One of my earliest memories is sitting on the grass watching an Independence Day parade. Jamaica gained independence from Britain 6 August 1962, almost exactly two years after I was born. And today, we celebrate 50 years of emancipation.
And so, Jamaica, the land of my birth and a country that has a deep place in my heart, has been on my mind. In honour of the occasion, I’d like to share the work of some of the Jamaican artists I recall from my growing up years. Information about many of the artists can be found on the National Gallery of Jamaica blog. I had some difficulty obtaining images for all the artists – thank heavens for the internet but of course the quality will vary so apologies in advance. I do have a book of Jamaican art somewhere….where is it when I need it???
The earliest artist in this list is Issac Mendes Belisario (1795-1849), the first documented Jamaican-born artist. I remember seeing images of his Sketches of Character in my childhood.
Going by date of birth, next there’s Edna Manley (1900-1982). Considering time and place, I am in awe of this woman’s work! Edna Manley also happened to be the mother of one of Jamaica’s more well know prime ministers, Michael Manley.
Then there’s Carl Abrahams (1911-2005), often referred to as the Father of Jamaican Art. Interestingly, I just found out while researching for this post, that it was on the urging of renowned British artist, Augustus John, who was visiting Jamaica, that Carl began painting professionally in 1937. Prior to that he was a cartoonist for Jamaica’s daily newspaper, The Gleaner.
And born in the same year as Carl is the artist known as Kapo (1911-1989), one of Jamaica’s most well known ‘Intuitive’ artists.
Albert Huie (1920-2010), also called the Father of Jamaican painting, only passed away a couple of years ago. I have long admired his work. As a point of interest, he worked as an assistant to Edna Manley in the 1940s.
Eugene Hyde (1931-1980) completed a Masters degree in Los Angeles before returning to Jamaica in the 1960s. Along with Barrington Watson and Karl Parboosingh, he co-founded the Contemporary Artist Association.
Colin Garland (1935-2007) was born in Australia but he studied in England where he met Jamaicans. These connections prompted his first trip to Jamaica in 1962 where he eventually settled. He painted exotic fantasies which have always intrigued me even if they hardly make sense!
Barrington Watson (b.1931) studied at the Royal College of Art in London. After much travelling, in 1961, the year prior to Independence, he too returned to Jamaica. I grew up with a portrait of my Mum painted by Barrington hanging just outside my bedroom door. I remember always being in awe of Mum’s white pleated skirt.
Speaking of my Mum, here’s a sample of her work since she too is a Jamaican artist as is my dad but I don’t have any images of his work handy. Another time Dad!
A good friend of Mum’s, Susan Alexander (b 1929), is well known in Jamaica for her figures of Jamaican life. Born in New York, she studied at Pratt Institute, Skidmore College, and then a year at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts before becoming a Jamaican resident in 1951. As an aside, I remember Susan painting away in her studio by the pool where I took swimming lessons from her husband Neville Alexander.
We had a George Rodney (b 1936) painting hanging in the house too. I always loved his abstracted figures and combinations of colours.
I met Graham Davis (b.1944) many years ago. I was charmed by him and his lovely home in the hills of Jamaica. I had seen and admired his work in the home of my aunt Pat and uncle Geoffrey and so it was a great pleasure to finally meet him.
And finally, there’s Laura Facey (b. 1954) who created the powerful sculptures in Emancipation Park, a fitting way to end this tribute to Jamaican artists on this anniversary of Jamaica’s independence.
Of course I absolutely cannot end this post without mentioning Usain “Lightening” Bolt who won the men’s 100m at the London Olympics yesterday four years after his win in Beijing. Not only that but Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also won again in the women’s 100m. There’ll be some crazy celebrations going on in Jamaica today what with dominating the 100m Olympic athletic events AND the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence!!!
If you have anything to say about this post (or any additions or corrections!), I’d love to hear from you. Click on the title of the post and you’ll end up on my website where you’ll find the comment box.
Until next time,