Caymanian artist Shane Aquart is redefining his craft.
Strolling through the National Gallery, you can get a broad sense of the Islands and how they have influenced artists born and based here over the past 40 years. Artwork plays on beach motifs, as well as the Caribbean lifestyle that developed during days of the Islands’ West Indian history. For Jamaican-born artist Shane Aquart (aka Dready), it was his vague childhood memories visiting his father in Cayman that inspired a show for the gallery’s permanent collection, titled Things That Exist Only in Fading Memory.
Aquart grew up in Jamaica with his mother and grandparents but would occasionally visit his father and stepmother in Cayman in the 1970s, weaving these distinct memories of areas from West Bay to North Side into his work. For the show, he crafted a panorama of old and new Cayman buildings, some that still exist, some that have already disappeared, creating an installation 119 feet long and 7 feet tall that sweeps around a single room. The response? One visitor called it “a room of happy.”
Although his father moved to Belize, Aquart was still drawn back to Cayman in 1994, marrying one year later and staying ever since. Spending more time here than anywhere else, Cayman can now be called home. But the artist still pulls on his mélange of Caribbean upbringing, English boarding school stints, Canadian high school years and U.S. college memories when developing his work and distinct alter ego-style doodles dubbed Dready.
With a style that’s both recognisable, approachable and decidedly Cayman-inspired, it’s no surprise Dready pops up in prominent places around the island, from the National Gallery to the new Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa on Seven Mile Beach. Cayman Airways Skies caught up with the artist to hear the story behind this beloved character and how Cayman captured and inspired his heart and style.
How did you create the concept for Dready?
Dready started as a doodle zooming around the margins of my to-do lists. One day at a conference, Paul Boxwell (now First Response Manager at Cayman FIRST) saw me doodling and said, ‘That would make a good T-shirt,’ and I began to explore the idea. Then in 2004 with the help of an ad agency, we worked together to fully develop the idea, the way Dready would be ‘framed,’ the colour palette, the skin tones, etc. I evolved the framing myself in the second generation, but all these things still exist in the art today.
How has this character and your own matured over time?
Dready started as stick figure characters for tourist art in Caribbean cliché scenes, and through time and commissions, began to evolve to include more fully developed characters, scenes and personalities. For me, I’ve gotten older, done more things, watched children grow, been divorced, lost people, fallen in love — same as everybody else.
How has your style evolved?
The basic style remains the same — strong, bold colours; an innate simplicity; mostly two-dimensional; the inclusion of red, yellow and green symbolism; certain Caribbean clichés (which might be hidden); and a specific skin tone for the characters. But I’ve become better at drawing, so even the stick figures that I still draw as part of the ‘pantheon’ seem more evolved.
When I first started out, I was working and would draw the ideas, the concepts, by hand and [other people] would transfer my sketches on to Illustrator for me. I would then work in Illustrator on the more basic colours and balance from there. Then around 2008 with a commission to draw the Freedom of Information Law guide booklet for the Cayman government, I began drawing all of Dready myself.
How would you describe the overall art scene and movement in the Cayman Islands?
There are some very, very cool and talented artists here, far more talented than I am, and their work has every possibility of lending a sophistication to people’s perception of the Island. When you see a Wray Banker, a David Bridgeman, a Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette, a Charles Long, you could be looking at artists at the top of their class anywhere in the world.
What places, flavours or sights in the Cayman Islands inspire you and your work most?
The same things that artists everywhere talk about: the colours, the light, the vibe, the people, the chickens. They’re all there in the art.
What are some of your must-visit recommendations?
There are so many gorgeous options for a first-world foodie in town. I can’t think of a bad meal around George Town, but things that are distinct and local for me include Heritage Kitchen’s fish fry in West Bay; Vivine’s Kitchen in the East End for local food with the best patio; and either Rum Point Club Restaurant or Kaibo, which can be so tranquil.
Little Cayman and the Southern Cross Club are not to be missed. It’s as if someone turned off a switch and chilled everything down a pace or two. Also, anywhere in North Sound. There’s an amazing body of water that’s variable in colour and tone. It’s truly unique, especially on a boat trip from the canals to the reef.
Author: Lane Nieset
Photographer: Martyn Poynor