Fielding Babb is perhaps Barbados’ finest artist and one who has paved the way for hundreds of artists for generations to come.
He paints using oils built up in layers with a palette knife to create a three dimensional effect; and the subject matter is usually historical Barbadian buildings or traditional scenes such as Barbadians pushing fruit carts.
“I paint old houses – the historical buildings of the country, and buildings that are wasting away. In other words, I document Barbados’ past for future generations. I want to keep old Barbados alive through my art.”
Fielding’s paintings have stolen the hearts of many a Government official and he has been recognised for his work by being:
— the 2003 recipient of the Lifetime Award in the Visual Arts
— awarded The Barbados Centennial Honour.
His paintings capture a fragile, forgotten world of grace and wonder, hard work and toil, and have been revered and collected by many Government officials including John Major (an ex-Prime Minister of the UK).
“Every Barbados Government minister back in the 1970’s would have owned a piece. They used them as gifts when they visited other Government officials around the world. This is how I got my break.”
Fielding was born in 1935, a time when art in Barbados had a very low profile; it was not officially taught in primary schools and people didn’t earn a living from it. Yet despite all this, Fielding has become one of the most famous artists in Barbados, and has helped improve the reputation of art in Barbados for future generations.
So how did Fielding discover his talent at a time when art was disregarded? When Fielding was just twelve years old, his talent was spotted by artist Charlie Best.
Charlie Best and another artist, Goldie White sponsored Fielding to receive tutorship from Briggs Clarke, the art master at Harrison college, one of the most reputable secondary schools at the time in Barbados. After Fielding received this valuable tuition, he left school, got married and became a Marine Captain to support his eventual family of six.
“At the time art didn’t make enough money to support a family, so I had to take on a different career.”
Despite the demands of his regular job and large family (he had four children with his wife), he found time to carry out his passion and paint, and eventually it paid off.
The Barbados Government saw how he captured the essence of historical Barbados in his pieces and started to collect his work. Fielding eventually, in 1978, earned $5,400 for twelve of his paintings with which he bought the land he still lives on today. Currently, his paintings sell for around $1,400.
However, Fielding is very modest about his talents. When asked how he became famous he states:
“There were very few artists of my generation – most young men were playing cricket; however, I never had an eye for a fast moving ball so I spent all my time practicing my art.”
Of course, when you look at his work you can see it was more than hard work that got him world-wide recognition; he has a talent very few are blessed with, and uses the palette knife as if it is an extension of his own arm.
“I like the palette knife as it gives a thick, three-dimensional feeling. The subject matter of the old houses and buildings sort of lends itself to the knife, more than if I was using a brush.”
Fielding always painted outdoors, rather than in a studio, and was able to attract youngsters to the profession.
“Back in the 50’s there were three of us pioneers: Roger Moors, Hobbs and Fielding Babb, yours truly. We introduced art to the younger generations and now some young people live on the money they make from art.”
Today there are around 400 young artists on the island, tourism is the island’s main source of income and art is taught in primary schools – so in part thanks to the work of these pioneers things have really changed.
Fielding worked as a Marine Captain until the age of 55 and only now is he able to do art full time. He still paints breathtaking pictures and he now teaches also.
Fielding Babb’s advice to Barbadian artists is:
“Do not work for a lot of money – work for love and the money will follow. Get into the true essence of painting and only then will you get recognition.”
Author: Brett Callaghan