Award-winning Guyanese Artist Compton Babb Speaks About his Journey
By Mohamed Alim Hassim
“There are those who are born with a natural ability or talent and there are those who willed themselves or try to learn a particular trade, technique or skills… For me, I think I am blessed with a talent.”
Those are the sentiments of Compton Babb Jr, a 36-year-old Guyanese portrait artist who has already made a name for himself in his country. “I believe I was chosen to do this,” Babb said, as he sat down for an interview with THE WEST INDIAN recently, and showed us some of his breath-taking work of art.
In his life’s journey, there have been many ups and downs, but Babb is resilient and true to his belief that “art is life and life is art.” It has always been his goal to be the best pencil artist in Guyana and the Caribbean. “So I’ve always challenged myself to be just that – the best,” he said.
Babb was the first place winner in the Drawing category of the 2017 Guyana Visual Arts Competition. Earlier — in 2015 — he shared with his friend, Christopher Taylor, the winning award for Guyana’s 50th Independence Anniversary logo. And along the way he won many prizes, accolades and recognitions for his work. But perhaps one of the most exhilarating achievements of his career came in October 2017, when the ruling party in Guyana – the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – celebrated its 60th anniversary. Babb recalled he was approached by Attorney-at-law, James Bond, and Head of the President’s Press and Publicity Unit, Mark Archer, to do a portrait painting of President David Granger. He was hesitant, as he felt pencil drawing was his expertise and he was not sure he was ready to take on the challenge of doing a painting of the President.
“I dabbled in painting in my early teens but that’s about it,” he said. “But I guess they believed in the quality of work that I was producing and I think they were highly convinced — more than I was at the time — that I could get this thing done.”
So Babb took on the challenge. He had about 12 days to finish a portrait painting of the President!
How did he do it? He recalled, “In my life, whenever I’m faced with any difficulty or challenges or anything that I’m not sure of myself, I seek divine intervention. So before I painted I had a blank canvas in front of me and I was like, ‘God you gotta handle every stroke of this brush for me’. I literally prayed right there.”
He added, “I never painted before but I believe by each stroke I can build the confidence and get this thing done.”
And so, with every stroke that he applied on the canvas, he felt “a little more confident and a little more relaxed.”
The portrait was completed on the 11th day. “And I think they were a bit blown away by it, and the time-frame within which I managed to paint something of that quality and standard,” Babb recalled.
An Orphan’s Dream
That’s the name of the drawing that landed Babb the first prize at the 2017 Guyana Visual Arts Competition in the drawing category. It’s about an orphan boy at the Ruimveldt Children’s Home and Care Center, whose only “escape to travel and see the world is through cricket.” Shivnarine Chanderpaul is his idol and “so he sleeps with a bat in his bed despite the fact that he cannot run down the pitch as other kids could.”
Babb said, “I wanted to connect with this kid to bring his dream on to paper; to bring awareness to people that we have kids like him who may not be able to physically attain their goals, but we can help them by providing opportunities for them to do things indoors.”
His message via the drawing was well received. Guyanese writer and diplomat Maureen Marks-Mendonca was quoted in another newspaper as saying, “I got the opportunity to see many of the visual arts competition entries at the Castellani House exhibition, and while there were some really spectacular pieces… it was Compton Babb’s ‘An Orphan’s Dream’ that transfixed me… I glanced across the room in Castellani and it was the eyes that caught me – the longing in them, as he gazes at the poster of his cricket idol. Then I saw all the details – the kind that make you ‘fall into’ a drawing – and I was completely captivated. There’s so much magic in this work of art. A well-deserved win.”
The award winning logo for Guyana’s 50th Independence Anniversary observances, which Babb shared with his colleague and friend Taylor, was all about unity — one voice, one people. A nationwide competition was held by the Government to come up with a logo for the celebrations. Instead of participating as individual artists, Babb and Taylor decided to come together to send a strong message of togetherness. The logo which features a roaring jaguar, represents Guyana as a roaring nation moving forward as one.
“We saw it fit to collaborate because the country needs unity in terms of moving forward. I could’ve done it myself. He could’ve done it himself, but to take away selfishness and put the additional meaning of coming together, we decided to do it collectively,” Babb was quoted as saying at the unveiling of the logo in 2015.
“We needed something with substantial power and evidence to say, this 50th anniversary I’m going forward, that we will stand with one voice, roaring together, and sending a message towards those young ones who are ambitious and want to represent Guyana as a country to stand firm and to stand with one voice. So the collaborative effort was also based on that, coming together to achieve that victory as one people,” he added.
Babb and Taylor were adjudged winners from among 64 entries.
Life of an Artist
Compton Babb was born and spent his formative years in East Ruimveldt Housing Scheme, Georgetown, Guyana. He is the elder son of a sign artist Compton Desmond Babb, Snr., and his wife Yvonne Jennifer Babb. Growing up in a humble household, young Babb learned very early how to be punctual and discipline. And he also learned determination to achieve goals in life.
Though he was a relatively average student in school, Babb displayed a remarkable talent for drawing at a very young age. “I remember those days of drawing Tom and Jerry and other cartoon characters,” Babb said. “But it actually hit home when I started going to secondary school. When it came to drawing diagrams and stuff…then I realized I was on to something.”
As he got himself involved in sports and and other activities, his love for those activities began to manifest itself on paper, through drawings. Soon his drawings were not about cartoon characters, but more about superheroes of the time, such as Rambo and Batman, as well as his favorite sports personalities.
It was then that he began to realize his love for the Arts and all that it includes. By the time he was 16 years old, his portrait drawings and skill level had become noticeable. He knew that it was his dream to advance in the arts and allow his raw talent to mature. This decision, one he never regretted, allowed him to develop into a highly skilled and seasoned Artist.
“And with my personality — I like to meet people — my drawings snowballed into something greater,” he told THE WEST INDIAN.
After completing the Campbellville Secondary School, Babb enrolled in the Borrowes School of Arts. However, he didn’t get a chance to complete his Diploma program. “I left the school because the pace was a bit slow for me,” Babb recalled. “When I left Burrowes I continued drawing but had to find an alternative source of income.”
He tried his hands at several jobs to make ends meet, as it was a challenge to sustain himself financially, as a painter. He worked at Banks (DIH) Limited, first in the beer bottling section and later, after his talent was recognized, was moved to the paint shop, where he assisted in painting logos and other artworks on the company trucks. He later got himself introduced to graphic design by another colleague – the late designer and entertainment promoter Trevor Rose. It happened one day while at the basketball court with Rose and some other friends. “I took my sketch pad that day and Trevor Rose saw it and said ‘Compton this is your work?’ I was like ‘Yes’.” Rose then invited him to his studio, and that was how Babb entered the world of graphic design.
“But at that point I hated computers. I felt like computers were trying to compete with me. They’re trying to make what I could do with my hand look easy,” Babb said. “I wanted my work to look better than the computer. I had a passion to outdo the computer by being very precise in my drawings. In my art, you see ME… They reflect me… I like to be perfect, flawless. There is no room for error or an off-stroke line or anything crooked,” he added.
But eventually he gave him and merged his raw talent with the newly acquired computer graphic skills and the graphic designer in him came out.
He worked at Facts n’ Roses, Designing Company; later at Giftland Office Max (Graphic Artist and Marketing Manager); and Tagman Media Corp.
But art and painting is his first love. Despite many attempts at other professions, Babb finds himself, ever so often, coming back to art. In a television interview in Guyana he said, “God gave me this ability that I choose to shelve and not allowing it to maximize or grow into something great. I feel guilty and realize the need for me to step into my destiny and to see where that will go.”
At the moment, Babb is self employed and works out of his home at Non Pariel on the East Coast of Demerara.
He is patient and very detailed in his drawings and paintings and his goal is to make his clients fully satisfied with his work. While Babb can sketch or paint almost anything, he loves people. He loves to capture people on canvas.
“I am inspired by people. When I see the emotions of someone coming out on canvas it helps me feel satisfied and full of joy to capture the expression at that moment,” Babb said.
One day, Babb hopes to fulfill his dream of owning an art school to teach art and provide an opportunity for young artists to harness their skills and become great at their craft.
Babb is clearly on a journey towards great success himself. One look at his work and you’re blown away.
Here is one little fact to know: Babb shares a birthday with Pablo Picasso. He was born on October 25, 1981. Picasso was born on October 25, 1881!