World Creativity & Innovation Week: 9 Jamaican Painters Of Note

World Creativity and Innovation Week started on Friday, April 15 and will run until April 21. The week-long celebration of creativity was launched on May 25, 2001 in Canada, arising out of a conversation amongst creativity experts and practitioners Marci Segal, John Sedgwick, Paul Rousseau and Jacynthe Bedard. The week was designated as time to encourage people to use their creativity to make the world a better place and to make their place in the world better too.

Jamaicans are creative people, so over the course of the week, diGJamaica will be sharing information on the lives and work of some of our painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, dancers and more. We begin our series with the painters.

1. Barrington Watson

‘Washer Women’

Born in Lucea, Hanover in 1931, Watson was a star footballer while attending Kingston College. In fact, he was so good that he made the national team. His early artistic expression was via the Christmas cards he designed that were sold in his father’s pharmacy. At 20, he moved to England, where he eventually became the first black and the first West Indian person to attend the Royal College of Art in London, graduating with honours.

Watson is considered by many to be Jamaica’s master painter. Upon his return to Jamaica in 1961, he helped to shape the country’s artistic identity in the post-Independence period. He was awarded the gold Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica in 2000, and conferred with two national honours – the Order of Distinction, Commander Class (1984) and the Order of Jamaica (2006). He died this past January, aged 85. His notable works include: ‘Mother and Child’ (1958-1959), ‘Washer Women’ (1966), ‘Athlete’s Nightmare II’ (1966), and ‘Conversation’ (1981).

2. Albert Huie

'Portrait of Edna Manley'
‘Portrait of Edna Manley’ (Kyle Macpherson)

Another of Jamaica’s master painters, Huie was born in Falmouth, Trelawny, in 1920. He was not formally trained as a painter, but said he started painting in his teens and began earning a living from his work through small commissions from haberdashery merchants in downtown Kingston. He eventually became part of the Institute Group at the Institute of Jamaica, where he received his first formal training, and later attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London and the Ontario College of Art in Canada.

Huie worked as an assistant to Edna Manley, respected sculptor and wife of Norman Manley, Jamaica’s first premier, and she was one of his early admirers. They not only shared a healthy artistic bond but were co-founders of the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts (later the Jamaica School of Art) in 1950. His ‘Portrait of Edna Manley’ was Huie’s tribute to Manley, who died in 1987. At the height of his creative powers, Huie staged exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Cuba and England. A showing at the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2004, was one of his last major exhibitions. Huie died in January 2010, aged 89. His other popular works include ‘Crop Time’ (1955) and the controversial nude painting ‘Miss Mahogany’ (1960).

3. John Dunkley

‘Banana Plantation’ (National Gallery of Jamaica)

Dunkley, born in Savanna-la-Mar in 1891, is another highly regarded master painter and sculptor. Fewer than 50 of his paintings are known, and his work spans little more than a decade.

Most of his paintings are imagined landscapes, full of hidden symbolism. His work was characterised by fantastical vegetation and small animals. His famous works include ‘Back to Nature’ (1939), ‘Diamond Wedding’ (1940), and ‘Banana Plantation’ (1945). He died in February 1947.

4. Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds

'Revivalist Going to Heaven'
‘Revivalist Going to Heaven’

Reynolds was born in Byndloss, St Catherine, in 1911. He became converted at the age of 12, after which he started going by the name ‘Kapo.’ He also became a preacher at the age of 16 after receiving a vision. These visions not only led him to starting a Zion Revival church – St Michael’s Revival Apostolic Tabernacle, but to the world of art, as his work is said to be visions translated into wood sculptures and paintings.

Kapo rose to prominence in the 1940s and rose to national and international acclaim by the 1960s. He had a number of prominent patrons, including a young Edward Seaga, hotelier and then-Director of Tourism, the late John Pringle, and R&B legend Roberta Flack. He died in February 1989. Among his celebrated works are ‘Black Christ by the Sea of Galilee’ (1947), ‘Crucifixion’ (1967), Sweet Oranges’ (1969) and ‘Shining Spring’ which was given to Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 as a wedding gift.

5. Eugene Hyde 

Hyde was born in January 1931 in Cooper’s Hill, Portland. His father, John, was a well-respected photographer in Port Antonio. Hyde, regarded by many as Jamaica’s first abstract artist, began drawing and painting for hospitals, nurseries and schools in the the parish at age nine. After high school, he worked in advertising as a graphic apprentice at Art and Publicity Service in Kingston. In 1953, he moved to the US to study Advertising Design at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, California. Two years later, he moved on to the Los Angeles County Art Institute, where he majored in Graphic Art and Painting and ultimately obtained an MFA.

In 1960, Hyde returned to Jamaica after completing his first solo exhibition of paintings and drawings at the Conde Gallery in Hollywood, California. His first local solo exhibition came in 1963, at the Institute of Jamaica. It consisted of 55 works, inclusive of paintings, drawings, etchings, architectural ceramics and murals. His abstract style was different from anything the public had seen before, particularly his representations of the human form. He died tragically in July 1980, drowned at a beach in Hellshire while on an outing there with his wife and children. Among his popular works are ‘Standing Figure’ (1964), ‘Sunflowers’ (1967), the Croton Series (1974) and Good Friday (Casualties series), 1978.

6. Gloria Escoffery

'Old Woman' (National Gallery of Jamaica collection)
‘Old Woman’ (National Gallery of Jamaica)

Born in Gayle, St Mary in December 1923, Escoffery became interested in art as a student at St Hilda’s High School in Brown’s Town, St Ann. Her art teacher was none other than well-regarded muralist and designer Rhoda Jackson. Escoffery moved on to the McGill University in Canada, the University of  the West Indies, Mona Campus and the Slade School of Fine Arts in London.

After London, Escoffery taught in Barbados for a year before returning to Jamaica. She eventually settled back in Brown’s Town, where she taught at the community college. In addition to her work as a painter, she was also an art critic, poet and journalist, who contributed regularly to Jamaica Journal and The Gleaner. Throughout her career, Escoffery worked in different genres, and was particularly regarded for her landscapes work inspired by themes of community life in Brown’s Town. Some of her celebrated works include ‘Old Woman’ (1955), ‘Gateway’ (1965) and ‘Mirage’ (1987). She died in April 2002.

7. Carl Abrahams

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‘The Ascension’

Born in Kingston in May 1911, Abrahams attended Calabar High School, where his talent for drawing was nurtured. Encouraged by his headmaster Reverend Ernest Price, he began to study the work of old masters such as Dutch Golden Age portrait painter Frans Hals and English painter and sculptor Sir Frederick Leighton.

Abrahams started his career as a cartoonist in 1928, and contributed regularly to The Gleaner, the West Indian Review and WISCO magazine. He took up painting on the advice of English painter August John, who visited Jamaica in 1937. After three years of service in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Abrahams returned to Jamaica and started painting professionally, but continued working as a cartoonist and illustrator. He was largely self-taught, eschewing the Institute of Jamaica art classes and the Jamaica School of Art and Craft. Among his most popular works are ‘The Destruction of Port Royal’ (1975), ‘Thirteen Israelites’ (1975) and ‘The Ascension’ (1978). Abrahams was awarded the Musgrave Gold Medal in 1987. He died in April 2005.

8. Dawn Scott

(L-R): 'Plastic Instincts' and 'Indian Girl'
(L-R): ‘Plastic Instincts’ and ‘Indian Girl’

Born Alison Dawn Scott in Mandeville in 1951, she was perhaps most famous for the mixed media project ‘Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed’ (1985), the National Gallery’s (and Jamaica’s) first exhibition of installation art. It featured ‘A Cultural Object,’ a haunting, spiral-shaped zinc fence structure which brought elements of inner city life into the world of ‘high art.’ However, her early work was as a painter. Her first exhibition, a showcase of drawings, paintings and sculptures, took place in 1971 at the United States Information Service headquarters in Kingston.

Scott moved to figurative batik work in the mid-1970s, which remained her main medium for some 20 years. She first exhibited these in 1975 at the Creative Arts Centre of the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. She also lived in Barbados in the late 1970s  and exhibited there at the Queen’s Park Gallery and Yoruba House in 1978. This culminated in ‘Nature Vive’ (1994), the focus of her last solo exhibition in 1995 at the Grosvenor Galleries in St Andrew. Scott died September 2010.

9. Ebony G Patterson

(L-R): ‘Gully Godz in Conversation I’ and ‘Gangstas for Life’

Born in Kingston in 1981, Patterson represents the new generation of Jamaican artists. She attended the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, from which she received an Honors Diploma in Painting, and the Sam Fox College of Art and Design at the Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, where she obtained an MFA in Printmaking and Drawing in 2006. She is currently the Assistant Professor of Painting at the University of Kentucky.

Working in a variety of mediums – paintings, drawing, collages and mixed media, her work revolves around questions of identity and the body. Her most popular works include ‘Venus Investigations,’ which feature the female torso, headless and anonymous, and explored the relationship between the female goddess images of prehistoric times and contemporary female self-images and beauty ideals. However, she is perhaps best know for the mixed media ‘Gangstas for Life‘ series, which started in 2008. These images explore the concepts of masculinity within the Dancehall culture.