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Back to life: Painter revives carnival with artwork

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Carnival is coming back to life.

A Florida-based artist is showcasing his carnival-inspired artwork at Medgar Evers College library through Sept. 22. The second annual “Art of Carnival” exhibit is going to have 23 paintings on display — all based on images that Trinidadian-born artist Weldon Ryan took at various carnivals across the country. With the West Indian Day parade over until next year, he is keeping the spirit of the joyous celebration alive in his life-like representations of it — something not often found in Caribbean art.

“Even though Caribbean art is very big and there are so many forms — it’s very limited when it comes to realistic art and this is the genre I’ve chosen to show my people,” he said. “It makes me happy to be a leader in doing so because we are a very colorful people.”

At his inaugural exhibit last year, Ryan had more than two dozen canvases portraying people from photos in carnivals from the late 90s to current. Many of those photos will be on display again including five recent ones from the 2016 carnival, he said.

“The new images I decided to add are more contemporary and realistic and they’re representa­tional,” said Ryan.

In his art Ryan focuses on people in carnival costumes and even onlookers at the parades. He portrays people of all ages and tends to recreate the images that are more vibrant.

“Generally so many things that inspire me to paint but the one thing I look for is color — I guess what’s most important and what I value in the image,” he added.

With the help of his wife and son, the family can wind up with about 9,000 photographs of people they capture at carnivals in Miami, Orlando, Boston, and Brooklyn. As carnival enthusiasts, each use his or her own creative vision while taking pictures and not everything makes the cut to eventually turn into a painting, according to Ryan. And he compares the task to shopping.

“Normally we take thousands of shots so you can imagine the process takes a while,” he said. “It has to fit my thought process because I look for hand gestures, faces, the background, and not every picture states something — communicating carnival can be intense.”

And that is partly why he transfers that language into his detailed and big portraits

“I like to paint them larger because they have more of an impact,” said Ryan. “But at the same time the smaller ones are more intimate too.”

Ryan said the college — located in the heart of the predominantly Caribbean neighborhood of Crown Heights — is the perfect location for the presentation because it will reach a community that best knows carnival, and showcase an artform they do not often see their traditions replicated in.

“When the viewers take part in the experience and the pieces, they’re going to see their culture in a stylized manner that shows different aspect,” he said. “They are the carnival intended audience and this will be new to them.”

On the final day of the exhibit there will also be a lecture about the history of carnival and its significance in Brooklyn, according to Ryan.

“Art of Carnival” at The Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library at Medgar Evers college [1650 Bedford Ave. between Montgomery and Crown streets in Crown Heights, (718) 270-4900, www.calypsofineart.com]. Sept. 11–22, 8 am–11 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 2:01 pm, September 12, 2017
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