“Caripito Village”, 1939 – Rainey Bennett

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 11:40 am

The Basic Facts: “Caripito Village” is a watercolour painting on paper by Rainey Bennett (1907 – 1998), an American painter.  It is in El Museo del Barrio.


Description: The painting is of medium size, a little bigger than the front cover of a textbook.  Its subject is a small village, near a river of sorts.  A rectangular cluster of huts, slightly towards my left.  A dirt road coming down from the left of the painting and past the middle, until it is cloaked by trees and underbrush.  A woman with a conical hat – a witch’s hat, almost – walks down the road.  Past the plant life is a small, vibrant river or lake, seemingly uninhabited.  A little isle is in it, not far from the banks.  A pregnant woman, naked, stands on the shores of the isle, gazing at the town.  Her hut is behind her.


The colours are bold, bleeding, and inky blues, more blues, blacks, and greens.  The village and a tree have some browns, and the road is sunset yellow and amber.  The “witch” wears a dark cayenne-coloured dress.  The colours are simultaneously soft – due to the brushstrokes and the bleeding nature of watercolours – and vibrant.  Bennett’s painting reminds me of an East Asian ink painting, with its slender brushstrokes and forms. 


À mon avis*: I hated the painting for its deception at first, but as I kept writing I fell in love.


The ambivalence of the brushstrokes – their decisiveness and fragility – is stunning.  The paradox is part of the painting’s beauty; the vivid colours further add to it.  But there are also the details: the stick fence hidden in the bottom left bushes, the sparse cotton ball clouds, the pregnant woman longingly looking over the village… I could write stories about this place, stories about rain and desperation and mythical narwhals and that fungi-yellow Asian tree and each of the women and voodoo and the story of the fence.  For every two houses there is a story.  The painting’s beauty wooed me, but ‘twas the serenading of the expectant stories made me fall in love.


Now why did I hate the painting at first?  For misleading the viewer.


“Caripito Village” is not a traditional Western painting; it seems to be influenced by East Asian art.  The painting depicts a Caribbean village in an unrealistic manner.  The village looks nice, quaint, lush.  It’s probably not.  Bennett depicts the natural beauty and truth, but not the social economic or emotional realities.  The artist does her subject injustice by begetting its problems.  Or is that my responsibility? I wonder.  Maybe she’s just being an artist, and I’m the one who should enjoy the illusion while knowing the truth.

*À mon avis – French – in my opinion

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