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Endless Fascinations: Aileen Malcom

Story and photos by Dan O’Connor

Aileen Malcolm draws inspiration from the bright rays that shine heavy on the Virgin Islands. Her use of vibrant colours, detailed textures and comical scenes from the VI help characterize her work.  She works mainly with watercolour and pen, and largely displays scenes from the British Virgin Islands, where she has called home for the past 24 years—but she thrives on diverse scenes and styles. From the overweight cruise ship passengers commonly found beached at Cane Garden Bay to the varied shacks and buildings that help define the territory’s enchanting neighbourhoods, Aileen has a way of animating a canvas.

The travelled artist grew up in the United Kingdom and studied art before moving to Canada then New York to raise five children. Raising the kids was tough after her husband passed, she said, so painting had to take a back seat until her children finished school and moved away. Then, after moving to Tortola, she found herself devoting much of her time back to art.

Check out some of Aileen’s aartwork here:

 “Living here allows me the freedom to paint, and I stayed because there is so much inspiration; the light, which is so incredible, allows me to find inspiration everywhere,” she said during an interview from her Road Town home, which also doubles as her art studio. “These inspirations are why you won’t see my paintings on just one subjects; it’s those things that make me laugh in life … or I can be fascinated by shadows, or the uniqueness of buildings, or nature.”

Aileen soon found herself involved with groups of artists that met during the week to mostly paint. She eventually found herself more seriously perusing her passion for paint and pen at small group meetings weekly at her home. Together, with artists like Jill Tattersal, Jinx Morgan, Christine Taylor and Donna Hood, Aileen said she’s creatively stimulated through similarly serious-minded artists. Aileen and members from the group display their prints for sale at The Gallery off Main Street in Road Town.

“I paint five days a week now; I won’t let myself paint on Friday or Monday—that’s laundry, bank and shopping time,” she said, adding that while she legally claims herself an artist by profession, she tries to avoid labels. “When people ask me my profession, I always feel guilty saying ‘artist.’ I feel it’s a very private thing.”

Aileen has recently displayed her work in a series titled “A Walk Down Main Street” at 1780 Lower Estate Sugar Works outside Road Town. The event featured 39 pieces from a collection that detailed both the historic and newer buildings that line Main Street. Many of the homes and buildings bright and bold, others run down past repair, the collection helped to shine a light on the capital city’s most historic road.

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The series was originally inspired by a walk taken down the usually busy street over a desolate Easter holiday weekend. After snapping about 70 photos of houses and businesses, she came up with about 15 to 20 paintings—paintings that would later prompt local artist Ruben Vanterpool to approach her about doing a showing at Sugar Works. After agreeing to the project, Aileen said she focused on the potential publicity her work could bring to the street that has a story to tell from Pussers to the old prison and beyond.

“I’d see these old buildings being torn down, and I started to make a diary of what was there—to preserve the memory,” she said of her years observing Main Street. “I’d like to try to stop them from pulling any more buildings down, and instead restore them a bit.”

The painter’s fascinations have ventured far past a walk down Main Street. She is also an avid traveller who plans a new adventure every year. Aside from lively pictures of Carnival, beach scenes and tropical nature settings, Aileen’s home-studio is also decorated with settings from around Europe and most recently through Latin and Southern America. In these different settings, she pointed out, unique shadows help define their locale. A few days before our interview, she returned from the Galapagos Islands, where she spoke of the wonders that undoubtedly would encourage otherworldly creations.

Currently, though, five unfinished sketches line her workstation—each of lively carnival scenes. The robust curves of costume-clad parade revelers are beginning to come to life on their canvas. She’ll take a step back from them, review some photos and start again, she said. From one fascination to the next, Aileen moves on.

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