The National Gallery at Forty

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The National Gallery of Jamaica is the oldest and largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean and opened its doors, originally at historic Devon House, on November 14, 1974 and the Gallery will thus be celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. Much has happened since the Gallery first opened and the fortieth anniversary provides us with an opportunity to remember and celebrate; to reflect on what has been achieved, and what is left to be done; and in doing all of this, to plot the most productive future trajectories.

Devon House was a beautiful and popular location but the National Gallery quickly outgrew these premises, because of its expanding collections and exhibition programme. The Gallery thus moved to its present, much larger and modern premises on the Kingston Waterfront in 1982 and while there have been plans for a new National Gallery building, our present location has become our de facto long term home. We are about to start a programme to develop our present building to current museum standards and recently, we have also added an extension in Montego Bay: National Gallery West, which opened on July 11 at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on Sam Sharpe Square.

The National Gallery’s early exhibitions focused mainly on mapping out the story of Jamaican art, as was done in the first major survey of Jamaican art, Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976), and the even more influential Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, a more definitive survey of Jamaican art history which was organized with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and which toured the USA, Canada and Haiti from 1983 to 1985. The process of articulating the stories of Jamaican art continues today, for instance by organizing retrospective exhibitions to honour major artists, such as Barrington Watson in 2012, although the curatorial emphasis has shifted to include exhibitions that provide exposure to young and emerging artists, for instance in the Young Talent exhibition series, the most recent of which was Young Talent V (2010) and last year’s New Roots exhibition. Initially focused on the traditional “fine arts” – painting and sculpture – the Gallery has also widened its interests to include a variety of other media and art forms, including installation art, video, performance, graphic design, popular visual culture, and, most recently, street art in the Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica exhibition.

This widening scope has also been evident in the development of the National Gallery’s collections, which started with two hundred paintings and thirty sculptures that were transferred from the Institute of Jamaica Collection. Today, the collection comprises just over two thousand works of art in a wide variety of media and genres. Most of it is arguably Jamaican, in the sense that it is made by artists who have been active in Jamaica or who have lived elsewhere but are of immediate Jamaican descent, and a significant part of it addresses themes that are directly relevant to Jamaican history and culture. Over the years, the National Gallery has depended heavily on donations to develop its collections and these have come from artists, collectors and corporations. Some of the most significant donations have been: the A.D. Scott Collection, the Edna Manley Memorial Collection (to which several individual and corporate donors contributed), the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, and, most recently, the Guy McIntosh Donation.

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Last Sundays: July 27, 2014, featuring the Free Willies Band

ngj_Sunday_Opening_Jul_27_2014-01The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for July 2014 is scheduled for Sunday, July 27, from 11 am to 4 pm.

The featured performance, scheduled to start at 2 pm, is by the acclaimed Free Willies band, with Omar Francis as the lead singer and guitarist. They will play from their repertoire of reggae, rock and blues. The focus of the programme will be our permanent exhibitions, which has been supplemented with a temporarily reinstallation of the AD Scott Collection, a major donation to the National Gallery in 1999 by one of the pioneering art collectors of the post-independence period. Free tours and children’s activities will be offered, with a special focus on themes related to Emancipation and Independence in our collections, in keeping with the upcoming national observations.

As is now customary for Last Sundays, admission to the NGJ will be free on Sunday, July 27, and the guided tours and children’s activities will also be free. Our gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are welcomed. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as our exhibitions and our Last Sundays programming.

Anything with Nothing: Anthony Brown

Anthony Brown - Kimarley (Hannah Town), photo: Kara Springer

Anthony Brown – Kimarley (Hannah Town), photo: Kara Springer

Here is the tenth and final post on the recently concluded Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica exhibition, a feature on mural artist Anthony Brown.

A self-taught artist from Hannah Town, Brown paints highly sympathetic full length memorial portraits and occasionally other community commissions. Most of his portraits have been painted over by the Police. For the exhibition he has painted two portraits and a market scene.

He had this to say about his work:

“Been an artist for almost 35 years now. It’s not been easy. I have to really work hard to really get to a standard, and I’m not really sure of how I really get to this stage because I haven’t done a lot of work…but I feel God’s inspiration allowed me to reach a standard acceptable to people.”

“I hope something can come out of this – I’ve been doing this thing here for how long? When I come and see some of the things in the Gallery it come in like me nah try – but the good man says not to compare yourself with others because you will become vain and bitter and have less interest in your own career.”

“My community is so poor I wouldn’t say I get commission to do work – when you say commissioned to do work it sounds like something substantial you know what I mean. Sometimes they want a wall to pretty up and I will do it for them. You can’t dictate the paint; paint is a thing that makes you learn patience. It doesn’t pay a lot of money and its hard work but I keep doing it because one of the reasons I am sure of is that nobody else in the area can do it as well as I can… That little pride in knowing that I’m the best. You know when you look around Denham Town you can find only two or three other men who can really put it together and to know that I’m one of them makes me feel good.”

Anything with Nothing: Michael Robinson

 

Michael Robinson - Selassie (photo: Olivia McGilchrist)

Michael Robinson – Selassie (photo: Olivia McGilchrist)

We continue our posts on the recently concluded Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica exhibition with a feature on Michael Robinson, another of the artists in that exhibition:

Based in Denham Town Robinson is the only artist in the exhibition with some formal art training having spent a year at the Edna Manley College (then Jamaica School of Art). Robinson does a lot of community commissions including work in schools, businesses, and the Wall of Fame near the National Stadium. Jimmy Cliff is one of his patrons and he makes his living exclusively off his artwork. He also has a number of young apprentices. For the exhibition he has painted portraits of Jimmy Cliff and Nelson Mandela and a Reggae Dance.

He stated in a recent interview:

“I started from a tender age, a small, small kid. Growing up I always used chalk and sketched up things on the road, some little cartoon and things. There was a talent search in my community and I got sponsored to go to the Jamaica School of Art. When I went to the School of Art what they were teaching me I already knew it… I left school before finishing – I did three semesters.”

“I never tell myself that I can’t do something. Because the day you tell yourself you can’t then you you down grade yourself. You have to just say bwoy, I can do that…. I want to reach heights in the arts. You see money, it’s not really about money, it’s just the greatness. I people to recognize my work and say boy, ah Michael Robinson that… Sometimes people pass by my painting and say ‘ah who dat?’ I don’t like to hear that, and as soon as I hear it I leave my food and go back to the painting ‘cause people are telling me that the paintings not ready. Because it’s the critics that teach me my work ‘cause you see critics make you learn.”

Anything with Nothing: Andrew “D.I.” Thomas

Andrew "Designer Ice" Thomas - Rider (2014, in exhibition), photo: Olivia McGilchrist

Andrew “Designer Ice” Thomas – Rider (2014, in exhibition), photo: Olivia McGilchrist

We have recently closed the Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica exhibitions but are continuing to archive the art and artists in the exhibition. Here is a feature on Andrew “D.I.” Thomas.

Based in Waterhouse, Andrew Thomas, a.k.a. Designer Ice or D.I., is a self-taught airbrush artists. He paints memorial murals, images of local celebrities, such as Shelly-Anne Fraser and musicians. He occasionally does work more similar to NYC style graffiti. For the exhibition Thomas, painted a man on a motorcycle on a concrete block wall.

He told us: “The first official piece I put on the road was in 2003 – I just say in my mind I’m going to do something and see what people say about it…a lot of crowds passing along see it and say they like it and from thereon people ask me to do work for them because they see the wall and they like it…from there on I just start doing my thing and that’s how I get commissions.”

“…what keeps me going? It’s jus’ the love of the work. I just like to admire artwork–other people’s work. I try to do something like that or as close to. I go through books or almost anything that looks good or looks challenging and I try to do a little portrait or a little sketch and see how good I am. ‘Cause I am selftaught, you know practice becomes perfect, so I learn from that – people’s stuff.”

Anything with Nothing: Ricky Culture

Ricky Culture - Shack (c2008, Three Mile) – Photo: Olivia McGilchrist

Ricky Culture – Shack (c2008, Three Mile)
– Photo: Olivia McGilchrist

Ricky culture is another artist in the Anything with Nothing exhibition. Here is a short feature on his work.

A Rastafarian artist based in Cockburn Gardens, Ricardo “Ricky Culture” Lawrence does a number of commissions in his community including memorial murals, and murals on bars, restaurants and community walls. His work is supported by King Alpha, a Rastafarian leader in Majesty Gardens who uses Ricky’s murals to help uplift his community. Many of Ricky’s works show his Rastafarian faith. For the Anything with Nothing exhibition he has painted an image of Judgement Day with Selassie’s horse trampling the Pope, a Country Scene and a set of Nyabinghi Drummers.

Ricky Culture - Judgement (2014, in exhibition) – Photo: Olivia McGilchrist

Ricky Culture – Judgement (2014, in exhibition) – Photo: Olivia McGilchrist

He said:

“…for years if someone dies I will do the mural on the wall or if you have any establishment that wants to publish their business I will do the graffiti – the works they do. So it’s a service I’ve been offering the area for many years now, you know. You know how it go in the ghetto you don’t have a job you have to try entrepreneurship – do you own ting. So give thanks for the Almighty that gave me a gift that I can move forward in this hard time of economic crisis – you see what mi a deal wid?

The art thing is a natural thing from birth. From a youth coming up in school I just draw up everything because I had the passion from early so it became my life, you know, it just becomes a part of me. It’s over 30 odd years now ’cause I’m in my 50s now…. So you see even the murals, they are very important to the individuals ’cause when them have their people dead and you draw a picture of the people and it preserves the history so that is one of the ting…”