THE COMPLETE XAVIER
The book on St. Lucian artist Llewellyn Xavier, OBE is about to
be written. The author, Edward Lucie-Smith, is a world renowned art
historian. Commissioned by the British publishing house, Macmillan,
edited and photographed by Jenny Palmer author of St Lucia Portrait
of an Island - the coffee table edition is part of a series on leading Caribbean artists. Xavier’s immense body of work, spanning his 40-year career will be featured
along with two hundred colour plates.
Compiling the book has been a revelation for Xavier. He located his
early works in private collections in order to photograph them for
inclusion in the book. The retrospective allowed him to rediscover the
young man that he left behind in the 1960’s.
In 1963 Xavier began to paint.He was given a box of paints by
someone he shared a flat with in Barbados and started to experiment
One of his early works Boats in Harbour was done with a palette knife
to create surfaces textured with heavy impasto. At this time he painted
a series of hurricanes in oils and flower still life.
“I was naïve and saw only the beauty of the Caribbean,” says
Xavier. “I painted light and colour.” He then moved to London in the
1970’s and encountered discrimination for the first time which filled
him with a combination of “rage and extreme sadness.” In his search for
expression, he took up the cause of George Jackson, an Afro-American
doing a life sentence in a United States prison for a minor offence. He
had been brutally beaten in jail was and eventually killed for
allegedly trying to escape. This cause celebre became Xavier’s protest
In 1971, he wrote to George Jackson. The letters, along with the
prison censor stamps became part of a new work. He also wrote to Jean
Genet, Peter Hain, James Baldwin and John Lennon concerning the plight
of Jackson, their reactions were included in the work.
The George Jackson, Soledad brother series, launched Xavier
internationally. With it, he created a contributory art form called
Mail Art. In a year long exhibition entitled Back to Black which
opened in June 2005 at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, the Jackson series
is still getting excellent reviews.
“In his work Xavier manages to combine his struggle to bring the case
to the public's attention and the horrific nature of Jackson's
imprisonment. The end result is that the artist's political struggle
emerges as both an act of brilliant polemic and challenging
aestheticism,” writes Larry Herman in the New Statesman.
Works followed on the life of Paul Robeson and another on Race and
Sex. Llewellyn Xavier then moved to Canada. He produced a work
entitled the Nightlife of Toronto, Howard University in Washington DC
acquired the collection.
After a period at the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and
the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design he entered a monastery for a
year. However he decided that this was not the life for him and
returned to his art. Shortly afterwards he married Christina a close
friend and soul mate whom he had previously met in St Lucia.
A monumental environmental work followed. “Global Council for
Restoration of the Earth’s Environment”, made entirely of recycled
elements and with contributions by some of the world’s most important
ecologists and environmental organizations - Professor David Bellamy,
Sir Chris Bonington, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Council
for Bird Preservation, the Rainforest Trust and the St. Lucia National
Trust. Works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institute and the American Museum of
Environment Fragile is another series with a preservationist
The work is made entirely from recycled cardboard, ends of commercial
paint and embedded with shards of 24 carat gold. The cardboard
represents the earth and the millions of trees that have been grounded
into dust for commercial purposes. The ends of paint represent the
finality of earth’s resources and the gold represents the preciousness
of our environment.
A series of the work will become stamps to be released early 2006. In
October 2004, Llewellyn Xavier was awarded the OBE by Her Majesty the
Queen at Buckingham Palace for his contribution to art.
Today Llewellyn Xavier is working on an immense series of
watercolours, experimenting with the medium to produce extraordinary
images and textures.
He distills the paint, discards the additives and retains only the
pure pigment. He gets to a place “where there is the greatest clarity,
intensity of colour and free form.”
Dr. Gloria Gordon, art historian says: “The brilliant palette of
Llewellyn Xavier’s watercolours speaks of the natural beauty of the
Caribbean environment. Horizontal bands of pure hue flow across the
paper to capture the grandeur of St Lucia’s famous volcanic mountains,
the Gros Piton and Petit Piton. At the lowermost margin of the work,
hot yellow bleeds into alizarin crimson, orange and pale yellow,
establishing mountainous shapes silhouetted against pale violet and
deep blue skies above. One could say that the Gros Piton and Petit
Piton are to Xavier what Mont Sainte-Victoire in Aix-en-Provence were
to Cezanne, a source of profound inspiration.”
According to Edward Lucie-Smith, author of the book on Xavier, these
watercolours are among the finest work that Xavier has produced.
Llewellyn Xavier has come full circle. He has rediscovered a state of
innocence that he thought was long gone. His conversion to
Christianity, he believes, is the source of his new inspiration. There
is indeed a new found peace in his work.