AT 55, painter Luigi St. Omer is feeling young at heart again about his art.
The son of legendary painter, Sir Dunstan St. Omer, has been busy applying colourful brushstrokes to canvas as he, too, paints fresh coats on his life. His renewed passion for his pastime seems unbelievable, too.
From his modest Des Barras home, St. Omer is charting a new course for his art. Despite the large frames of some of the best paintings that crowd his home, he managed to invite me in to get some glimpses into his artsy life.
“My father never taught me to paint,” St. Omer was quick to tell me. “He taught my other siblings. I was always the one playing football and basketball, eventually representing Saint Lucia in football at the youth level and basketball at the senior level.”
During his teenage years, Luigi and his other siblings would accompany their father whenever he was paid to paint murals in churches. However, Sir Dunstan chose to go it alone on the famous mural at the Holy Family Church in Jacmel. Nevertheless, the overall experience of working alongside an artistic giant of a father left an indelible impression on Luigi.
“In addition to painting with him around the island, he taught us to appreciate the beauty of Saint Lucia,” St. Omer said.
St. Omer got a teaching job at St. Mary’s College in 1978 where he spent the next 23 years, during which time he received a scholarship to the Jamaica School of Art where his formal training as an artist began. After leaving JSA, he went to New York’s Art Students League before moving on to the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
“I was basically attending different schools so as to iron out my skills to see what level I was at,” St. Omer told me. “After that, I realized that the next stage was no more teaching for me.”
St. Omer said his father’s influence on his art came later in his life. While at art school in Jamaica, he encountered problems keeping up with the class. Still in his twenties back then, he came home during one Christmas season and told his father he was having some problems with manipulating colours.
“He took just a few seconds to explain to me how to overcome it,” St. Omer said. “From then on, his encouragement had an immense influence on my work. Right now, my main scale in painting is the manipulation of colours.”
Unlike his brothers, who also paint, Luigi said he broke away from the norm when it came to art. His father grew up in the traditional way of painting, too, not unlike the Renaissance greats. Not even his father or Derek Walcott could have convinced him otherwise.
“That’s how Derek and my father lived and painted. However, I just broke away because I was a radical,” the artist explained.
After spending some time in the United States painting murals in nightclubs and elsewhere, St. Omer returned to Saint Lucia about two years ago and took up residence at Des Barras, a serene community in Babonneau located about 45 minutes’ drive from the Choc gap.
Being away from the maddning crowd, St. Omer tells me, allows him to overcome previous demons and focus on his creative process while he enjoys a panoramic view of picturesque Grande Anse. He said Des Barras was the fresh start to overcoming a horrible chronic drinking problem that had made him very ill.
“The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me,” St. Omer recalled. “But I realized that the frustration stemmed from a bout of painter’s block whereby I was not able to paint. So I got this beautiful place at Des Barras and just isolated myself from everything else but painting. I’m away from alcohol and everything. All I do right now is paint and exhibit.”
St. Omer is a member of the Folkstone Art Society based in England, a non-profit organization made up of professional and amateur artists who hold exhibitions, lectures, open studios, workshops, outings and community projects. Each year, St. Omer participates in three exhibitions there. In fact, he returned home a few weeks ago proclaiming that the exhibitions there are the big breaks he has always needed for his work.
“This year, I got the President’s Choice Award, meaning the top place among the 71 artists at the exhibition,” St. Omer said. “This is just one avenue to market my works. I paint at home but market abroad. I exhibited some of my pieces from my new project, ‘The Crossing’”.
“The Crossing” is a collection St. Omer has been working on for some years now. The collection is a major undertaking that saw him painting 30 elaborate pieces depicting various aspects of Saint Lucia, including the inspiring journey to the island. On Wednesday, “The Crossing”, will be exhibited at Pigeon Island National Landmark as part of ARC-related activities.
“We have many yachties coming here for the end of the ARC race,” St. Omer told me. “These people are coming to see our cultural diversity and I felt it was the perfect opportunity to fill that need.”
Although he is known for having a similar sense of humour and laugh as his late father, I never anticipated those qualities would shine through when I asked him whether he had any advice for budding artists.
“Please stay away from painting,” St. Omer joked.