Cornelius Tulloch: The Caribbean creative blending music and art
The multidisciplinary artist's latest exhibition at Soho Beach House Miami pays homage to his heritage
Wednesday 15 June 2022 By Isis Davis-Marks
Cornelius Tulloch is a jack of all trades: he uses everything from pictures and paints to drawings to create layered artworks capable of transporting viewers to a different time and place – specifically, the Caribbean – as a means to explore the relationship between identity and island life.
‘I’m an interdisciplinary kind of [artist],’ says Tulloch. ‘Working in the space between fine art, photography, and architecture. For me, it’s not about the medium; it’s about telling the story.’
Now, Tulloch’s latest project at Soho Beach House in Miami is a testament to the multifaceted nature of his oeuvre. Entitled The Artist Mixtape Vol. 1, the exhibition draws from the rich history of Caribbean diasporic music and nods to various genres, including reggae, dancehall, R&B, and hip-hop. Artists such as Jorja Smith provide a sonic backdrop for an installation featuring an array of photographs and collages that recall Tulloch’s upbringing in both Jamaica and Miami, Florida. The show, which opened on 27 April, is expected to run through the summer.
‘It really combines the sounds as well as the visual images,’ says curator Heike Dempster. ‘The exhibition is basically twofold: one floor has an exhibition of the main works, and the other floor serves as an immersive installation.’
One piece on view, ‘Patois Patterns 01’, nods to these connections between sound, environment, and culture. The multimedia work shows a person carrying a bundle of plantains – a fruit that is ubiquitous across the Caribbean – through a lush landscape brimming with tropical plants. The leaves in the background seem to undulate, moving to an unseen island breeze like a dancer gyrating to a beat.
‘I feel like the plantains are a big theme of mine because they’re eaten with every meal,’ says Tulloch. ‘I feel the same way about the palms – I gravitated towards this idea of palms representing a spiritual object.’
Another collage in the series, ‘Patois Patterns 06’, touches on other aspects of Caribbean identity. The piece almost reads as a diptych – it includes two found photographs of people traversing beaches or posing for the camera in front of a cluster of trees. There’s something that feels familial about this work, like the person who snapped these shots had a deep relationship with the subjects of the aforementioned photos. This sense of intimacy only feels more intriguing because the subjects’ faces are obscured, so you can’t label them as specific individuals, which lends a sense of universality to this work.
‘I was thinking about how I could take away these phenotypes or physical identifiers of race, but still conjure that culture,’ says Tulloch. ‘In my work, I use symbolism and ask myself how certain objects feel like they’re quintessentially Caribbean.’
Tulloch has been exploring these questions of colour, composition and design for years. The artist studied art and architecture at Miami’s renowned magnet school, DASH. During his time there, he proved that he was a precocious artist, racking up prestigious accolades like the Presidential Scholarship in the Arts. As a young adult, Tulloch continued to pursue his passion, going on to study architecture at Cornell.
‘It showed me how built environments and spaces have an impact on culture,’ he says. ‘Now, I’m trying to bring that aspect of space back into my art when I consider composition, colour, and other formal choices.’
In his new exhibition, Tulloch continues to draw from his myriad influences. Though many of his pieces are collages, other works in the show are photographs that portray the essence of the artist. One such image, ‘Landscapes of Identity’, shows a man in profile. He stands among trees and plants and is bathed in red light, giving the image a surreal quality that feels like an overly saturated daydream.
‘Growing up, I spent all my summers in Jamaica, and now I’m always there,’ says Tulloch. ‘I’ve always been existing back and forth, between both spaces. I feel like that kind of flow is what we tried to mimic in the execution of the exhibition.’