TELLING IT AS IT IS | A COMMENTARY
GORDON HAMILTON | MAY 1946 – OCT. 2016:
an under-recognized stalwart | one of the Caribbean’s finest artists | a renaissance man
By Gerry Hopkin, JD
“The natural surroundings touch my soul, allowing me to transform my inner feelings into dynamic artistic expressions. Art has no limit; its limit is the limit of the artist’s experience.” These words were spoken by the man himself — Gordon “Polo” Hamilton — one of Grenada’s (from Harford’s Village, St. Andrew) and one of the Caribbean’s finest artists ever, who though born into humble beginnings, did go on to develop his talent and intellect to become a true renaissance man. Hamilton was all about the full development of self, others and communities.
The contributions and accomplishments of Gordon Hamilton, who early on in his journey, obtained a degree in Fine Art from the Jamaica School of Art, have set him apart as a stalwart statesman of the highest calibre. Yet, the limited respect and recognition he has gotten from administrations in Grenada (both NDC and NNP) have been pitiful, to say the least.
Hamilton or “Polo” as he was affectionately called, would however be remembered forever as an outstanding Caribbean educator, artist, philosopher, musician (bassist), songwriter, calypsonian, homemaker/father/husband, politician, philosopher, farmer and community organizer.
The Artist, Educator & Philosopher
I am, for one, proud of the fact that I number among the many who attended Mt. St. Ervan’s R.C. School when he taught there in the 1970s. Hamilton went on to be Art Supervisor at Grenada’s Ministry of Education, with the specific responsibility of developing art in the nation’s primary and secondary schools. Beyond the workshops and tutorials he produced for teachers, Hamilton also assisted many school-leavers (young adults) from around Grenada in the development of their artistic skills. I am one of them.
Many (including myself) benefited from his hands-on tutorials and philosophical advice offered at the Grand Bras Community Centre in the late 70s/early 80s, when he brilliantly produced billboards with messages and slogans which effectively promulgated the Peoples Revolutionary Government’s agenda for national development — for example, “Grow what you eat; eat what you grow;” “Education is a Right, Not a Privilege;” “Forward Ever, Backward Never,” “Every Student a Worker, Every Worker a Student;” and “Women Committed to Economic Construction.”
A Quiet Hero
Hamilton received far fewer awards than he deserved, but a much treasured one was the “Silver Jubilee Certificate of Honour,” which he got in 1999.
He participated in art exhibitions regionally and internationally — in Cuba, Barbados, Antigua, and in London and Miami, etcetera. Locally, he also participated in various exhibitions, including those organized by the Grenada Art Council and by the Yellow Poui Art Gallery. But always, he was by nature quiet and avoided tooting his own horn about his art work.
As an artist-entrepreneur, he reluctantly sold pieces of his artwork to collectors based in Grenada and around the world. Based on firsthand knowledge, Hamilton did not take pleasure in offering his work for sale. He was not a salesman. He felt more comfortable sharing his artwork with family and friends, than he did selling any.
In this vein, the author of this commentary has observed that most of Hamilton’s masterpieces were undersold. Undisputedly, based on the quality of his work, had Hamilton been a more shrewd businessman, or had he lived and sold his work in a U.S. or European city, he could have enjoyed much of his life living like a millionaire.
A Community Organizer, Volunteer & Motivator
While Hamilton deserves to be noted as one of Grenada’s/one of the Caribbean’s finest artists, who has inspired his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and countless others to pick up art brushes and pencils and to begin expressing themselves on canvas, paper and wood, some argue that his main interest was service to community and country.
Overall, Hamilton made invaluable contributions to the all-around development culture in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique and in the wider Caribbean by extension.
He was a bass-guitarist in the Estrello Band that played at many community events in the 70s. Also during the late 70s and early 1980s, he designed, worded and painted large billboards, which influenced and shaped the thinking and mindset of Grenadians. One of the most memorable billboards was erected at Carlton Junction, Grand Bras, St. Andrew. That one read: “Grow what you eat; eat what you grow.”
Quite often, Hamilton was called upon to paint backdrops for Rainbow City festivals; for calypso tents, such as the unforgettable “Calypso Kastle Stage Backdrop, which was displayed wherever Moss International played around Grenada; and for national calypso semi-final and Dimarche Gras stages.
Additionally, Hamilton was often called upon to judge Queen Shows, Mass Bands and other annual carnival competitions, particularly the Dimarche Gras calypso competition.
Hamilton was a patriotic Caribbean man who was proud of his native land. At every turn, his love for Grenada and the region, motivated him to contribute in every way towards the all-around development of people — in family life, in education, in the arts, agriculture and industry, and in community service and politics.
Over time, as an influential figure within his community, he became a member of the Telescope Association and was instrumental in the naming of the streets of Telescope. He generally volunteered his time in service of individuals and organisations in need of his outputs. One such group was The Association of Returning Nationals of St. Andrew, which he served as the officer who presided over their annual general meetings.
Politics as an Extension of Public Service
During the late 1990’s, Hamilton was approached by Mr. George Brizan, the then leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and asked to contest the 1999 general election as an NDC candidate. Hamilton obliged, but was unfortunately, not successful at the polls in this election. He lost in his constituency like everyone else in his party, due to a poorly managed campaign which could not compete with a financially superior New National Party (NNP), under the leadership of one of the Caribbean’s shrewdest politicians, Dr. Keith Mitchell.
However, Hamilton never stopped contributing towards the political life of his country and he never allowed partisan politics to get in the way of working with people who needed his help. His record includes service as an Executive Member of the NDC, Polling Division Captain of Telescope, and Chairman of the St. Andrew Southeast Constituency Branch.
Additionally, at a different period, Hamilton served as an Executive Member of the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP). During that period, he went on to serve in Grenada’s Upper House of Parliament as a Senator.
I end with Hamilton’s words: “Art has no limit; its limit is the limit of the artist’s experience,” and I add: may the legacy of the artistic and community organizing contributions of Gordon “Polo” Hamilton, live on forever!
SPECIAL THANK YOU & APPEAL FOR:
1) PHOTOGRAPHS of Gordon Hamilton’s paintings; and
2) LOCATION of the works of GORDON HAMILTON:
The author wishes to thank Lloydris Neckles-Hamilton, the widow of Gordon Hamilton and Brian Banfield (Hamilton’s eldest child) for their assistance in the research phase of an on-going project to document and recognize the work of Gordon Hamilton. Besides the biographic commentary above, I am in the process of amassing photographs of every available painting and billboard that was completed by Gordon Hamilton.
If you happen to have a painting or a photograph of a painting by Hamilton, or know where one of his paintings or billboards can be found, please contact me, Gerry Hopkin via my Facebook inbox, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or WhatsApp/Cell at 347-350-4285.
MY ULTIMATE GOAL, working in conjunction with the widow and family of Gordon Hamilton, is to soon see a collection of most of, if not all of, the artwork of Gordon Hamilton in a section dedicated to the work of Grenadian artists in our National Museum. Or, in the alternative, I would love to see us have a dedicated Grenada Museum of Art, which would feature the work of Grenadian and Caribbean artists of the calibre of Gordon Hamilton, John Benjamin, Canute Caliste, Elinus Cato, Loftus McMillan and Betty Traynor; as well as experience the world-class works of Anthony C George, Gordon de la Mothe, Roland Benjamin-Artist, Joseph Browne, Michael Paryag, Susan Mains, Asher Mains, Joachim Mozayic Mcmillan, Jackie Miller, Doliver Morain, Oliver Benoit et al. We must preserve and showcase the evidence of all of our artforms — our fine art, literature, sculptures, musical instruments (the tin-pan and the steel-pan, both belong here, among others), audio and video of our storytellers, cinematography, photographs, dance (captured on video and on prints), etcetera.
This will be a place where we can visit or take a tourist to, in order to view and appreciate in print or original form, the masterpieces of the deceased Gordon Hamilton and our other icons.
Art has always been and will always be, a goldmine. May we treasure it, develop it and capitalize on it for its educational, story-telling and revenue-generating potential and value.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in this endeavor to recognize the work and accomplishments of one of Grenada’s and the Caribbean’s finest artists. May the legacy of the artistic and other community organizing contributions of Gordon “Polo” Hamilton, live on forever!