How art shone through the dark
As De’Javon Paynter would likely tell you, there is an upside to nearly everything.
In 2008, he was caught at New York’s JFK International Airport with two litres of cocaine he intended to bring into Bermuda, and jailed for two years.
“It was a bad decision,” De’Javon said. “My life drastically changed and I had to grow up really fast, but at Metropolitan Detention Centre, Brooklyn, I met a street artist.”
Although he had “doodled a bit”, the foil figures he made as a child were more his thing.
“I was really good with my hands,” he said. “When I was in school, I had a hard time learning by listening or reading. Even when I was looking at something, I didn’t really learn. I had to involve my hands.”
As such, the tutelage from his cellmate meant something when combined with the box of “five basic colours” of crayons the jail handed out.
“He showed me how to chop them up and make skin tones and blend them,” said De’Javon, who took the instruction on board, but initially did little with it after his 2010 release.
“It takes a toll on you mentally and physically. I ran wild for a little bit, but then I got my life back.”
Friends Carlos Santana Dill and Neal Jay were part of a group painting at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and pressured him to show what he could do.
“I came out of prison kind of insecure about my growth in prison. I was just trying to blend in and didn’t really push what I gained while I was away until they sat me down and sat next to me and talked me through painting a whole picture. They said: ‘We know you do art, you should paint’.
“I was reluctant at first but then I had a shot of tequila and Superman came out.
“I sat there and painted and it came out pretty good.”
He gave that first piece to his mother, Roslyn Cure, after modelling in one of the City of Hamilton’s fashion festivals.
“She was at a loss for words,” said De’Javon, now a bartender at Marcus’ restaurant.
“That painting pretty much started it for me. I got a lot of positive feedback from there.
“I paint for myself. It’s an emotional thing. I’m not good at verbalising things — I feel a lot of men are like that here — and it gave me an outlet.
“I accept commissions but, mostly, this is just a release for me. My work is very personal. If someone buys it [they’re getting] either an experience I’ve been through or feelings I can’t verbalise any other way.”
It is for that reason that landscapes and portraits will never be his chosen subjects.
“I need a story: where did it come from? What’s happened? At first I didn’t ... I wouldn’t show my work. Now I’ve started to open up more.”
Armed with new self-assurance, he shared that he was an artist at a chance meeting with Flora Goodall, Masterworks’ special exhibitions and events co-ordinator.
Out of that came an invitation to be a part of the gallery’s 441 exhibit, which is under way.
“This is a whole new level of confidence for me,” the 32-year-old said.
“I’ve taken a lot of negative feedback about my art and I put my whole heart into it — the feedback caused me to paint more.
“I was upset, so I painted that. If I tried to tell you what was wrong, I would stutter. I can’t talk, I’m not good at it, so I just paint.”
An acrylic based on Psalm 23 is an example of how he uses his “life experiences” to create.
“When you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, your ancestors are there; you shouldn’t fear evil. They have your back.
“I was in a really dark place and am now learning to become my own light no matter how other people see me. [Psalm 23 is] a painting in a painting. To fully understand it, you need to see it from a certain light, a certain angle.
“Me looking at myself, there are certain things I see on the surface but sometimes you’ve got to look a little bit deeper than that.”
• 441: 4 Artists, 4 Styles, 1 Show runs until February 21 at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Follow De’Javon Paynter on Instagram, @Daedreamertheartist, and Facebook, Dejavon Paynters Art
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