THE PROPHET CRUCIFIED (The last days of the artist Timothy Callender’s life.)
Excerpt from REFLECTIONS Modern Politics – The Caribbean, Africa & Asia Minor … 200 pages available December 2008
“All prophets are reluctant” ... Timothy Callender
Talk and laughter about was that the greatest artist that the island had produced, Timothy Callender and my childhood friend, was broke.
“Pass the pipe, where Christine?” Mike asked. Christine was a crack-whore - a paro.
“She has forsaken me.” Timothy said, his last fifty-play lay on a table in Mike’s hovel in Greenfield slums.
“What the hell, she wrong.” Mike spoke after the crack smoke burst out of his lungs.
“Don’t feel no way, Christine is the White Lady; she show me more love than I received in the past nineteen years.” Timothy giggled.
“I feel she going come back.” As Mike spoke he placed a large piece of crack-cocaine on a PVC pipe. “I mean your wife. Christine going be back as soon as she hustle enough for crack.” He lit a match and placed the flame over the yellowish substance.
“If I had ten thousand dollars in my hand now my wife would be here next to me.” Timothy giggled again.
At five o’clock in the morning, all the crack gone, sweat poured down his face as he pushed the door out of Mike’s shack, stepped onto the dirt land and opened the windowless driver’s door; someone had smashed the glass with a rock. His thoughts turned to the effects of his recent attitude, behaviour and actions, how they had spread out far and wide and touched upon the lives of his wife, children, neighbours, friends and colleagues.
He wrote in a letter he never sent to his wife that his present situation was agonizing, horrendous, purgatorial. He was passing through fire and hoped that when he reached the other side he would be a whole vessel, burned clean of dross and fit to be filled with a new spirit.
His wife’s words crushed him into the ground; the dreadful intensity of emotion behind them shocked, terrified him and beat him morally. He felt abject, disliked, dismissed and heartily despised. Whatever he did to her he never despised her. He had fits of anger where he said hurtful things, which he could be reminded of for the rest of his days but on the bottom line he had sincerely loved and admired her and felt proud that she was his wife. He felt for a way to express his contrition, not just by rectifying the financial state, but also in changing his outlook and character.
He begged her to let him find a way to make up to her, to allow him the opportunity and not to reject his every advance. She said that she absolutely distrusted him. There was deceit and distrust between the two of them. They accused each other of things that were unfounded in fact. He apologized for all injuries to her, tried to erase resentment and misgivings.
He confessed that he was guilt of some evil, some wickedness. He had sinned against heaven and before her. Most of all he did not want his two children to think he was crazy, unpredictable or careless about them. He did not want them to feel that it was she and them against him. He had tried to reassure them and wanted to correct the image of a bogey-man, who started quarrels in the middle of the night and threatened to murder himself and their mother. They had both needed to defend, if not each other, their children and their household from outside attacks. He had been fighting against a heavy depression he felt. He needed her neutrality, her objectivity; her support and sympathy and was tired of flaying himself, tired of bending over backwards and of taking blame. He wanted to bring home money.
A car travelled in an opposite direction; it stopped and someone in the car caught his attention. It was his boyhood friend, Vincent.
“Timmy, I want to talk to you.” He got out of his parked car and walked over. “Two people telephone me over the last week, my ex-wife and Angela, concerned about you. Both of them had the same concern and felt that I am supposed to be close to you and I seem to be unaware of what is happening. I told them both that I was not too worried because on two occasions we discussed the use of this particular substance, you told me that: one you were only experimenting and two you could control that but anyhow I feel it getting out of hand now because the sun is coming up and you are still looking.”
“You hear my wife left me?” Timothy asked.
“It is because of the same problem.”
“No, it is a financial problem.”
“No, the financial problem is a result of the habit but the habit cause that break-up. I feel she only doing that to bring you around.”
“Who Angela called?” Timothy changed the subject.
“Angela Cole, I have to do an exercise class now. I have to go quickly. Call my wife, don’t mind Angela.” Timothy walked back to his car. Vincent knew the truth but was in denial.
Timothy had tried to reach us for weeks. He went to an elder artist, sculptor and his old teacher, and friend, and my ex-next-door neighbour. He caught sight of usin the city and drove through a one-way sign but wehad disappeared. The night before the telephone had rung at Timothy’s house and Mike had answered.
“It’s Angela Forde.”
“I do not know any Angela Forde.” He had thought that it was someone calling about money or a bounced cheque “Say I not home.” Mike had written my number on a pad by the telephone.
Timothy waved Vincent off and hustled home as fast as the ailing carburettor in his Subaru car would go. He pulled the car in the front of his house and ran to the front door, keys in his hands, he made the steps to the telephone picked up the receiver and dialled the number. As the sun rose that morning my son and I picked him up and brought him to our house to get away from harassment.
Everyday Timothy had been awoken to bailiffs, the last bit of his overdraft wrested away, his son needed new pants but they would have to wait for another day. A friend came asking for money. He went in search of some to pay him. Twenty-one days had passed since a registered letter from a furniture company about arrears and they threatened to send another bailiff next week. Police had telephoned twice concerning a cheque he had written to a city supermarket. A debt-collecting firm was expecting to be paid. A supermarket next door telephoned again about another bounced cheque.
There was a lawyer, who had sued him for fees, through another lawyer, sending court summons. Another bailiff came and demand $110.00 for a $90.00 bounced cheque. A bank deducted another $50 for a bad transaction. He ended up paying $160.00 in extras for a $90.00 cheque.
A net of debtors was closing in. He was stretched out and living close to the brink. An attorney-at-law was threatening for their clients, an insurance company, to sell his house from out under him and his family. In spite of the turmoil the children’s comforts had to be seen after, the house needed to be cleaned, clothes to be washed. Food was a problem with no money on a daily basis and all the time fending off the tension of an approaching bailiff. Eventually in July, debt collectors and bailiffs had so threatened and persecuted his wife that after five of them descended on her, she fled the island in secret.
He was jobless after being kicked out by a group of gay and ambitious, Caribbean ex-patriate women led by the wife of a powerful member of the Party. If he had had a salary all would have been annexed for repayment of loans.Alone with a weak heart inherited from his mother, he was at the mercy of a society intent on his destruction. Debt collectors declared open season on him: one broke into his house and stole: his guitars, his stereo, his tapes; one was caught on top of a ladder with his computer.
He wrote: “I have never had a tight grasp on the world of mathematics, finance and economy; have never given it much thought; have never planned and budgeted in the precise manner that this ‘naughty’ world of business demands. Still, in the past I have always managed, mainly through a strong and peculiar kind of faith - personal and even religious. At the same time, I have always been a searcher after facts, principles and experiences - a student of books, history, people and of methods to record my findings through creative work - writing, visual art, etc., which perhaps I take more seriously than the practical things of this life. The big problem is the present financial fix; in fact, it is the only problem. But I blame myself for the non-observance of certain basis demands a husband has to consider: food, shelter, clothing, bank accounts, etc. I have left those things up for too long, without providing the necessary money, or restraining myself from spending what I acquire, for too long; and I had to learn to be more responsible, in the truest sense of that word.”
A school friend of Gary, who was a student of accounts at the University of the West Indies audited Timothy’s accounts: bounced cheques and outstanding arrears. Timothy was in debt to the amount of BDS $17,000.00 and a business plan was set up to handle the hundreds of thousands of dollars of published and unpublished literature: valuable pictures already painted and to be painted and letters asking for his work from universities, publishers, and clients. Timothy was in the passenger seat of my car in a gas station. A car drove in and blocked the way. Three debt collectors walked up to my car. One stood by the window at my side and two went around to his side.
“Where your wife? She left you? Who is this pretty, brown-skin woman you got hey?” And put his hand on my car door. I pushed it open and let fly my cutlass. They jumped into their car and sped off.
Timothy died six weeks later. The irony was that he wrote a book about drug abuse called Concerns Concerning the Cocaine Culture. It was his most dishonest book, not only on a personal level, but from a point of view that he did not touch the economics of the drug trade, or the world of drug barons and drug czars, untouchable lawyers, politicians and families, that controlled the drug business. He admitted that he had done the book purely for money, and had compromised himself by not mentioning the truth about, who runs the trade and the criminal hoax perpetuated on the working class in the name of the drug war. It was a big step then, to call for the de-criminalization of marijuana but he promised to do a more honest book called Crack Chronicles.
Timothy had been apopular choice and most suitable choice for Chairmanship of a newly established National Cultural Foundation (NCF) but after resigning from his teaching post, he found himself without the job. The appointment was given a black power advocate, and member of the then ruling Labour Party.
Ten long years later Timothy spoke out about re-naming of a statue called the Freedom Statue, which had been already erected. The statue, done by his teacher and mentor, was a symbolic representation of an idea, not a historical character, a leader of a 19th century slave disturbance. To rename a symbolic representation of freedom after a man was an insult to an artist and an error in artistic judgement. If the government wanted a statue of this man the artist would have made a different one; one that reflected his historical character.
Timothy accused the Black Power Movement, including the black power Labour member, which proposed the renaming of subverting art to political propaganda. It was as if a small group of ambitious men in the United States, renamed the Statue of Liberty to the Bush Statue in commemoration of the Gulf War, in order to ensure a hidden agenda to make Bush’s own son a sure bet for the Presidency in the years to come. Many understood the danger of such propaganda and agreed with Timothy’s protest and his threat to climb up the statue and rejoin the chains of the statue to symbolize the re-imposition of slavery. Here was the island’s best-known artist defending a work of his teacher and mentor.
Today after his death, not surprisingly, the Labour party black power advocate is billed by his friend, Hilary Beckles, in a book called “History of Barbados, as amodern cultural successor of the late Frank Collymore, Timothy’s teacher and mentor, and Timothy’s work is ignored, his name voiced with scandal, and the Freedom Statue is part of Labour propaganda drive, to every year on emancipation day, give the party credibility among the ‘masses.’ The black power advocate is a real estate agent, a talk show host, a political activist who in the early 70s, used one of his houses and a financial grant from a CIA backed organization to run a black power culture organization and is a holder of a degree in economics from a United States University.
Timothy was schooled and mentored by the two most renown artists of the last generation Frank Collymore, and Karl Broodhagen,. He was: an accomplished painter, who painted hundreds of paintings, held exhibitions and was commissioned by the Kittician Government to mark its independence with a series of paintings - his work hangs in libraries, universities, and public buildings; a holder of a Masters in Education from the University of the West Indies, and a Masters in Fine Arts Education from the London School of Economics; an accomplished writer of two volumes of poetry, several books of short stories, over a dozen plays including musicals, a novel, his stories and articles read on radio stations and printed in newspapers and works published in journals, books and text books in and out of the Caribbean, a photo journalist and a teacher of Art and Craft, Geography and History, English and Secretarial English, Music and Drama. He was also a devoted mystic for many years and practiced yoga for most his life, and at his death, except for his congenital heart condition, was in peak physical condition.
In sum, Timothy was a celebrated regional and international artist, who at his untimely death was called by those, who knew him a complete artist - a Michaelangelo. He was a painter, musician, mystic, teacher, poet, journalist, and writer. The answer to the question as to how and why this black power advocate was promoted above Timothy Callender lies in errors, and misgivings of the black nationalist state movement in Barbados.
It is death to mock a poet
It is death to love a poet
It is death to be a poet
… Welsh Triad
Timothy Callender blazed like a comet across the sky. He created visions of new worlds for children in short stories and books - worlds in which their parents had lost belief. His life and work is a profoundest expression of a modern artist.
His death shows the sacrifice Barbadians are willing to make for the almighty dollar. Timothy was recuperating from the effects of crack-cocaine on a bad heart, his wife’s desertion and recovering financially when he died.
Timothy was born 7th May 1946, the first son of Eldred Callender and Lettia Moore Callender. Eldred was the official court reporter. His parents belonged to The Plymouth Brethren, familiarly know as the Closed Brethren, who at the time believed that writing, painting, and radio broadcasting was the work of the devil. Timothy’s father eventually gave up journalism and surrendered to the church. He went to work for the Closed Brethren, rich, white, family-business. The running of a business by its white leaders was not considered worldly by the sect.
Timothy was a special talent but his family was set against him pursuing a higher education. He, like his father, went to Combermere Secondary School. He was thirteen years old when Karl Broodhagen, his art teacher, found a book of his short stories, read them, and showed them to the boy’s English master, Frank Collymore, Collymore read the comic dialect stories on the island’s only radio station and they were an instant hit. Callender continued to study Art up to ‘A’ Level and held his first exhibition. His family arranged for him a job and marriage to a fat Closed Brethren girl. His father wanted him to be a preacher in a church and refused to give permission to his son to go to the University of the West Indies, in Mona, Jamaica, on a scholarship that Frank Collymore had arranged for him. The day Timothy left Combermere School he ran away from home and never returned.