So this week’s interview has been such a treat for me! I first met Sallie when we visited Antigua a few years before we ventured to move here. Her gallery was recommended and it became one of the highlights of my visit to the island. Now it is my turn to share this gem of a spot with you and to introduce you to one of my favourite people (even more now after this glimpse into her creativity!).
She is at once outrageously inspiring, compassionate, engaging and utterly chic. Her genius sparkles through her paintings that glint with gold leaf. Inspiration is everywhere, surrounded by the rainforest and the colours and lines of the Caribbean etched onto wood and tile by the hand of someone in touch with the earth and the sky. It is my joy to introduce Sallie Harker.
Art is Sallie’s established lifestyle choice and you can see it everywhere – in her quintessential Caribbean art gallery and gardens which are a ‘must visit’ when in Antigua. The gallery has been open for 10 years now and is a premier destination for art, displaying not only her own pieces, but also those of other prominent Caribbean artists such as Naydene Gonella, Katie McConnachie, Petros Meaza and Carmen Miller. Her gallery has been described as ‘one of the sweetest galleries in the Caribbean’.
30 years after her initial arrival in Antigua, Sallie’s flair and style is evident throughout the stunning rainforest home she has created with her Antiguan husband Dasa Spencer, as a sanctuary in which their family and garden have grown and flourished.
Sallie studied sculpture at Art College in the UK before a sailing adventure found her growing roots in the West Indies and it is lucky for us all that she did. She is a longstanding and highly respected artist, not only in Antigua but also as far afield as China where she was invited to create a sculpture for the Changchun World Sculpture Park.
She now makes sculptures mostly on commission and they adorn properties in locations like Jumby Bay and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads.
Sallie says that she is always sketching and drawing people, every week, as much as possible. She describes it as ‘building a vocabulary of what’s in your head’.
As she talked with me about her well of inspiration, she describes how she enjoys “making things in 3D”. Her renowned sculpture commissions and her newly discovered love of ceramics are striking examples of this passion. There is a definite playful twinkle in her eye when she says that she is “always experimenting”. And now, there is a convergence of ideas where her sketches meet in 3D on ceramic tile.
In the gallery she displays paintings of birds, herons, pelicans, flamingos, cranes, in a uniquely Sallie Harker style.
I asked her, why birds? “I first got excited about painting birds when I watched a film in New Zealand called ‘Travelling Birds’ (more commonly known as the Academy Award nominated ‘Winged Migration’). It was about migratory birds and it seemed like such an epic journey. The filming was done up there with the birds and it showed a different perspective of them”.
Ï gaze at her paintings with new eyes and see Sallie’s shimmering look at life from the soaring perspective of a bird.
Let’s meet her:
You are not originally from Antigua, can you tell me what brought you to Antigua, how long ago it was and what made you stay here?
I sailed to Antigua in 1987. Originally, I had no plans to settle in Antigua but sometimes fate takes control and I am still here.
Can you tell me a little about your art, and the mediums and materials that you use?
I enjoy experimenting with different mediums and will try any new medium when I get the chance however I am most well known for my sculptures which are made of wood, metal and other natural materials and also for the paintings on wooden shingles which are painted in oil paint and incorporate gold leaf. Recently I have been experimenting with woodcut printmaking and ceramics.
How would you describe your work?
My work is always changing and evolving, I would say that I am blessed with a constant flow of ideas. I have to decide which ones I can realistically process. It is always a surprise to me to see what is going to happen next and one thing leads on to the another.
Did art play a big part in your childhood?
Yes, my mother is an artist.
Your work has a very distinctive style, how has that evolved and been refined over time?
The starting point for me is always drawing, I will draw anything or anyone that I find interesting, I try to draw as accurately as possible. The more you draw the more confident and fluid the work becomes.
Have you got a favourite piece or pieces?
My favourite piece is usually the one I am working on at the moment.
Your Gallery, Fig Tree Studio, feels like a divine sanctuary to me! It is not just art but a harmonious balance with nature also. Can you describe this place and how your journey with this property has come about?
I am humbled by the garden and recognize through close observation that nature is far superior and sophisticated than human beings. I absolutely love to plant new and exciting trees and flowers and see them flourish. I am interested in plant science and have learnt a lot about permaculture techniques from other people that have come to work in the garden. Watching the garden change through the seasons is a constant source of wonder.
What has been your greatest achievement so far and what dreams have you in the future?
I don’t have any great achievements and in the future, I hope to work more on collaborative projects in different parts of the world.
Where do you look for inspiration in Antigua?
I don’t look for inspiration, it finds me.
How does your daily work flow look? Do you have a routine that helps you to keep inspired?
I have more of a problem with too much inspiration and there are never enough hours in the day to do all that I would like to.
How would a Sunday morning look in your house?
Pancakes followed by painting, pottering around in the garden and maybe a hike in the forest.
Sallie Harker’s gallery Fig Tree Studio is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm from November until June.
Photos and interview by Jennifer Ritchie, documenting life in Antigua in words and photographs, copyright 2017.