Carlisle Chang is an artist of extraordinary breadth whose work is immortalised in the Coat of Arms and national flag of Trinidad and Tobago.
To many, he is the father of Trinidad Art for having drawn his inspiration from the cultural mosaic of his society. Growing up in San Juan, he helped Muslim friends make their Hosay tadjahs, decorated Hindu homes for ceremonial events and designed Carnival costumes for anyone who asked. Among his major influences was his tutor and mentor Amy Leong Pang, founder of the Society of Trinidad Independents that promoted the radical notion of an indigenous art aesthetic.
At age 29, he received a British Council scholarship to the L.C.C. Central School of Arts and Crafts in London where he studied painting, ceramics and mural art. He followed this with studies at the Instituto Statale d’Arte Per La Ceramica in Italy. In 1954, he returned home to open his own art studio.
With the forces of nationalism marching towards Independence, Carlisle Chang became the centre of its creative firmament, serving on eight committees preparing for independence and producing a stream of artistic work. His art was in high demand and he was commissioned to produce several public works of art, including The Inherent Nobility of Man (1961), an imposing mural painted in the arrival hall of the old Piarco Airport, which was, tragically, demolished in 1979 to make way for building expansion.
In Carnival, he produced designs for Stephen Lee Heung and bands of his own, winning two Band of the Year titles with “China: Forbidden City” (1967) and “We Kinda People” (1975).
When the bottom fell out of the fine art market after the Black Power events of 1970, the entrepreneurial artist left painting to diversify into creative products. He established Gayap Industries Limited to produce Carnival and other dolls, copper work, handicraft, woodcarvings and embroidery. In this period, he also served as President of the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago (1984-89). When the effort flagged, he switched to interior design for corporate and private clients.
In 1997, after an interregnum of almost two decades, he returned to exhibition with the Clico Calendar titled Costumes and Festivals of the Caribbean. Carlisle Chang received many awards, including the national honour of the Hummingbird Award in 1964.
In 2001, Carlisle Chang passed away, leaving an indelible imprint on the landscape.