Swimming with turtles

There was never any doubt. His rebellious nature, refusal to listen to most people, convinced him that he was destined to “swim with turtles,” to glorify them in his paintings. Raised on Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, amid deep green forests and crystal clear seas, he was constantly inspired by “ natural paradise of immense beauty.” The scenery was so stunning, he continues, “most people become so accustomed to their surroundings that they overlook the exquisite beauty around them.”The sea became his second home. He spent hours under the blistering sun gazing at the vibrant colours of tiny wrasse attacking his bait. Daniel spent his childhood fishing off the wooden jetty, but fishing was much more than catching fish; he found the whole experience exhilarating and painting became a way of picturing his friends in the sea.

Through his artwork, Daniel Jean-Baptiste, a self-taught artist, hopes to spur an awakening, our connecting to the colours and dancing light in tropical waters. He prizes light, and wants to celebrate it in his art which depicts underwater scenes, game fish and their prey. His unique silk art shimmers in vibrant tropical colours and textures which bring life to any room. ‘When I paint I become my subject, from the tree frog in the mist of Fond St. Jacques rainforest to the sea turtle gliding in the deep blue waters near Anse Chastanet Bay. I do not just want to paint, but I want you to create so that you too can feel the intense joy that I experience in being here. The colours, texture, and light are so intense and warm to the soul. Every piece is a part of my life that I am honoured to share with you’ Living in Canada at the moment, Jean-Daniel plans to spend more time in his workspace in St. Lucia. He owns a wooden 125 year old colonial house which sits in the middle of flourishing tropical flowers and fruit trees. ‘The open windows welcome cool breezes, the call of birds, and tree frogs’

LSA: Jean, why did you choose silk?

JB: I started painting on silk in 1981 when I worked as a commercial artist for a company called Display Arts of Toronto. I chose silk as my fine art medium because it was so under exposed in the art market. I could create techniques which had never existed before.

LSA: Is there one technique that stands out?

JB: Yes, my underwater light effect which looks like sunlight shimmering through crystal clear water. This is achieved through a wet on wet painting method on silk.

LSA: As a child you loved spending time swimming in the sea, fishing and observing animals. What else inspires you?

JB: My inspiration comes from my love of nature. I love mountains with pristine forest and rivers, the sounds of nature and the clean air makes me feel alive. I have a deep connection to the Caribbean Sea. I feel at home with the corals and sea life, an existence of pure joy.

LSA: Can you please tell me what your ordinary day is like.

JB: I always start the day with a strong black coffee. If I am not painting a piece I do research on a new idea, otherwise I spend lots of time marketing my art.

LSA: Let’s talk about your creativity.

JB: To use silk I first work on loose sketches. Once I have found a possible composition that would look good on silk, I then create a larger and more detailed version which depicts the line artwork to which I will mount the silk (usually 100% 12-14mm Habotai silk) onto and apply the gutta resist. Once all the resist has been drawn and dried the silk is then suspended in a stretcher frame and hand painted with silk paints (Pebeo Setasilk paints are my favourite)

LSA: What happens next?

JB: The painting is ironed to set the paint and can be framed behind glass, much like you would a watercolour on cotton rag.

LSA: What do you like the most about the process and how long does it take you to finish one piece?

JB: Creating a new piece takes days of research and sketching, even weeks. The painting part can take 1 to 5 days. The reason why some pieces take longer to create is because before I create an idea I have to explore it from every angle, every detail has to be experienced through image research, videos and live observations. The larger and more complex a composition the longer it takes to paint.

LSA: What is the piece you are the most proud of?

JB: I love all my work; I am always really excited to create something totally new. One example of this is when I painted a sea turtle incorporating the colours and light textures of opal gems.

LSA: What about marketing?

JB: The biggest challenge is getting physical exposure for my art. Over the past 30 years the art market has dramatically changed. Marketing helps me grow as an artist since I learn how my art is being received.

LSA: What are you working on now?

JB: I am working on a project with St. Lucia’s Chairman’s Rum. I have designed a bottle sleeve depicting the St. Lucian parrot. The distiller wants to bring awareness of this endangered national bird and will donate a percentage of all sales toward parrot conservation. It’s in stores in St. Lucia but the international launch has been COVID delayed, but should be soon.

LSA: Where can we find your work?

JB: My work can be viewed at www.jean-baptiste.com. I look forward to opening my gallery studio in St. Lucia once COVID is no longer a health concern.

Interview by Agnieszka Kowalczewska 


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