Tate Britain exhibits artwork by Oxford artist

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An artist who spent his youth in Oxford after leaving the Caribbean had his work included in an exhibition at Tate Britain.

A number of pieces by Barbados-born artist and educator Paul Dash are featured in the Tate Britain exhibition Life Between Islands: Caribbean – British Art 1950s – Now.

The ‘Historical’ exhibition explores the work of Caribbean artists who have made Britain their home, alongside other British artists whose work has been influenced and inspired by Caribbean themes and heritage.

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Mr Dash left Bridgetown in 1957 when he was 11 and joined his parents, who had already emigrated two years earlier, to the town.

He described the inclusion of his work in the exhibition as an “incredible experience” and “absolutely breathtaking”.

He is 75, who now lives in London, said: ‘There is a self-portrait of me which is truly celebrated as one of the most important works of art produced by a black artist until the advent of the black art movement. In the 1980’s.”

Self-Portrait (1979) by Paul Dash

Despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, he feels that in terms of artwork, the past year has been “transformational” and the “best year” of his life so far.

Along with the purchase of two of his paintings by the Tate, he was also approached by a number of other galleries interested in showing his work.

Mr Dash believes his work has been influenced by his experiences growing up at Oxford in an “indirect” way.

Mr Dash recalled that he used to paint the buildings of Oxford from memory in his youth and one of his paintings presented at the Tate, Talking Music, depicts a scene in his family home in the city.

Oxford Mail: Talking Music (1963) by Paul DashTalking Music (1963) by Paul Dash

However, his experiences of the city were marred by the racist attitudes of the time.

He told the Oxford Mail that when he moved to the city he was ‘dumped’ at Cowley St John’s School which he ‘hated’ and called an ‘awful place’.

At the time, the school divided students into two groups based on their abilities and Mr. Dash and his brother were the only black students.

Mr Dash said: ‘They decided on a look at me, because I was from the colonies and I’m black, to throw me into the lower stream where I shouldn’t have been. I was working long before the primary school children in Barbados.

“I was left to vegetate for four years, the quality of teaching was poor, they kept me at rock bottom throughout my school career.”

This situation resonated when he studied at Chelsea College of Art and became a teacher, again where he was the only black person.

However, it was when Mr. Dash was in his third year that his talent for painting “emerged”.

He explained: “I don’t know where it came from, it just emerged. In Barbados it was one of the things we didn’t have, we didn’t have art, so I had to learn everything in this country.

To see his work recognized as it was last year was “incredible” for the artist.

He said: “It’s taken a long time for people – even black artists or people involved in academics and studying black art – to ‘see me’ but I’ve been there all the time producing work .”

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