John Reno Jackson

Balashi Boy

You can now call me either Balashi Boy or Starboy.

My time at Caribbean Linked was meant to be a journey; I did not look into Aruba as a country, place, or thing. I did not want to know anything about Aruba upon arrival. The goal was to be thrown into it, ask as many questions as possible, and truly experience what was organically happening around me.

Most of my stay at Atelier 89′ was based on researching the effects of disconnecting from my standard practice and detaching myself from a state of hyper analysis. The objective was simple: to truly immerse oneself in the experience and allow this new knowledge to naturally influence my work.

I soaked in people’s energies, and I asked questions. I met strangers at bars and local hotspots. Many valuable conversations can come from those at a bar; people lose their fear of judgement and tend to empty the weight harboured in their souls. I went to jazz bars, nightclubs, and pool halls. I drank beer from gas stations and on the beach. Always on the move, always thinking and writing; living. I could absorb more information as long as I continued my state of Balashi-induced perpetuity. A wheel of constant motion, always open, always fluid, never saying no, always saying yes.

To conceptualize one’s life as a tragicomedy, how good and evil are, in fact, one of the same. Can the inebriety of spirit inform potential breakthroughs in both personality and practice? The artist, in concept, is a performer who is always in character.

But what does it mean if this character is troubled?

A piece of literature comes to mind. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.

According to the Greek myth, Sisyphus was condemned to push a rock up a mountain; upon reaching the top, the rock would roll down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. Sisyphus is an unusual hero who lives life to the fullest regardless of the situation, loathes death, and is sentenced to fulfil a meaningless task. We, as people, must struggle with our perception of reality and condemn ourselves to truly experience life. In the case of art making, it’s our perception of things that changes the meaning or outcome of the intention of the work. And parallel to this, the viewer’s perception is paramount to the artists’. The viewer must truly feel the authenticity and intent of an artist. You cannot sell a concept to somebody; you must sell your soul.

To learn how to respond to our environment from a reactionary point of view, we must look into our emotional, psychological and intellectual aspects as people. We must find the bizarre in the ordinary.

To quote an essay on the artist Rene Magritte’s work, The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe): “…a movement in which artists present an understanding of emotion and ideas without being overly convoluted. Surrealism involves a certain honesty in art making. Working within the concepts of surrealism, Magritte used the likenesses of objects to push directly beyond what you think you know… To understand This is Not a Pipe, he/she needs to understand themselves first. They need to apprehend that language and reality do not indeed share an organic relationship and that the names of objects don’t come about when you view them… (Michel) Foucault agreed with the views of Magritte that signs are arbitrary, circumstantial, and conventional.”

Is this a denial of reality? Not so much. More so an understanding that we do not see reality accurately. Our senses can conflate our perspectives of the world. Our experiences are usually subjective to our personal tastes; they are properties of our senses. Awareness of our senses helps us to distinguish objective realities from personal truth. Even if you look at one object from different singluar perspectives, you may never understand all of its available information. Because of this idea, the concept of reality is transperspectival. The ability to take multiple perspectives, be aware of their flux, and repurpose them into a transperspective capacity to balance their relationships, is fundamental to navigating our realities.

My work, “Underneath the Kwihi Tree” (2022), is a culmination of the above notions and the subversion of traditional painterly technique. I wanted to make use of what was around me. To start, I made sketches of images taken during my stay in Aruba. I then made eight small paintings on imitation suede from these drawings, a new fabric for me. Once the compositions had developed structurally, it was time to introduce them to the local environment. I took them to the beach, Alto Vista, and the sand dunes. Elvis even helped by running them over with the Ateliers van, a championing moment of artistic collaboration. As the paintings developed their own stories and patinas and began their transfiguration, nail by nail, to becoming the final work, I contemplated their relationships with each other. The work’s name comes not from the subtle compositional reference to the Kwihi tree but more from the transperspectives of morality. The title can be read two ways, as a reference to sitting underneath a Kwihi tree in a peaceful circumstance, enjoying a beer and the sound of the breeze through the leaves. Or alternatively, as a slightly more macabre interpretation of being buried underneath the tree, a final resting place underneath grand roots. This metaphorical life-and-death scenario is not relayed through expected iconography but through subversion of technique. By allowing myself to encounter considerable emotions, highs and lows, throughout my time at Caribbean Linked, by subjecting the painting to the elements, by combining multiple abstract structural perspectives of my Aruban adventure, the goal was to impart this feeling of inconstancy into the work itself. Thus, it is no longer about the painting’s narrative but the journey of the artist, painting, and, consequently, the viewer.

I think that Ateliers ’89 is the only environment in which I could’ve had this experience; to share it with such venerable people was a gift. I am blessed to have been a part of Caribbean Linked VI.

Underneath the Kwihi Tree, Acrylic, charcoal, acrylic medium on imitation suede attached over nails, acrylic glue, staples, fabric on reclaimed wood, 2022.