A picture tells a thousand words and the intricacy of the line work on a wicker chair tells its strength and durability. Art stems from passion, born from an innate love. Interestingly, right across Jamaica, we can see men on the roadside displaying works of art in various forms. But what of this Jamaican streetside art and craft phenomenon and the art vendors peddling their wares? Is it a form of artistic expression or survival from the art?
Arts & Education took to the streets across Kingston and St Andrew to interview some of these street art vendors about their profession and passion for art.
“It did start fi mi when mi young and did a guh school. Mi teacha (Miss James) did love draw. If she did seh ball, she woulda draw ball and mi did always a draw weh she draw,” Basil Clayton shared.
He said he received no formal education in art, but was gifted with the natural ability. He honed his craft by going to a few galleries and art shows, as well as learning from established artistes.
Fellow art and craft street vendor, Benji, stated that it was because of his background that he came to choose this profession.
“Mi did grow up inna Rasta tribe, and Rasta kinda self-employed, people nuh really like hire dem so dem just duh sum’n fi demselves fi survive. And that a one a di skill dem weh dem did duh,” Benji told Arts & Education.
“Is a friend teach me how fi do this and mi start mek straw mat from mi bout 18. Then mi start mek wicker, iron board, basket, ludo board, and mat fi di doorway.”
Basil shared that the income from streetside art vending varies, and that having a steady customer stream was crucial to what one can make in a day, noting that this was the “mystical” part of art.
“A man can just sell a one painting and mek a $1,000,000 and gwaan pon a beach fi relax,” he pointed out.
“A painting priceless enuh, but a man will come and want a roadside painting and mi can sell him it fi a $20,000. But other times, yuh have ‘juggling painting’ when yuh wah mek quick money. Mi sell dem deh fi $10,000.”
The streetside art vendor pointed out that taking orders can rake in much more money than selling paintings on the roadside, and that he averaged $100,000 per month in income.
Amazingly, Basil shared, income from his paintings can maintain him to the point of not touching his government pension since he retired from military duties in 1990.
“Mi mek $180,000 fi duh one painting, and that was a special order. Mi did a interview at the US Embassy and mi tell dem seh a $100,000 mi mek a month. Though mi coulda mek a million dollar if mi did a work harder,” Basil said.
Benji, on the other hand, made his income based on craft items that are saleable at the time and bargains made with people.
“Like a wicker chair, mi sell it fi $2,000, but more if other
people nuh have it. And mi will sell it fi all a $1,800 sometimes, suh it depends. A back-to-school time now, so mi sell iron board fi bout $2,000. Mi haffi mek things fi help poor people since a dem mainly buy from mi,” he said.
When questioned if the income from streetside art vending could provide for a family, Benji responded: “Mi have 17 pickney and mi use dis and sen dem guh school, everyone a dem.”
PASSION FOR ART
Basil said he has a genuine love and passion for art and
that his inspiration comes from doing landscape sceneries, which a majority of his
“Mi mostly duh places like Bamboo Walk or sum’n. Sometime a out a book mi look and paint. But mi love art, so mi always like weh mi duh. If Miss James did alive, mi woulda give har nuff gift,” Basil said with laughter.
Benji said he also has a love and passion for art and craft,
but he also sees it as a form of survival.
“Mi love mi craft, but it a
wah provide fi mi family, suh mi deh yah seven days a week more time,” he stated.
So, whether it’s out of survival or love, these men create their own art that enables them to survive while conveying their artistic expressions in their own way.