Interview with Kraig Yearwood, Artist and Designer

Bajan Art TeamBajan Art Editorials, Bajan Art News

This post was first published by Gyal In A Gallery and reposted with kind permission on Bajan Art.

The Inquisitor meets Kraig Yearwood

The day that I’m supposed to meet with Kraig Yearwood, it’s pouring with rain. It’s not the sort of thing you want to see when you have to catch a bus to go meet with someone. Kraig’s nice, and texts to ask whether I want to cancel. But I’m determined to do this today, so off I go.

It’s hard to define Kraig Yearwood as an artist: he designs clothing and accessories, he paints, he does graphic design…it might almost be easier to say what he doesn’t do. But it’s very easy to see that he’s passionate, driven, with a lot of business savvy and just a little why-not-give-it-a-try-and-see-what-works.

I met Kraig Yearwood briefly once before. Then, as now, he told me—quite amusingly—that he hates giving interviews. Over the sound of the wind chimes pinging brightly in his studio, I ask why he lets me do this one.

“Because you seem cool and I’m a sucker,” he says, dryly, and I struggle not to laugh. “Well then, High Inquisitor, let’s begin.”

Kraig Yearwood

You’ve given lots of other interviews before…so I’ll start somewhere a bit different from the usual. What other creatives inspire you?

This is going to sound really cliché, but I look at a lot of Picasso’s stuff. He has all these varied interests, and I mean, that’s kind of the way how I work too. And of course as a black person, I was also definitely looking at a lot of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. I love a lot of Rothko, too….at school, you’re like, it’s kind of interesting, but I don’t think you fully get it until you’re actually sitting down in front of a 20 foot piece and really taking it in.

Here, definitely, it would be people like Stanley Greaves, Ras Ishi, Ras Akyem, Arthur Atkinson…and I’ve always loved all the different facets of Allison Chapman-Andrews work. They [these artists] all definitely shaped the way I saw opportunities from a local standpoint.

You’re clearly keeping tabs on it, so tell me, what do you think of the Barbadian art scene?

I think it’s sort of regressed in a way. The younger crowd is pushing in different ways, doing things in unusual spaces. But in terms of established spaces, it’s regressed in a structured way where most of the galleries are very commercially based. I mean, obviously, we need those too—but in terms of spaces that would show work that would really challenge you, it’s kind of regressed in a way.

Do you have any idea as to why the scene has regressed?

Rental prices, inflation…but I think it’s partially because of the lack of a national gallery as a government priority. If you show that it’s not important by having a space like that, people start to not take artistic endeavours as seriously. If you build that space, people will come, and it would be aspirational not only to artists but the nation as a whole.

I think too there’s a need for investment from the corporate entities as well. In other Caribbean islands, banks have huge collections of work proudly displayed—Jamaica is an excellent example of that.

Despite the regression, what’s your relationship with the local art scene?

I’m sort of involved. I’ve been showing fairly consistently since 2002, but there have been some periods of dormancy. I haven’t always been completely included with any particular group. Artists do generally create in their own vacuum, and while I’m becoming more involved in some groups, I used to create in absolute isolation. I didn’t do fine arts at BCC [Barbados Community College] so I didn’t always know when things were happening on that end.

That’s right, you studied Graphic Design.

Yes. I did the two-year program at BCC, though coming onto the end I was thinking about industrial design, maybe a bit of fashion.

Is that how you got started doing all the different things you do?

Well, I’ve always been interested in painting and drawing. The fashion… I was working out on the west coast, doing a bit of freelance design, and came into contact with a designer putting together a collection for Caribbean Fashion Week. I did some simple minimalist stuff, but they were a hit apparently, and I was like, this something I’ve always thought of doing for myself since I was at BCC.

So I partnered up with a few friends and started a little t-shirt venture. And in 2009, we went to Caribbean Fashion Week. We’d been asked to go before, but we didn’t feel ready then…we still didn’t feel ready, but sometimes you need to take that step. People really liked what we were doing. We got a lot of interviews, even made it into the pages of She Caribbean.

Some of the graphic tees that Kraig Yearwood designed.

The second time I went, I made swimsuits based on superheroes, and then ended up doing Dominicana Moda, the biggest fashion week in the Caribbean. It’s in the Dominican Republic. BIBC helped fund that trip, because I’d just come back from Caribbean Fashion week and sold all my samples….so I had to make this collection of spit and bubble gum. They really liked my stuff there too, so I felt, maybe I should pay more attention to this. Ever since that I’ve been splitting my interest between different things I have interest in.

Tell me about them.

Well, obviously painting and creating artwork is kind of like my ar. Even when it frustrates me, I still need to do it. And it has been frustrating at times. And then I’ve been making clothing and accessories. Recently I’ve been designing eyewear, mainly sunglasses. And I’m working on designing totes as well.

Kraig Yearwood. “J’ouvert Morning Venus”. Mixed Media. 2015.

I was going to ask what your next challenge was, but instead I’ll ask how you plot your days?

I’m a freelancer, so that gives me a lot of flexibility. I work really odd hours of the night. And then I don’t sleep. I crash some times, but I don’t sleep.

Kraig Yearwood. “Target”. Mixed Media. 2017.

Oh wow.

He laughs a little, and says there’s no bigger rush than creating something and seeing someone wearing it. Or selling a painting—it’s like they’re your babies, and someone wants to adopt them.

I can understand that feeling. So one last question: you’ve spoken before about the energy of Barbados. How and why does it inspire you?
You know, sometimes I think it “would it be easier to this outside of this space?” and the answer is “Yeah, it would be.” But there’s a certain energy that the Caribbean has that inspires me. And you don’t have to go anywhere to see beauty. I pull open my curtains and I’m blown away.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Find Kraig’s paintings online at his website, or follow him on Instagram.

A portrait of Kraig Yearwood by artist Camille Chedda