Fete Type Log #1
October 24 — Took time to visit the sign painter, Bruce Cayonne, at his home in Arima. Agyei was with me and we were warmly greeted by Bruce, who stepped out in his home clothes to give us the grand tour of his garage studio. Without skipping a beat, we jumped into design talk and felt right at home. It's a beautiful thing when this happens.
The idea for Agyei and myself, was to create a conversation with the design legend and see where that took us. From a Trinidadian graphic designer's perspective — the fete sign is the ultimate, a typography 101 class on chipboard. How ironic then that Bruce Cayonne is self-taught. Fortunate for us — also generous in knowledge and spirit.
I asked him, "Did you ever think that the signs would die out?" He replied, "Yes, years ago." He chuckles though, at where he's at today — fully invested in his sign business. Not too long ago he ran a bar, several actually over the years. He'd make signs during the day, close his sign shop at 6 and then head over to the bar to work evenings. This took a toll, he laments, "on the sign work" — a business he realized that has been his bread and butter from the beginning, and has continued to grow steadily, while his other business ventures have not. Now he's focused on his signs. Which is great news for all of us.
The walls of the garage are a neutral pink. It becomes a yard in the back and a driveway with a simple gate in front. His clients park up and everything is in plain sight — signs, paintbrushes and Bruce. There's a circulating breeze and as we talk, we stall for passing car engines, mic men and sound systems. Bruce said something interesting about his signs — they weren't good enough for the bar. Cheapened it. For him, his signs are the equivalent to 'fast food'. When asked if he could ever see his signs in an exhibition, he shook his head and said he couldn't. The value of his signs is hard to imagine in that context. Instead, he lightly breaks it down in dollars and sense — how much ad agencies charge for vinyl signs; the dollar value per fete of placing an unknown DJ's name in a larger font; and his investment in good paint and boards.
He dreamt of working in an ad agency — made a portfolio, walked up and down "that area with all the agencies in Woodbrook" to no avail. To work under somebody that could instruct, "This is good, this isn't." A similar experience occurred when he tried to join a group of experienced sign painters in his neighbourhood. His amateur hand, shaking as he picked up the brush to paint a letter on the newsprint on the wall, he turns and asks, "When does the shaking stop?" They refused to train him, but one of the defining elements of Bruce's signs today, is his confident and clean brush strokes.
We meet Bruce at a cross road. His deep dive finally into his sign work has a few things brewing. He's experimented with styrofoam and cutting out letters with a jigsaw. He's excited about the end result, you can see it in his eyes. Agyei and I shared our interest in making a digital font out of his hand painted letters. He was open to the idea. Funny enough, he's yet to do a fete sign with his name on it. He's currently solving the fact that his studio, ironically does not have a sign. He finally got a Facebook account he said. As I took pictures of the space, he shows me the styrofoam letters and pulls out old work table tops, splattered and layered with spillover paint from fete signs he's made — I'd like to frame these.