One of the Cayman Islands’ most popular and successful visual artists doesn’t use a camera and never puts pencil to paper or brush to canvas to create his art.
Shane Aquart — better known as Dready—is a digital artist whose whimsical, colourful pieces can be found in offices, galleries and homes throughout the islands and internationally.
Although Aquart is originally from Jamaica, he grew up in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Belize. He initially focused on a career in finance, but his creative nature eventually steered him in a different direction and he found himself testing various concepts for T-shirts with a Caribbean firm. One of them was “Dready,” a playful stick-figure character that became enormously successful in 2004 with T-shirts being sold in Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
The creation of Dready started Aquart on the path to becoming a digital artist. Unable at the time to use Adobe Illustrator, the programme needed to create the digital versions of his doodle character, Aquart would draw the images by hand and then a graphic artist would transpose them into digital files. “I would fiddle with them from there, adjust colours and stuff,” says Aquart.
Dready T-shirts and baseball caps became enormously popular, creating interest in the artist behind them and eventually causing him to start to create art for specific requests.
“Coolest thing that ever happened is that someone asked me to portray their family as stick figures,” Aquart says. When he was asked by a Dart company if he could create something that was not a stick figure, Aquart worked hard to improve his digital capabilities, developing a new approach to his art.
The results were compelling. Using bright blocks of colour and a few well-crafted lines, each of Aquart’s pieces tells a story using as little graphic work as possible. Conveying everyday scenes in the Caribbean with charm and an unexpected sense of humour — whether it’s a couple riding a bike, someone snorkelling on Seven Mile Beach or the Governor’s house — Aquart manages to capture the familiarity of life. And of course, each piece has to have a little West Indian twist thrown in “to make a Dready a Dready,” as Aquart says. His image of James Bond even has a goat in the back seat of the car.
It’s no surprise that he is constantly looking for new ideas. “Inspiration comes from all over the place,” he says. “Travelling … refreshes you … you see things … perceptions change. I look at a lot of images these days — may see the way a couple is sitting on a bicycle [and] think, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool’ and it inspires me to do something with my own look and feel.”
THE GROWTH OF DIGIAL ART IN CAYMAN
Director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands Natalie Urquhart says digital art is relatively new in the Cayman Islands.
“Like any ‘new’ media art it can be misunderstood in terms of artistic value, as the artist is removed from physically applying paint or manipulating clay, etc.,” she says. “However, ‘painting’ with technology requires practice and skill in the same way traditional art does. For example, without any proficient drawing skills and knowledge of the fundamentals of art, such as perspective, anatomy and colour theory, the work won’t be successful.”
Urquhart sees more than just stick figures in Dready’s art.
“Shane’s work combines the skillful execution of this medium with a unique graphic style that is influenced by his rich mixture of cultural experiences: a Caribbean childhood and education at an English boarding school, a Canadian high school and a U.S. college,” she says.
She also shared a quote from MACO magazine about Aquart: “The true foundation of Dreadyness though is its Caribbean commentary: with playful pops of vibrant colour, the simplicity of the images and the irreverent humour.”
THE FUTURE FOR DREADY
Aquart continues to create, developing about 20 new print series a year plus 30 new commissions. He is also staying focused on a vision to branch into even more markets, launch new applications — perhaps even Dready flip flops — and to “put more art on more walls in more places.” Last year alone, his presence in Florida tripled. He’s also starting to think about other places that would make a natural fit for Dready.
On Grand Cayman, Dready pieces are available at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, and on display in Icoa, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort. They can also be purchased via his website.
Although Aquart has mastered the craft of digital art, he remains humble about his abilities at the computer.
“My skills are still very basic, but I am lucky ‘cause Dready art is at its essence very simple.”