Just like each of her paintings, Gilly Gobinet’s life is an intricate story filled with color, intensity and captivating detail. These days, she’s comfortably ensconced at the hub of Antigua’s art world with a house-studio-gallery on the shore where the walls of one room after another holds samples of her work. The work is eclectic: new amidst old, boats, botanicals, and images of West Indian architecture, all beckon viewers in. Visitors quickly get the picture – Gobinet is both talented and prolific.
Although she claims to have no formal art training, a degree in biology guarantees that depictions of plants and animals are spot on. “I like animals and plants,” she said.
“That’s why I like painting them—everything has to be accurate.”
Decades before art, science studies at England’s Sussex University led to a stint at a veterinary clinic and on to an editorial position with the Council of Europe’s, Journal for Nature Conservation where Gobinet honed a talent for writing.
Art blew in during1984, the year Gobinet moved from England to Antigua. Employed in a real estate office with more time than customers, she picked up a book bearing the message: ‘You can be or do anything you like’. Fancying the idea of drawing, she picked up a pen, drew a date palm, entered it in a contest, and won first place in the pen and ink category. That confirming prize inspired Christmas cards, commissions and ultimately a career that has blossomed and grown each year.
In the beginning it was all black and white until someone said, “We live in a very colorful place … why not add color?”
Since another artist on the island was doing drawings with color wash, Gobinet said she opted for watercolor without lines, not realizing she’d chosen the most difficult medium. Since adversity is more an allure than an obstacle to this talented woman, she set out to paint her world while tending three offspring, all under the age of five. “I painted when I could. It was difficult because when I paint, I get totally into it.”
Ten years after that first sketch, Gobinet had her first show at Antigua’s famed Harmony Hall and, like a pebble in a pond, word of her work rippled outward, bringing in commissions from hotels, banks and private homes. Eventually she took the show on the road to Anguilla, Venezuela, Caracas and other Caribbean venues.
Along the way, experimentation with color, medium and tools brought about a love affair with oil paint. “I like it because it doesn’t dry fast, it’s malleable,” she said.
Work on paper spread to canvas, to cloth, to walls and back to paper in the form of cards, prints and books.
Her first book ‘Caribbean Christmas’, published by McMillan in 1998, took the reader on an island holiday tour. A few years later, Gobinet co-authored a volume of Caribbean Cocktails, which, in reality, is a libation-tour of the islands, one bar at a time; each page a complete painting. ‘The Cool Caribbean Cocktail Book’ inspired the second of a series, which Gobinet decided to produce solo.
‘The Cookery Book’, a compilation of recipes from famous kitchens, divulges scrumptious meals by ingredient, back story and off-the-wall fact. Secrets from Antigua’s Carlisle Bay, Nevis’ Bananas and her own galley form a colorful, culinary chart of the islands. The book’s success was marked in 2008 when it was given the Gourmand World Cook Book Award for Best Illustrations, beating out competition from 21 countries and standing out as the only entry with both art and content created by the same person.
The Cool Caribbean Books series continued on with ‘Hot Spices, Luscious Fruit & Heady Herbs’, followed by ‘The Guide to Antiguan Churches’ and one for chocolate aficionados: ‘Dark Delicious Delights’. Each book, illustrated by Gobinet and authored by humorist Anthony Richards, is packed with tidbits of information like how to extract soursop pulp or how to tell you’re being cheated while buying coconut water.
All At Sea readers know Gilly Gobinet through a myriad of articles on yachts and yachties that have tacked through her world. She understands the on-the-water world from time spent at sea, especially from the deck of her favorite boat, Peddler. She was onboard the 50 year old Arthur Robb yawl a few years ago when a string of events unfolded resulting in a dismasting and an extensive refit. Peddler’s story is featured in Antigua’s Classic Regatta program, the publication beautifully pulled together by this year’s editor, Gilly Gobinet.
Although boats are in Gobinet’s life, statistically there aren’t many in her paintings. “I don’t often paint boats,” she said. “To paint boats, you must know them very well.” The lucky vessels that have sailed across her canvas are incredibly accurate, reality combined with rendition, captured by an artist who can turn simple into sublime.
To learn more or to order prints and books, visit: www.origionalcaribbeanart.com
Jan Hein and her husband, artist Bruce Smith, divide their time between the Caribbean the Pacific Northwest with a boat and a life at each end. Visit: www.brucesmithsart.com