An artist by nature, by his own account, Alwyn St Omer grew up in a “family of creatives.” In local art realms his father, the late Sir Dunstan St. Omer, was a mammoth of a man. Alwyn recalls his father taking him and his brother with him to work on murals and other artistic endeavors.
“We used to go with him to Jackmel, and Roseau, places like that,” he recalled recently. “He never wanted us to paint. He realized that in the Third World arts and artists have to suffer.” I wondered aloud how one went about becoming an artist, a painter?
“If you’re a true artist you have to feel,” Alwyn explained. He paused then looked over at the streams of water flowing quietly from an indoor waterfall in the STAR lobby. “You see these rocks there?” he asked, “you have to feel the water flowing on them to be true to yourself. Artists always have to do a journey, and if the artist is true to himself, he is going to feel all the cracks in that stone wall . . . you know?”
He went on: “The artist is like the soul of society. Without the artist we have no civilization. But the artist is nearly always marginalized. He’s there to be used when the politician feels it’s time for Independence, it’s time for a show, a prince’s visit . . . or something. All of a sudden they’ll throw some bones at you. I guess in the Third World we don’t have the vision to see where the arts can really take us. But St Lucia is a country of extremely talented people. The young people coming up are on another level.”
Our conversation took us back to Alwyn’s childhood, growing up in a household headed by Dunstan St. Omer, the revered St Lucian artist and muralist—who designed St Lucia’s national flag.
“My sisters were all pure academics,” Alwyn said, “the type to sit in front of the TV, not study and then pass everything. I was the first boy, with three girls before me, and that boy wanted to play!” That of course was not to say Alwyn himself wasn’t academically inclined. In his own words: “You know, you always want to do other things . . .”
Alwyn painted the picture of growing up in a lively household where animated discussions on culture were not uncommon, and towering libraries filled with literature from around the world threatened to take over every room. One of the things he remembered most vividly was the hard-to-escape debates between his father and the likes of Sir Derek Walcott, Gareth St Omer, and others.
“They’d argue about all sorts of things,” he laughed. “We grew up in that background. I grew up as a child going to see my dad in plays at the town hall. I’d climb up on the wall and watch.” As he told it, the things that hadn’t seemed of much consequence then were the very things that helped shape him into the person he is today.
“You grew up in that background and whether you wanted to be or not, you’re an artist,” he laughed. “You’re immersed in this background and it’s what makes you who you are.”
I followed Alwyn out of the STAR lobby, into the parking lot, where he pulled from the trunk of his car three of his latest paintings, all part of his new Moon Dancer Series.
“It’s the attraction of the masquerade, the symbols of the masquerade, as they were in those days,” he explained. “There are no pictures of it, there’s no recollection. I know people used to take pictures of their children after church and so on back in the day, but there’s very few of the masquerade. I’ve decided to save the masquerade in painting, so the memory of the masquerade remains.”
Standing outside his car Alwyn said he’d fallen in love with the masque tradition because “it’s symbolic of our declining culture.” The artist felt that by capturing the essence of the way things used to be in St Lucia as far as culture and tradition were concerned he was helping to preserve an integral part of St Lucian history.
“I don’t know if it will ever come back, but I feel that what I’m doing is making a statement as an artist,” he said. “All I can do is make a silent cry in the darkness. It’s my little statement because it has been discovered that there is a correlation between our fading cultural practices and the degradation of our eco systems in the Caribbean and in St Lucia specifically.”
In the words of the artist, the Moon Dancer Series, a collection of intricate and nearly identical pieces of art is essentially a quiet cry in the darkness for help for the arts. A strikingly captivating one at that!