BitDepth 797 - August 30

Remembering the remarkable Pat Bishop.
Pat’s perspective
Pat Bishop rehearses the music for the 2008 production Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha.
Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

There have been many words written and spoken about Patricia Allison Bishop since her death on August 20. I do not begrudge those who speak of Pat proudly and with lamentation, but far too many of those rushing to speak well of her now did little to further her missions in the service of local creative arts while she lived.
I wish that I could count myself out of such company, but I too wish that I had done more.

Like many who met her while still young, I can, unequivocally say that hearing her speak of local creative work, watching her wrestle with both the challenges of creation and the significant forces arrayed against it was a challenging, inspiring and unforgettable experience.
I first met her while serving on the board of directors of the Trinidad and Tobago Art Society in the 1980’s. I was, I think, part of an experiment encouraged by Carlisle Harris and Norris Iton to broaden the scope of the society by engaging more practitioners from what Carlisle Chang would, with barely disguised disdain, describe as “the plastic arts.”

As a junior member of the board, practising a lesser art form, I served one evening at the society’s curating session for its November exhibition as a toter of paintings.
I saw this as no insult. Selecting from more than a hundred entries for the show were, among others, Pat Chu Foon, Chang and Pat Bishop. I wish I could remember one damned thing from that afternoon, but I was witness to a remarkable thing. 

Artists, gathered in a private room did not speak of their work with the kind of airily overwrought pretensions so prevalent at art shows and in critiques of their work. 
These masters chatted about the craft and mechanics of the work they were viewing, the confidence of the brushwork, the strength of sketch lines, the peculiar colours that an artist had managed to wring from his palette. It was like listening to mechanics talk about engines, if the greasemonkeys happened to be Ferrari and Ducati.

I recall Bishop’s voice as the one least inclined to metaphor. She’d ask me to bring a piece closer to inspect a detail, a nuance, and sometimes a detail of the work would bring an appreciative smile to her face.
Jump forward almost 30 years to 2011, the Think Symposium on Carnival and Bishop’s presentation to an audience already entertained by a brassily theatrical Minshall talk.

This was a Pat Bishop of more measured circumstances. Her face drawn by age and the persistent weakness that dogged her after her 1994 bypass surgery and a 2007 stroke. No Powerpoint or theatre here, but if you listened carefully (and fortunately, you can, here: you’d hear words like softly whistling bombs, dropped in a voice gently modulated but crystal clear.

“Carnival is money, and cornsoup vendors and bandleaders are brothers under the skin,” she told her audience.
Perhaps hinting at the flood of words that pursue Carnival without ever coalescing into action, she spoke of “Word as mas and language as masquerade, and of course that is what the Robber speech used to be.”

Words were never scarce for Bishop. Her fluency and eloquence were the sparkling wave crests of an ocean of knowledge, whose depths remained unfathomable to the political dingies that bobbed on its surface, fishing for quick solutions.
Seen through her eyes, heard through her ears and shaped by her hands, conducting music, creating art and speaking to anyone willing to hear, Trinidad and Tobago was a far different place from the one we experience. Bishop saw our potential, our special magic, the constant sparkings of our creativity, always threatening to catch afire and she fanned at us constantly.

What eluded Bishop for most of her life was a satisfactory result from all her talks and advice, and her greatest successes would be her own works. 
Whether it was the inventive creation of “Charlie,” the nemesis of cleanliness or the many productions of the Lydian Singers whom she served as musical director, Bishop’s clearest successes in life would be those she shaped herself.

What she might have accomplished with extensive state and corporate support, that we’ll never know.

Respect her wishes an editorial for the Trinidad Guardian.
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