that much!

If I’m working outside on a mural all day, it can be really draining, and then I usually work some more when I get home. So, my social life is not big.

Sometimes I’ll go for lunch or dinner with Akilah and Anna and talk about art.

We also just went on a girl’s trip for three weeks to New York and visited all the museums. That was awesome and inspirational and we’re planning another trip next year.

It sounds like art takes up most of your life.

I would say I have to paint. It’s a feeling like I have to do it. I have to create.

If I don’t draw or paint for two days and release that creativity, unless I’m in vacation mode, it can be very draining, and I almost become depressed.

I can’t not paint.

Visit Alanis’ Instagram page or her website to see more of her work.