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A private eye made public

Sunday, June 8, 2014
Rhythm Rite, by Evans Thorne. Photos: Marsha Pearce

An art collection, says artist John Newman in the 2014 documentary Generosity of Eye, “is a form of expression, almost like an artwork in itself.” Here in T&T, Newman’s words become relevant in the context of the latest exhibition at 101 Art Gallery. Local architect Robert Las Heras will show over 80 works by T&T artists from his collection, which he began building in the late 1970s. What he offers is a collector’s personal visual expression that is itself a mighty work of art. Over the years, Las Heras’ eye has guided his selection of paintings, sculpture, ceramics and other works, which have been mounted at his home. It is this particular eye that he now makes public with the upcoming exhibition. 


Diverse collection
The collection includes, among others, art by Pat Bishop, MP Alladin, Carlisle Chang, Peter Minshall, Vera Baney, Ken Crichlow, Luise Kimme, Sybil Atteck, Lisa Chu Foon, Jackie Hinkson, Edward Bowen, LeRoy Clarke, Boscoe Holder and Sonnylal Rambissoon. The first piece he bought in Trinidad was Rhythm Rite by Evans Thorne. The work depicts a row of stylised human figures that pulsate with a repetition of colours and shapes. “I walked into the Royal Victoria Institute. I had never heard of the artist and I had never seen anything like it anywhere else. I looked at the art and I remember thinking of the folk traditions that were coming into their own because of Best Village and I thought, ‘This work is real,’” he said. His second purchase was a pastoral scene by Embah. “Embah has an extraordinary instinct for the mystical. His pictures are deeply moving,” he said. 


‘If you like it, you buy it’ Las Heras would continue to assemble 
body of art based on an uncomplicated criterion. His nephew once asked him for advice on how to buy art. He responded: “You like it, buy it. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. ”If you have any thoughts about acquisition, assets and investment, then you’re not really into what art is.” For Las Heras, who was mentored by MP Alladin, tutored by Carlisle Chang and received his training in architecture from Hammersmith College of Art and Building in London, art is that which brings people into contact with ineffable and unconscious parts of themselves and the world. 
“Art is a very small word but it is a huge thing—very difficult to deal with in words alone. Artworks are illuminations of Being, with a capital ‘B.’ Art informs you of areas of knowledge that perhaps you would have no access to before. 


“So if you are serious you allow it to tell you something. Sometimes what you hear is not what the artist says but what the art says.” He has been listening intently to what artists and art are saying in T&T, with his ear attuned to a voice that whispers beneath technical approaches to image-making, in some instances, or speaks louder than skills with a brush, pen or clay. 
“Let’s not confuse art with craft. Craft is craft. Art is art,” he said. The range of works he has amassed offers different perspectives and opportunities for rich communication. It is this understanding of art’s capacity to foster discourse and expand consciousness that has motivated his impulse to collect art and make varied selections. “I wish to enter into dialogue with as wide a horizon as I can,” he said.


Images from violence to joy
The exhibition is a grand visual conversation, with images speaking to the viewer and to each other. For example, Ralph Baney’s Slain Rebels tells of resistance, violence, struggle and loss but thunders with a strength that is echoed in Pat Bishop’s Ten Thousand Flowers, which explodes with aggressive joy and hope. The two pieces are portals into opposite ends of a spectrum of immense human emotion but together they underscore an unremitting energy blazing within each individual. If the artworks in the collection have served as interlocutors, keeping Las Heras in sustained dialogues with them, then why sell the pieces? “I am an old man,” said Las Heras, who is now 71. These works are a huge responsibility. They require looking after. We don’t know what we have here in T&T. We need to find out. If you have to pay for it, chances are you will look after it.”


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