Folk artist Doliver Morain lives on the fringes of society, but his bright, exuberant paintings have found their way into shops, hotels and galleries around Grenada, and even into a few homes thousands of miles away.
Words by Natasha Were
Existing at the most basic level, without running water or electricity, Doliver Morain certainly has no website or social media presence, so locating him from overseas is a challenge. Once on island, however, the coconut telegraph works wonders. A few queries lead first to Susan Mains, the owner of Art and Soul Gallery in Grand Anse, who has several of his paintings on display.
“Doliver is very unique,” she says, “not only because he paints intuitively, but because he is completely uninfluenced. He has no training, doesn’t study other artists’ work, yet some of his paintings look just like a Picasso.”
Rendered in vivid colour, his work is child-like in its simplicity. Susan’s current selection includes radiant scenes of beaches, offshore islands, mangroves, and big eyed fish. All share the same pink background – purely because that would have been the paint he had at the time. His hand-to-mouth existence, she explains, means that when the pink runs out, the pink series ends. If times are hard, he may stop painting altogether for a while.
To find him, I head north to the Petite Anse Hotel. The owners, I’m told, are mentors and avid supporters of Doliver and can give me directions to his home and studio.
The road north winds up the coast through charmingly ramshackle villages, where brightly painted cottages cling to steep hillsides and wooden fishing boats rest on black sand beaches. Gradually, the villages give way to dense, shady rainforest, where nature flourishes: clusters of bamboo lean out over fast flowing rivers, giant broad leafed trees reach towards the sun and branches bend under the weight of tropical fruits.
In the thick of this is Petit Anse Hotel. A large canvas in Doliver’s distinctive style hangs in reception, as if signalling I’m close. From there, it’s through Sauteurs and keep going straight at Chez Nora. I’ll know when I’ve arrived, I’m assured.
After a few minutes rumbling along a dirt track, a solitary shack comes into view. Its walls are covered in a jumble of paintings, number plates, bottles and, somewhere near the bottom, a hand painted sign declaring it the “Levera Museum of Art Across from it, a motley collection of figures, shaped from corrugated iron, sticks and wire, is dressed in cast off clothes and accessorised with recycled junk.
Doliver emerges from around the side of his hut, apparently delighted to receive visitors. Squeezing into his minute studio – it cannot measure more than 4 x 6 feet, with holes in the walls and roof – he shows off his collectibles.
The odds and ends he’s picked up along the way include broken musical instruments, fragments of ceramics, conch shells and, hanging from a beam, a musket. His ambition, when he has the funds to buy some more plywood, he says, is to extend the studio so that he can display his artefacts properly.
With limited space inside, most of his paintings are displayed outside. His inspiration is simply daily life. There’s a lady braidinga child’s hair, farmers harvesting cocoa, boats surrounded by his signature striped and spotted fish, and several portraits of public figures.
Across the road, his figures – or perhaps sculptures – also depict people going about their business. A lady cooks on an oil drum, a couple play draughts, and a band, complete with a drummer, bass players, vocalist and keyboards plays a silent symphony. Arranged under red, yellow and green bunting, they are quirky but also funny and irreverent: other figures include a uniformed police officer who guards his front door, a woman sitting on a toilet, and a gentleman who is, for lack of a more refined description, urinating.
Doliver would have been around 20 when he first picked up a paintbrush. It was three years after the 1979 revolution, he recalls, and the picture he painted was of the Americans dropping their troops in Grenada. He sold that painting for $60 dollars.
He’s been painting ever since, on whatever materials he can find. It might be old planks, used plywood, aluminium roofing or, when he has some cash to buy it, cotton canvas. Recently, he says, he found a bundle of fishing net on the beach. He spent hours untangling it, then hung it on the bush next to his sculptures, and decorated it with fish cut from old soda cans.
Doliver is a man living on the edge. His most basic needs are met, but there are no luxuries.
Yet as he sits in the shade of a tree, his paints lined up along a horizontal branch, with views of the sea and his sculptures for company, it is clear that what he sees when he looks at the world is not his own hardship, but the beauty around him. And it is that innocent delight he finds in daily life that he expresses through his art. Doliver Morain doesn’t just paint fish, birds and trees. He paints pure joy.
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