At Home: Talks With Canadian Artists About Place and Practice by Lezli Rubin-Kunda

“I have no interest in the how to do things but with the openness to pursuing how we build a beautiful rainbow. Art is really a way of thinking about freedom.”-Michael Fernandes


Caribbean Camera

Trinidad-born Canadian Michael Fernandes is a true free spirit who is in love with life. The 74-year old artist and educator lives to engage people into thinking in new ways! The life and times of the artist are part the new book At Home, which was released across Canada this week.
Fernandes was born and raised in Trinidad but he now considers Canada home. It was 60-years ago that Fernandes dropped out of school and moved to Montreal. He admits that he was on a “path of no good” and was not shocked when his mother insisted that he get out of Trinidad and “find his way” in Canada.
While he may have been “a wild child” it was clear that Michael was talented. Already as a teenager in Trinidad he was a working artist getting real money for his paintings.  One of his first he gigs was painting seascapes for the local dentist who encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts. “That dentist was my leg into art school,” Michael says remembering his first mentor.
Like so many other newcomers, luck played a part in Fernandes becoming successful. While getting his travel documents ready a government worker casually told him about artist Arthur Lismer, a member of the famed Canadian Group of Seven. It turned out the Trini clerk was a true fan boy of Lismer and had Fernandes pass along a message to the great artist when he arrived in Montreal. 
Delivering that letter changed things. Lismer took an immediate shine to the Trini student when he answered the knock on his door. Soon Lismer was his teacher and mentor.
“I was 16 and most definitely FOB (Fresh off the Boat) and there I was becoming an artist with Lismer!” Michael said excitedly during a phone interview with the Camera. 
For the next three years, Michael attended art school. He didn't finish because his own personal career was taking off faster than his schooling. His biggest break took place when he was made one of the featured artists at Expo 67's Trinidad pavilion.
“I will never regret growing up in Trinidad but I have become more Canadian the longer I live here. On visits back home I am always questioned about that by family and friends.”
Some of those questions dealt with feminism. Michael had seen how women were treated as equals compared to what was happening back in Trinidad 50-years ago. “Feminism was taking off  here and it stuck with me. I did not support the way women, including my own sister, were treated back home.”
Fernandes moved onto Halifax where his art changed. He switched from painting into performance arts, writing scripts and performing for live audiences. “I just lost the magic of painting. It doesn't engage me. I love the audience; I am making the work on the spot for people in the seats. It is just like jazz music -- I riff on it!”
Fernandes continues teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. His live performances are scripted poetry and riffs, often made up on the fly; he gets his audience to engage with him on the spot. He believes bringing new ways of thinking to the masses is the ultimate goal of an artist. “That interaction is everything that has to do with living!”
Now a young 74 Michael is well past the age of retirement but he has no intentions of settling down. He is well known in Canadian art circles.  Soon, his fame could spread even farther thanks to a new book. He is one of the Canadian artists featured in At Home: Talks With Canadian Artists About Place and Practice by Lezli Rubin-Kunda and published by GooseLane.


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