Folklore Artist (1913 - 1971)
After a text by artist Holly Gayadeen, friend and fervent supporter of the work of Alfred Codallo, published by the author in 1983.
Holly Gayadeen's first vocation was to become a teacher, and underwent training for this profession in Trinidad and in England. But his true calling was to be an artist. Throughout his long career, Gayadeen always combined the two, expressing himself in various media such as painting and ceramics, and at the same time teaching visual arts, crafts and design. His special interest in art education as well as local folklore manifests itself strongly in his book "Alfredo Codallo - Artist and Folklorist", which Gayadeen published in 1983.
Codallo's folklore drawings are special in several ways. Firstly, they were done for the world of communications in an era when advertising agencies didn't even exist yet. Hand Arnold and Fernandes Distillers were the two companies who commissioned Codallo's pictures for their advertising campaigns in local newspapers. Illustrating the usage of flour and rum, Codallo managed to capture life in the streets, back yards, shops and homes of Trinidad.
"Honesty, acceptance and a penetrating vision of one who lived a full life with the people and for the people" - this is how Gayadeen characterises Codallo's work. Much like somebody with a benevolent camera, Codallo managed to capture everyday life of the 'simple people', their chores, their surroundings, even their hopes and their fears.
His work is contemporaneous with other artists, who, as Gayadeen puts it, "struggled relentlessly in their artistic pursuits to record for posterity the people, places, folklore and festivals of Trinidad and Tobago": M.P. Alladin, Sybil Atteck, Leo Basso, Dominic Isaac and, in the performing arts, Beryl McBurnie and Thora Dumbell to name but a few. "Even at that period, there was no particular trend or school of painting. Each artist developed his own personalised style and pursued a particular direction. Despite this, as it is even so today, the Caribbean idiom and images are easily recognisable in the art productions of our artists whose works have found themselves in collections locally and abroad," writes Gayadeen.
In 1962, Alfred Codallo wrote about himself: "Through art, I wish to speak in a language that all should understand. A language of beauty - unspoilt by confounding 'isms', yet rich with common understanding and native pride. In my self-imposed job of preserving the folklore way of life, dances, land, river and sea scapes of my country, I am trying to establish a link with our past in the most comprehensive way I know."
Codallo grew up in a generation that felt oppressed by what would be the last decades of colonial government. After the First World War, the mentality of Trinidadians changed: having shared the common experience of the trenches with "white" soldiers, the stereotypes of race and class started to soften up. However, the economy didn't flourish, and poverty amongst black people was as dire as ever in the 1930s, when Codallo would have been in his prime.
"He was a simple man who always seemed to have preferred the informality and unpretentious atmosphere of genuine camaraderie. It was easy to converse with him and his views were generally pointed, serious and sometimes colourfully expressed," writes Gayadeen. Like Gayadeen himself, Codallo was an art teacher, who never had any qualms about imparting his knowledge and skills to those who came to him.
Self-educated, Codallo had little interest in the artistic approaches of impressionism, Fauvism, Dadaism or expressionism. "Codallo's works reflect that quality of superb realism," writes Gayadeen. "He gave visible forms to his concepts of the several folkloric themes, traditional cultural patterns and the environment."
Codallo's subjects were drawn from the Afro-Creole segment of Trinidad's society. His own ethnic background was not from this matrix per se: his father was from Venezuela, his mother was of East Indian descent. Having been born in Arima and grown up in Port of Spain, Codallo grew up as a good 'mixer' full of joie-de-vivre, as Gayadeen describes him.
"Codallo was keenly aware of the fact that West Indian folklore has a rich heritage and that legends surrounding the mythical characters of La Diablesse - the female devil, Soucouyants, Douens etc., never fail to stir the imagination. It was Alf himself who gave the name of Paul Carr Landeau (Poluycar) as a man who delighted in telling stories in the open air of Tamarind Square in Port of Spain, wherever he happened to be away from his occupation of a shipwright."
The Trinidad Publishing Company noticed Codallo's talents and employed him as commercial artist, photographer, photo-engraver and lithographic artist. Codallo drew for advertising: the "Spirit of Trinidad" festival and folklore series was created for Fernandes Vat 19 and the village life series to advertise flour.
In many cases, Cadallo's drawings of these two series are the only visual representations of what many Trinidadians feel to be the 'good old days'. Especially the older generation seems to have known characters who looked 'just like that' - the Portuguese shopkeeper, the impoverished French Creole man who uses the back door, the ancient cello player in a parang band. Codallo managed to capture the essence of the role in the character, which has, many decades later, become a blueprint for our communal memory.
"He had been an introspective artist of visionary ideas," writes Gayadeen. "His creations have a metaphysical and mythological concept, each one showing a genuine power of characterisation."
Alfred Codallo passed away at the young age of 58 years, leaving us with many images of life long ago, and the memory of himself as an artist of distinction.