Earl Darius Etienne is certainly the most recognized artist, and the most internationally exposed artist, lived and worked in Dominica. He was born in 1957 in Roseau, capital of the Nature Island of Dominica and died February 23rd 2022. He lived a rambunctious life in his early school days, a characteristic that indelibly marks his character and artistic work to this day. He tells the story of how he owes his early determination to be an artist to a Christian Brother who taught him at St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic high school for boys. According to Earl, the Reverend Brother told him “(Etienne) you are wasting your father’s money.” Earl agreed; it did not take much more encouragement for him to see that the preparation for a conventional profession, or even regular employment, was not for him: He wanted to be a full-time artist.
Fast forward to the early 1980’s and Earl is awarded an OAS Fellowship to study fine art at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica. Pursuing creative studies in Jamaica at that time included other young Dominicans as artist Arnold Toulon (now living and working in St. Lucia,) dancer Daryl Phillip (who would go on to teach, research, document and write books on the cultural dances in Dominica during a renaissance of cultural dance he helped usher in,) and playwrights Nigel Francis and Steve Hyacinth. While studying in Jamaica, Earl had an accident involving fire. The result of the accident inspired him to develop his own unique style of using the image formed by soot, applied directly from a flame, in his artistic work. Earl returned to Dominica after graduation in 1986 and took up a post as Cultural Officer in the Ministry of Culture while continuing to paint. This arrangement allowed him to mentor a new generation of Dominican artists and create a basis for a serious Art Industry in Dominica.
In the Early 21st century, the art of Earl Darius Etienne can be described as deep, direct and full of conscious energy. It betrays an intense love for the unpretentious beauty, natural spirit and cultural vibrancy of the island of Dominica. His Bele Dancer Series, which is still an unclosed chapter, is illustrative of just that. In various styles, but still recognizable as Earl’s work, he captures the spirit, rhythm, colour, ambience and form of this intensely intricate and physically forceful dance frozen in time. Compositions in the series also include the preludes and postludes to the dance; lovingly depicting the satisfaction experienced by the subjects.
Earl Etienne’s artistic works have been featured in many international, regional and local exhibitions. His works have been included in curated art collections of note in the Caribbean, Europe and North America. He lives with his wife in Jimmit, a new working-class housing community on Dominica’s west coast, in a house of his own design. He loves to tell that everything he has is paid for by his art: He didn’t waste his father’s money after all.
May He Rest In Peace!