For the love of art [Leonard Bascom]
By June Bailey Van-Keric
Guyana Chronicle
March 7, 2004

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'Art has a lot of depth; the more you become involved in it. The deeper the relations will be'. - Artist Leonard Bascom

HE IS not an internationally renowned artist, nor has he any formal training in art, but his pieces have adorned palaces and homes of Presidents and world champions.

"Art is my life. I put so much into it. If I should live this life again, I will do art," he said softly, as he glanced at photographs of some of his solid work and plaques.

I was fortunate to meet Mr. Leonard Bascom, an artist with a difference, during an assignment in Rose Hall Town, Corentyne earlier this month.

Over the past months, I had seen some of his pieces being presented to former Ambassadors and United Nations representatives among others, who had graced the St. Xaviers Community Developers, also of the Lower Corentyne Township, and had yearned to know the artist behind the carvings. So, when we finally met, I grasped the opportunity to do an interview and highlight his work to our readers.

"Art has a lot of depth, the more you become involved in it", he says, "the deeper the relations will be".

"What I am really doing now is plaques. I have switched from solids, which is not easily marketable, but is time consuming, and the price for it when completed, is not lucrative," he said.

Two of Bascom's pieces.

As to how long it takes to complete a plaque, he said that apart from divine inspiration, it takes two days.

"You see, sometimes after a good sleep an idea is birthed, or sometimes from reading a book," as was the case when he sculpted Terry Fox, now deceased Canadian who was stricken with cancer.

"There was no special reason for me to have sculpted Fox, except that I was drawn to the agony of pain displayed in the magazine," he said, while remarking that each sculpted solid work, is the only one of its kind as he does not mass produce.

Explaining, he said, "the urge you have to sculpt an object, will be built to a peak, but it then breaks, and it's hard to retrieve the spirit then. When I finish with the pains, I don't return to it."

His use of wood, such as cedar, 'Sumunita', 'Dolcalli', 'Cruda', and 'Drift Wood', which designed the plaque 'Mountain Climber' presented to Prince Edwards during his visit last year, shows that wood must not be wasted as even the tiniest piece can be used, referring to pieces of Mahogany found along Republic Road, New Amsterdam.

He recalled producing two pieces for the National Art Exhibition in Georgetown, in 1971, but left crestfallen after not gaining a prize. However, he returned the following year with 'Building a Nation', which was the only carving submitted by a Guyanese during the Carifesta celebrations here. The art was bought for a princely sum of $500.

In 1973, his piece 'Preservation of Life' copped the newcomer award at the national competition, and was bought by a private individual for $75.
"Afterwards, I did not return to national exhibition. I broke off and did commercial art which was bought by the late President Desmond Hoyte for Sate visits," he said.

President Bharrat Jagdeo has also been given one of my pieces, 'Amerindian Mask'.

"I am concentrating on the Amerindians, as other artists would not do much work on them."

As to why he is designing the first people's mask, he said, 'it came through inspiration after seeing masks form other ethnic groups, and thought of doing the same for the Amerindians by adding strong colours, such as royal blue, and aquamarine."

Revealing a bit of himself, he said, he attended Roman's Boy School, in New Amsterdam, where his love for art sparked, as he traced other Guyanese artist, Winston Strick's work.

Bascom is the father of three children. His eldest son, Shawn, is also a self-taught artist, who carves animals and birds.

"I love art, since my youth, but life as an artist is not easy. Sometimes it's better to vend in the town's market, but love keeps me in the business," Bosom said.

"Sometimes I produce sculpted pieces, and because of the efforts involved, I want to keep... or hold on to it, but because of financial constraints, I have to let it go".

He said, after doing memorable pieces like 'Building of a Nation', 'Preservation of Life', 'Revolution', 'Freedom', he had wanted to continue carving pieces, but he encountered some hardships and had to "let go".

However, he is appealing to the Ministry of Culture, to reintroduce regular competitions and exhibitions for artists so that their work can be highlighted also. He is pleading with the Government or relevant authorities to allow artists to access grants, as many times they can ill afford to keep choice pieces.