Interview with Jamaican painter, Tamara Natalie Madden

This month we interview Jamaican painter, Tamara Natalie Madden. Her paintings are exciting, vivid and rich in color. She also tells us the story how helped her find a lost relative.

When did you start painting?
I began painting when I was a teenager, however, I’ve been drawing most of my life.

When did you know your were good at this and wanted to make it a career?
I knew that I had talent early on, however, I never thought that art would be my career. I only realized that after I became ill with kidney failure and ended up on dialysis. It was during that experience that I found art again and made a promise to myself that I would pursue art after I became well. My amazing brother(who I found on offered me a kidney and I received a transplant in 2001. Soon after, I was able to do my first exhibition, and I haven’t stopped since then.

Did you do any formal schooling?
I’ve never been taught formally. I’ve only taken classes in high school and summer school. I learned more about the process in my later years through the help of my mentors.

Who is your biggest supporter?
My daughter would say that she is my #1 fan and supporter, however my best friend and godmother have always supported me. They saw my talent and stood by my side when I decided to pursue art. There were so many other people who believed in me. The list would be too long.

Describe your work?
I had always felt a connection to everyday folk, the working class, the unseen and unheard, the true warriors of our time. My childhood experience with poverty dictated that I care. I realized, however, that many people, who may have suffered through a similar struggle, did not want to revisit those struggles so I decided to turn my ideas inside out. Inspired, by the golden period of Gustav Klimt and images of royalty from Egypt and West Africa; I decided to turn regular folk into kings and queens. It seemed to be the only way to allow them to be represented and appreciated for who they were intrinsically; kings, queens and warriors who never had a chance to shine, their ragged clothes and despondent appearance setting the tone for others to judge them.

Most of your subjects are women. Is there are reason for this?
There are no real reasons why I paint women, because I paint men, as well. I suppose there may be an unconscious reason that I’m unaware of. I do believe that a lot of women need to be uplifted and empowered and my hope is that my work will be able to do that.

Which artists influence you?
I was very inspired by Gustav Klimt when I began the new series, but there are so many artists that I find inspiring. I’ve found that I can find inspiration in any art.

Which artists would you like to meet?
I wouldn’t mind meeting Kara Walker. She’s an exceptionally successful black female artist. I’d like to find out about the steps that she took to get where she is today. I’m sure that academia had a lot to do with it, but it would be nice to pick her brain.

How do you get ready to paint? Do you have a special ritual?
I have no ritual, I simply need inspiration. My studio is in my home so all I have to do is walk a few feet and begin painting. It’s a wonderful way to work.

What is your idea of art that is visually pleasing to the eyes? 
I think that different people are drawn to different things, some like colour an some don’t. As long as the individual feels something positive when they look at the piece, then I think that it’s pleasing them visually. 

How many paintings do you average in a year? 
Quite a few. I’m very prolific. On average, I produce about 5 paintings a month so I do a lot during the year. There are times when I take breaks, because I need time to reflect and think so that I can be inspired.

Do you have an unfinished painted stacked away that is going to be come a master piece?
Yes, but I’m not sure if they will be a masterpieces.

What is your favorite work you have painted so far?
I’m not sure that I have a favourite, per se, but I was moved by the first piece in my current series, Unmasked. It was an important transitional piece.

What new projects are you working on? Is there an upcoming exhibit?
Currently, I’m working on a new mixed media series that incorporates my photography. I’m still working on my  ongoing King & Queen series. Currently, I’m participating in Art off the Main. I have no upcoming shows planned because I’m taking this time to work. I participated in a lot of shows this year and I need to produce new work.

What is playing on your ipod/mp3 right now?
My musical selection is broad. I love Laura Izabor’s new cd and of course, “mi favourite dj Buju!” I have Jah Cure and Adele and so many other wonderful artists on my i-pod. There are too many to name. 

If you were not an artist what would you be?
I’d still be doing something creative. I really enjoy writing so I may have done that. I’ve also been a teacher before and that would have been another good option.

When we contact you about the interview you mentioned you found your brother through Can you tell us that story?
I have four brothers. The other three were living in Canada, but there was one that I hadn’t known, and he was living in Jamaica. Before I headed home in 2000; I had an immensely strong feeling that I had to find that brother. He was my father’s son, and I hadn’t seen him since we were six, and that was very brief. I never really knew him, I just knew of him. My only intention was to meet him because I wasn’t sure when I would be able to go home again.

 I didn’t realize at the time that God was talking to me. The feeling came over me so strong that I started calling family members to see if they knew his name or where he was living in Jamaica. I called around and no one was able to help me except for my grandmother. She was not his grandmother because we have different mothers, but she was familiar with everyone who lived in the area. She remembered his mother’s name and at the time there was an option on the site to locate numbers in a phone book of some kind in Jamaica. I put her name in and her phone number popped up. Eventually, I got in touch with her and she got me in contact with my brother who was living in Mandeville at the time.

It was shocking for both of us when we met. I was very ill, but I never went to Jamaica looking for anything except him, and he offered to save my life. It was because of the grace of God that my life was spared and I’m thankful to him for blessing my wonderful brother with such a kind heart. I love him dearly.

Thanks to for providing the opportunity for me the find him!!

Thanks for the interview and final thoughts? 
I’m the little girl who grew up in Manchester, climbing ackee and orange trees. I loved my childhood and even then I believed in the possibilities. My hope is that other little children can grow up to see that they can do what they love and live their dream. Please look for my work in the December edition of Upscale Magazine.  

My mantra: ” The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  Eleanor Roosevelt