Sculptors and creators of Carnival Arts, Carl & Lyn Gabriel are key advocates of promoting their traditional craft through the disappearing skill of wire bending (with the use of no gloves, may we add!). We spoke with Carl & Lyn on how their alternating roles play part of curating their infamous work, their key sources of inspiration and key tips on how to enjoy Carnival this year.
What different roles do you both play to curate your sculptures?
Carl: So, I do all of the technical aspects, like creating the sculptures with wire. Whilst Lyn will adorn and add the finer details, firstly by covering each piece with multiple layers of PV glue and tissue paper with a brush until it dries solidly.
Lyn: I add texture and colour, which helps to bring either the sculptures or costumes to life. They are all hand painted using mix media, such as fabric, card paint, etc. With the added colours, this allows each piece to have a flow and definition with shadows and movement without it feeling restricted. I also run a few workshops around London for children, to spread the word of Carnival and share the knowledge that we have of wire bending. We give hands-on workshops that enable students to create 3-dimensional structures from 2-dimensional designs, encouraging them to explore shape and design through their own interpretation.
So, where do you both get your inspiration?
Carl: I originally used to do Photography, as a hobby, which I realised that I was very good at. I was doing this alongside Engineering, which I eventually left to pursue my hobby and ended up doing it for 15 years. After documenting bands from Carnivals all over the world, I realised that most bands depict others culture. Therefore, my sculptures and art are a true extension of my Trinidad culture, as no one else was doing this at the time. I see my work as a representation of my ancestors, my roots – and this is what keeps me rigid and focused with my work. My thoughts and imagination are not diluted, it is what it is and I am presenting it in the most primitive way.
Tell us a little about your background and heritage?
Carl: I was born in La Romain, Trinidad and left in 1964 to join my parents in London. I have always been involved with Carnival from a young age; I was bought up in Shepherd’s Bush and was always hanging around the Grove. I was also an avid pannist and eventually co-founded Stardust Mas and Pan Band, along with Misty Carnival Club in 1992.
Lyn: So I came in Britain in 1956, and was thrown into Carnival from a very young age. My farther was an avid pan man, along with my mother who was actually a carnival queen. My uncle is also, Sterling Betancourt who bought steel pan over to Britain in 1951. Carnival has always been in my blood.
On average, how big are your large sale pieces?
Carl: Most of our stand-alone pieces are usually 4 metres.
And how long do they take to complete?
Carl: If we’re creating a piece for ourselves, I mean this could take forever. But for a certain project, they usually take a couple of months to finish.
Where do the sculptures appear in carnival?
Carl: So, we get approached from bands, which recognise that maybe one of our pieces can help to enhance their theme, float, costumes etc. This would then form a centrepiece of what they are trying to portray – it doesn’t matter if they are wearing it, pushing it on a trolley or is placed on their float – they could be put anywhere.
Lyn: After Carnival, it’s worth more to us that our pieces are featured in a venue for the community to see. For example, a few of our pieces are showcased in The Tabernacle just off Portobello Road, which is important for us, as this is in the hub of carnival and everyone can see them.
Finally, any tips on how to enjoy carnival?
Get involved with any bands throughout the preperation, to get the real carnival vibes and on the day come dressed for carnival and have most importantly a good time.