The Future Files: Brad Pinnock

Brad Pinnock – Stupid Box, 2022, video installation, at New Local Space, Kingston

This new series puts the spotlight on the exciting young artists who have emerged in Jamaica in recent years, many of them as graduates of the Edna Manley College. The features will be based on studio visits (virtual and actual) and interviews, and will seek to offer insight into their work and its context, but also into their concerns, aspirations and needs as emerging artists.

Brad Pinnock

Brad Pinnock was born in Kingston in 1998 and graduated from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 2021 with a BFA in Painting. His exhibitions include his first solo show Teacher, Nuh Teach Me Nuh Nonsense (2022) at New Local Space (NLS), and the group exhibitions And I Resumed The Struggle (2021), Olympia Gallery, and INSITU II (2021), Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, all in Kingston, Jamaica. Pinnock typically produces large, immersive installations, some of them in outdoor settings, that combine fabricated elements, transformed found objects, and collaged elements, and interact with the architectural setting. In these works, he delves into some of the key existential questions in contemporary life, combining autobiographic reflections and broader considerations. More specifically, he talks about the predicaments faced by postcolonial societies, and particularly the issue of indoctrination, and the insidious and self-defeating ways in which this has worked its way into the psyches and cultural practices of the formerly colonized.

Brad Pinnock at NLS, 2022

Here are some (lightly edited) excerpts of the extended interviews we had on April 29 and 30, 2023:

VP: Why did you choose to become an artist?

BP: My first real introduction to doing art, and thinking about taking up art as a career was really at Edna. Before Edna, I didn’t really do much art beyond what I had to do at school, although I had done some graphic design.

I had a preconceived notion, coming into Edna that being an artist, and having the abilities the artists need, was something innate. I thought it was a talent that only a “chosen few” were born to, and not something that could be taught. Originally, I had come to Edna to study graphic design. Learning to draw and paint, which was a requirement, was a deterrent at first. After finding that out in my interview, I changed my mind about enrolling in the College and decided I would continue working as a graphic designer. The dates came for the drawing exams and I skipped them both.

A few weeks later I was surprised to receive an email with my letter of acceptance, which I ignored, thinking it must have been a mistake. Either way I had already made up my mind. It was not until I received the hard copy in the mail that I thought this must be some divine revelation, and after some hard thinking I decided I was going to give it a try. Going through that process, it opened my eyes, especially after realizing many of the other students who I thought were experts could not draw as well. They were learning like myself. I soon became interested in art not only as means of understanding self, but also as an intellectual tool in contemplating epistemic ideas and its power in shaping the world around.

Brad Pinnock – The Engineering of Consent: A Democratic Paradox, 2021, mixed media installation, at the Edna Manley College (final year project)

VP: So you did not see graphic design as art initially? Has that changed?

BP: No, I do see it as a form of art. But how it is taught at Edna, it is not approached or encouraged as an artistic practice. It is taught as a commercial, client-oriented practice, and not as something that is used to speak about other issues. But graphic design definitely can be an artistic medium, and I still fall back on some graphic design skills, such as photo-editing and digital collage, to produce my work.

VP: Several well-known contemporary Jamaican artists have come through out of the Visual Communication (Graphic Design) department, such as Leasho Johnson and Matthew McCarthy, and earlier on, Eugene Hyde. Why do you think that continues to happen?

BP: I think maybe those artists feel that they may have more to say than what is possible in the graphic design industry. But the majority goes into corporate directions.

Brad Pinnock – I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Jesus was following with him.” (The Engineering of Consent: A Democratic Paradox Series), 2022, mixed media installation, at New Local Space, Kingston

VP: What was the experience like of being a student at the EMC? How did studying there shape your artistic outlook?

BP: Edna was the genesis of my artistic career, and my thinking about art. It is also a place where I have come to know myself more, and have come to learn about myself, through the studio practice, the community, and the critiques. It is a privileged experience to go there. It may not have the best infrastructure and so forth, but I think it is one of the best tertiary institutions in the country. The level of intellectual thought that is happening there, particularly in the Visual arts department, I don’t see that happening anywhere else in the country.

Edna really taught me how to think, even more so than the technical aspects of my work, it taught me how to think about my artistic practice. For instance, the level of questions that you get asked when consulting with a lecturer, and the community around me, all that was very important to me. The same ideas and principles continue to guide my practice today, even though I am no longer part of that community and work independently, so Edna has really been influential for me.

VP: As a past lecturer and as one who has done research on the history of the College and its antecedents, it always seems to me that the strongest artists come out of those years when you have strong cohorts of students, when there is a strong sense of community. How did your fellow students influence your trajectory?

BP: That was very important. There was a lot of friendly competition and encouragement, with fellow students. We pushed each other and created more ambitious work as a result. Having a community there and discussing and thinking about the work was, I think, very beneficial for us.

Because of the pandemic, and the curfews, my group got to stay over at night at the College probably more than any other group. We were practically living in the studios, and with our work, so we spent a lot of time together, almost like a family.

VP: Your final year project was one of the most ambitious yet shown at the EMC, in terms of scope, size and conceptual depth. Tell us about this work.

My final year project, The Engineering of Consent: A Democratic Paradox (2021), sprung from my interest in the different sides of human nature, the emotional side and the thinking side. I noticed in myself that one side was inclined to move towards progress and achieving my goals, and one side which was, slacking off at points. I used the metaphor of the horse and rider to speak about the emotional and thinking sides of human nature: looking at the horse as the metaphor for the powerful emotions and passions that can drive us, and the rider as the thinking one, who guides the horse in its desired direction. The horse is more powerful than the rider, similar to emotions, which can be more powerful than our thinking side. We tend to be led by our emotions and desires, many times, and this can lead us to be easily manipulated. The gambling industry is one area of the society where this is quite prevalent. Using various materials from local betting shops I am able to speak about instant gratification and the politics of Jamaica. The work itself was an interdisciplinary installation which drew upon different languages, such as architecture, sculpture, painting, and the idea of the theatrical.

Brad Pinnock – The Engineering of Consent: A Democratic Paradox, 2021, mixed media installation, at the Edna Manley College (final year project)

VP: What have you done since leaving Edna, artistically? Please tell us about the exhibitions you have participated in and your residency at NLS?

BP: Since I left school, I have participated in two exhibitions, the first being And I Resumed the Struggle (2021), a group exhibition at the Olympia gallery, and the second was my first solo exhibition. Teacher Nuh Teach me Nuh Nonsense (2022), as part of my residency at NLS.

The Olympia exhibition was my first-time creating work outside of Edna. I originally wanted to create something of a similar scale as my final year project, but because of practical limitations, I had to work on a smaller scale. This was ultimately beneficial, however, as it allowed me to slow down and focus for a longer time on one piece, as it gave me more time to make decisions and to try out different possibilities. The resulting installation, Race Apocalypse (2021), consisted of a mixed media collage and a chair, as a spin-off from my final year project but with a stronger focus on how the horse and rider theme reflect the Black condition, living under the continued effects of coloniality.

Brad Pinnock – Race Apocalypse, 2021, mixed media collage on paper, wooden chair, in And I Resumed he Struggle, Olympia Art Gallery

I explored these themes further in my solo exhibition at NLS, but with greater consideration of Black people’s psychological struggles. I continued to elaborate on the horse and rider metaphor, also considering how black people have been sold, exploited, bred and conditioned, like horses, and the various atrocities that have befallen the Black masses both past and present.

As part of the installation, I wanted to further explore the symbolism of the chair to speak to the human predicament, however, I wanted  these to have a more relaxed posture than the first one I created. With this in mind I was able to find three lounge chairs that I could use to create the work. Uncle Tom’s Chair (2022) speaks about the deceptive nature of comfort and silence leading to Black passivity and the failure of Black people to unify. Adding the barbed wire, which can inflict severe pain and harm, and which is used to separate and exclude people, is an ironic twist on the notion of comfort, and alludes to the precarious situation black people are in.

The two oval, achromatic collages that accompanied this chair in the exhibition were the last works I produced during my residency. In these works, I was looking at the seventies and eighties in Jamaica, the period when Manley and Seaga were in power. It was a very turbulent period, with the issues with the IMF and the CIA-led destabilization of the country, in which Seaga played an active role, the disruption of various Black nationalist groups, and then the Grenada invasion, so it was happening throughout the region. Manley had pursued Democratic Socialism which favored the black majority, which I believe was good and necessary for the country at that time. If only he had the will and self-determination to continue the program, maybe he wouldn’t have been subdued by the American neoliberal policymakers, and the black masses of Jamaica would have been in a much better position today. The images in these collages refer to these events and draw connections between the despotic leadership of Seaga and that of the current Andrew Holness led Government, while the text elements speak to the idea of chance and black people’s gamble for survival. These things happened before I was born, yet they continue to influence where we are today. Hence, history is the present.

Brad Pinnock – Uncle Toms’ Chairs, 2022, Metal chairs, Barbed wire, at New Local Space, Kingston

VP: Your website tells us that your work “investigates the human predicament, particularly as it relates to black people’s psychological struggles and the gamble of living under the continued effects of coloniality”. Indoctrination seems to be an important theme in your work. How can art help to challenge colonial/neo-colonial indoctrination?

BP: Art or culture overall has actually played a major role in shaping the way black people perceive themselves currently. Images are used to distort and confuse people 24/7, also in the media and even in the churches. A lot of our churches still have the image of the white Jesus, so even the way we view the Creator echoes the colonial master, which reinforces the sense of inferiority in the black masses. I view the art that I produce as a weapon, as a sort of counteraction to this imperialist propaganda, I turn this around in hopes to bring about some equitable changes for black people and to influence how they see themselves.

Brad Pinnock – The Spyaga New Clothes: From The White Swindlers Series, 2022, mixed media collage on paper, at New Local Space, Kingston

VP: Many of your works are mixed media installations, that interact actively with the surrounding architecture and environment. What attracts you to this format and what do you seek to convey with it?

BP: With this format, people can fully engage with the work as it allows for bodies and objects to traverse the three dimensional space in ways that both complement or disrupt the work. In other words, they become like tableaux vivants.

Responding to the architecture, and incorporating it into the work, helps me to draw relationships between power, spatiality, the monumental, and the spectacle, and the way this impacts on people’s consciousness. I was actually looking at the film footage of the Nuremberg Rallies such as Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, and the role of art in Nazi Germany. The monumental size of Nazi propaganda art and the power of art to appeal to the emotional contributed greatly to its impact.

Brad Pinnock – Quattie Bread Full Monkey Belly (Patterns and Conditions Series), 2022, mixed media collage on paper, at New Local Space, Kingston

VP: Your collages visually remind us of quilts and patchwork, which has a long (gendered) history in black vernacular culture. Is this relevant to your work? Tell us about the significance of pattern, colour and repetition in your work.

BP: I would like to think that my work relates to that tradition, by default, although it was not something I was consciously pursuing at the time. People have also told me that the collages remind them of madras fabric.

The pattern started from putting together the betting slips, and it was interesting to see how the material created that pattern. I am also interested in how collaging texts creates patterns, and the resulting tensions between pattern and text.

The formal repetition also invokes the repetitiveness of the behaviour, to addiction, and to how one is manipulated into a certain pattern of behaviour. I use “ice cream colours”. Such colours are deliberately used in marketing as a cue, for instance on betting slips, to lure and attract people. Colours can be used to indoctrinate people. I used achromatic colours on the two oval collages to draw more specific attention to the images and the content of those works.

Music is also important to my work. Music is very powerful in terms of the messages it can convey. The great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who I referenced in the title of my solo exhibition, was very vocal about issues of decolonization and social and political critique. I try to embody that same spirit of fearlessness, truth and justice in my work.

Brad Pinnock – Untitled (Patterns and Conditions Series), 2022, mixed media collage on paper, at New Local Space, Kingston

VP: Do you think that there is enough support for young artists and contemporary art in Jamaica and, if not, what would you like to see changed?

BP: No, I don’t think there is enough support. NLS is the only local organization that offers residences and other such support to young artists. Not a lot is happening in terms of gallery shows and exhibitions either, although that has improved a bit since Covid. Artists in Jamaica and the diaspora have to be resourceful and be able to play multiple roles, for instance by organizing their own exhibitions and making sure that what they do also helps others.

VP: Who are the artists who most inspire you and why?

BP: My lecturers at Edna are among the first artists I got to know, and they have had a great impact on my work, even up to now, particularly Phillip Thomas, Omari S Ra, and Greg Bailey. I also like how the South African artist Willie Bester uses found objects and collage, creating assemblages and integrating them with paint, as a way to fight against apartheid. His Horse Apocalypse (2017) was one of my references when I was making the horses. And the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, because of the way he uses found objects and creates elaborately patterned sculptures that are, as such, flat forms but can be shaped in different ways, which is quite a revolutionary approach to sculpture in my opinion. K. Khalfani Ra and African American artist Melvin Edwards are also major inspirations to my practice.

This feature was originally published in two parts in the Monitor Tribune of May 14 and 21, 2023. It is reproduced here with a few sections that were then left out, for the sake of length, put back in. All photos and the video are courtesy of the Artist, all rights reserved.

Brad Pinnock – Everyday Is A Gamble, With The Odds Stacked Against Us, 2022, mixed media collage on paper, at New Local Space, Kingston

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