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One stroke at a time

The Glory

by Donna Sealy

Sammawah Downes is one of those young people who knows what he wants out of life and is going after it one stroke at a time.

The young artist graduated from Barbados Community College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, with honours, last month and has plans of returning next academic year to pursue Graphic Arts.

His journey along this path is an interesting one which started when he was four years old.

It was then that his mother discovered his artistic ability (he reproduced a subway map accurately) while on a visit to New York. He’s been on that path of honing those skills he was blessed with from God.

When they returned home, his mother signed him up for twice weekly art classes with artists Sarah Venables and Hilary Austin at St. Elizabeth Primary School, where he was a student.

“We learnt drawing from observing, we learnt painting, the principles of drawing such as focal points lighting, tone, shade. At that point I would most likely become an artist although I wanted to become a doctor at one stage of my life – of course that didn’t work out,” Downes recalled during the interview with Barbados TODAY.

From primary school he headed to The Lodge School, where he placed first in art every term except one when he missed out by one per cent.

It was there that his sights on becoming a full fledged artist veered.

“I did the Sciences when I was at Lodge and I didn’t do too well in them. My strengths were really in English Language and English Literature. I think I’m more of a left brain person but I got caught up with this ideology in Barbados that if you’re to be successful you should either become a doctor or a lawyer or bank manager.

“I always knew my talent was God given and I know that God gave it to me for a purpose and a reason so I just went along with what I believe God wanted for my life,” he said.

After settling down and being comfortable with his talent, Downes then heading to Dollar Academy in Scotland, on a one-year scholarship.

But somewhere in there, the 23-year-old St. Elizabeth Village, St. Joseph resident enrolled in the Community Art Programme at the Speightstown Community Centre, which was designed for adults.

“I was enrolled at 11 because of my talent. It really improved my art a lot. They taught how to draw the human figure and the principles you have to apply… They taught me better techniques at shading and how to make things like more realistic,” he recalled.

He is grateful to everyone who has helped him to honed his talent over the yeas and singled out Robert Deane at the Speightstown Centre who gave him his “real foundation”.

The artist praises God in his work and this is evident in the mural he did for the St. Joseph Parish Independence Committee highlighting the contribution made by the people of the community.

Christian concept

“I do a lot of Christian art because the mural that I did had a Christian concept to it. I have a lot of my work on the set of Big Hail. I know Roger and Imran. [Getting my work] on makes me feel, not puffed up, but that I was able to go this for the glory of God and advertise myself. I’m not about myself I’m about a higher purpose in life, to glorify God and to help others and to help inspire people through my art. I’m about sending positive messages that would uplift and not tear down or make people focus on the negative side of life,” he asserted.

Downes said the Associate Degree programme was tough and quickly dispelled the notion that those enrolled in Fine Arts had it easy. He described that experience as the “launch pad for my artistic development”.

He said there were several assignments but he learnt how to use different techniques. The Bachelor’s Degree programme was not hard he said, but different.

That’s not all he did or has achieved.

His resum? reads like this:

* June 2003 he successfully completed the Basic Course in Fine Art and was awarded a special prize as the youngest graduate.

* February 2004 he completed a course in Basic Animation.

* August 2004, he had his first one-man exhibition at the Atlantis Hotel, Bathsheba, St. Joseph.

* In 2005 he won the National Youth Award for Visual Art in the Northern Zone.

* In 2006 he won the Cable & Wireless Telephone Directory Cover Competition.

* He entered the Disabled Children Poster Competition in 2010, on that occasion he was awarded a special prize.

* In 2012, he was awarded the first prize in the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development Art Competition.

Downes said his family is 100 per cent behind him every step of the way.

And as he prepares to undertake the business side of things and producing prints of his work, he does so knowing that “art is a very powerful medium”. He also knows that God is watching over him.

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