Janelle De Souza
For the past nine years, visual artist Damian Moore has been making Christmas extra special for Trinis by producing hand-painted Christmas tree ornaments that reflect TT culture.
The ornaments cover themes the Trinidad-based Guyanese loves about his adopted country including humming birds, traditional Carnival characters, tropical plants including sorrel and cocoa, parang instruments and more.
The styles and designs change as Moore focuses on one or two themes every year. And since the designs are not repeated, people have started collecting the highly-coveted ornaments.
The idea for the ornaments came to him during the 2014 Christmas season as he wondered what a tree full of Carnival ornaments would look like. So, he made about 70 ceramic ornaments for himself but, before he could decorate a tree, he showed the ornaments at an Art Society art market and people gravitated to them.
People started requesting them and, by the second year, he started to sell them at artisan marketplaces. Eventually, businesses started approaching him and his ornaments are now available at Craft Creators at West Mall, Westmoorings, Junckollage Gypsy Caravan on Long Circular Road, St James, and Rainy Days in Ellerslie Plaza, Maraval.
He explained that Rainy Days usually carries ornaments with Carnival characters, Craft Creators sells a mixture of humming birds and Carnival characters, and Junckollage carries his “breakaway” work that he describes as quirky and fun. The breakaway pieces include Halloween-themed pieces, hamsas, and monstera plant leaves painted in black and gold.
“Every year since, people have been asking for them. It’s grown from 70 to 100 to 200 and now I do about 300 a year, but this year I crossed 500. It’s getting to be a lot because each one is hand-painted, so sometimes I find myself doing it all through the year.”
The 38-year-old also paints using acrylic on canvas but, as a full-time visual art teacher at a secondary school, he has very little time to do so between work and the ornaments. He also runs a ceramic internship for older teenagers where they learn how to cut clay and other technical skills.
“I think I reach them at a level where they enjoy it and they see the value and business of art. Eventually I want to let them do their own designs and take them to markets so they could get accustomed to seeing art as, not just creating something pretty, but the business side to it.”
There, he tries to do sketching and moodboards so the students can see the process of creating art, that it is not only producing random ideas but can entail research. He believes the internship also helps boost their abilities in other artforms.
“They’re becoming a little bit more outgoing, not scared to show their abilities, and explore and make mistakes.”
Moore told Sunday Newsday he was not academically inclined as a child and used art as an escape.
“Like a lot of children, I’m a statistic in terms of parents separating and divorce, so I spent a lot of time on my own because, as a single parent, my mother had to work a couple jobs to take care of my sister and me. Art was always something I did to create my own little world – mostly sketching and drawing in the walls.”
“I think that’s an asset as a teacher. You know what your students are going through because you’ve been there. You know your circumstances doesn’t define your future. It’s up to you. You just have to get the encouragement from somebody.”
By the time he got to secondary school, he realised art encompassed many subjects including math and problem-solving, research, the science of mixing colours, social studies and history, and he improved in his studies.
He painted and studied fine art at the University of Guyana where he met some Trinidadian students who were studying forestry. They became very close and, in 2016, they invited him to spend Christmas in TT with them. He found Christmas in TT to be “phenomenal” and returned the next year.
He liked how emphasis was placed on the culture and arts, and that time, money and energy was pumped into Christmas, Carnival, and the culture of the country. He had never seen the attention to detail people put into creating the atmosphere and liked all the build-up to the seasons.
So, when he visited for Christmas in 2007, he stayed in TT for Carnival.
“That was my first Carnival experience and I stumbled upon Brian Mac Farlane’s mas camp. Every other mas camp displayed the actual costumes, but he had framed drawings of his costumes. I thought that was brilliant.
“I saw the art and was crazy over it. I knew I wanted to work with this person. When I discovered Mac Farlane I realised my art could be used in costuming for Carnival and other aspects.”
So when he graduated with a bachelor in fine arts in 2008, he applied for a Caricom Single Market and Economy certificate, moved to TT, and sent a job application to Mac Farlane.
“All my friends were becoming teachers and, for a period of time, while I was at university, I was a teacher in Guyana, and I didn’t want to just use my degree for teaching. I wanted to do more. I wanted to be a working artist who is not a teacher, although I fell back into it eventually.”
He soon found a job and was doing it when Mac Farlane walked into the store in which he was working. A friend encouraged him to talk to the mas man and Moore introduced himself.
“He was there with his brother, the accountant who also looks after hiring, and he asked my name. He remembered my application and told me to come on Monday. I started working with them the very next week.”
Eventually, Moore used his skill to produce sections, paint costumes, and other things that came easy to him because of his degree. And after a while, he decided to attend UTT’s Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design.
He continued to work with Mac Farlane while he completed his diploma in fashion design, but had to leave and work on contract when he chose to study for his bachelor’s in the subject, which he received in 2014.
While he enjoys textile design and fashion illustration, research and designs, he does not want to be a fashion designer.
And even though he continued to paint, and show his paintings in numerous joint exhibitions, it was not until 2018 that he had his first solo exhibition, Perspective. He said by that time he had more life experiences from which he could draw, the paintings were more personal, and working with Mac Farlane gave him the courage to show his work on that level.
“For me I don’t think about selling. I think about showing my experiences and feelings – my hurts, my joys – aspects of my culture, things that, as a youth, I didn’t get to explore. All those things came back into my work.”
Moore became a teacher in 2019 and, since then, he has only produced about two paintings a year.
His creativity was sparked once again when he recently visited Belize for two months, which he used to create art. He explored techniques he had not used in a while, and experimented with new ones. He picked up urban sketching and used ink wash and watercolour to enhance them.
“I miss creating and I’ve seen what teaching has done to other artists. They generally just stop producing. I don’t want to stop. I think I still have things to learn and explore and I want to have the freedom to do that.
“There’s so much uncertainty in life. I’ve had extremely talented friends who died because of covid. I figure I have a few more good years in me and I want to see what I can do with it before time runs out.”
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