Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Tribute to Alexander Cooper

Here is the text for the second tribute exhibition in the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which opens this weekend with several events. The Alexander Cooper tribute is on view at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston.

Alexander Cooper was born in St Mary, Jamaica in 1934. In 1954, he received a Government scholarship to attend the Jamaica School of Art (now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts), from which he graduated in 1963. He also attended the Art Students League in New York and the New York School of the Visual Arts. He spent a number of years teaching at Kingston College and the Jamaica School Art, following his return to Jamaica after his studies in the USA. Alexander Cooper has been a regular exhibitor locally and internationally since the 1960s, and has participated in most Annual National and Biennial exhibitions at the National Gallery of Jamaica. One of his most notable was his anniversary exhibition entitled 50 Years–Then and Now (2012), at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica. He has received several awards for his contributions to visual arts in Jamaica, including the Prime Minister’s Award (1993) and the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Award (2001). In 2016, he was conferred with the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) by the Government of Jamaica. Cooper lives and works in Cooper’s Hill, St Andrew, Jamaica.

Tribute

Today, Alexander Cooper is renowned and indeed beloved for producing genre paintings that present a nostalgic, gently humorous view of Jamaican life, as well as for his portraiture and landscapes. However, throughout his career, he has explored a surprising range of aesthetic approaches which have included abstract and expressionist styles and a variety of subject matter. Cooper regularly credits Jamaican artist Ralph Campbell—his tutor at the Jamaica School of Art—for providing crucial insights on the development of images in paint. He has also credited American painter Robert Brackman—his tutor at the Art Students League of New York—who helped him to refine his figure painting technique.

The types of paintings, prints and watercolours that he produced as an emerging artist during the 1960s, coincided with an ethos adapted by the likes of Eugene Hyde, Milton Harley and Karl Parboosingh, who applied elements of modernist abstraction to Jamaican subject matter. Even before going to New York to study around 1963, Cooper’s paintings showed a clear desire to move beyond the foundations of his post-impressionist beginnings, into a more gestural engagement with paint as a medium, as well as line, shape and colour as compositional elements.

By the time he returned to the island a few short years later, he continued his exploration of expressive painting, eventually towards the point of abstraction. Stevedore (1967) is a highly stylized depiction of a male figure, which has been rendered almost exclusively by a multitude of slashing lines of varied intensities. The result is not a static human form but one that appears to be in motion, as the bow of its legs anchors it to the base of the composition. Cooper continued his sojourn in the possibilities of abstract compositions with his Children’s Series of the mid to late 1970s. Here, Cooper attempts to mimic the naiveté of a child’s drawing or scribble, juxtaposed with minimal yet emotive colour palettes.

From the late 1970s onwards, Cooper started focusing on representational paintings, featuring more realistic depictions of people and environments. Though more conservative than his previous canvases, Cooper continued to experiment with various approaches to expression in terms of subject, composition and colour. His erotic line drawings of the early 1980s stand out because of their elegant simplicity and more daring subject matter, although the curvilinear, dynamic approach to line and composition ties in those works with the rest of his oeuvre.

Cooper however began to settle for a more recognizable style and subject matter around that time, which is evident in the painting Hide and Seek (1979), which depicts children at play in a garden. This work is quite colourful but is united by a subtle series of blue tonalities evident in the complexion of the children and the surrounding environment. This approach to palette—with particular regards to the use of blue undertones—has become one of the signatures of an Alexander Cooper painting. Though he still practices realist portraiture, Cooper’s genre scenes have acquired a gently caricatural quality which adds a humorous element to his loving depictions of what he regards as vanishing but valuable aspects of Jamaican life. He has also continued to explore his interest in architecture, in a series of series of historical scenes of Kingston inspired by archival photographs and landmark buildings.

Cooper has painted numerous portraits of local and international public figures, including key figures in the Jamaican art world. There are also paintings and prints that are more surrealist in nature and tie into themes of memory and aspiration.  His Symbol of Life (n.d.) combines both subject areas and is his tribute to the surrealist Jamaican-Australian painter Colin Garland.

Alexander Cooper is one of the most prolific artists of his generation and he is certainly one of the most versatile. We hope that this small tribute will generate greater awareness of the quality and range of his artistic practice.

Monique Barnett-Davidson
Assistant Curator

Jamaica Biennial 2017: Tribute to Peter Dean Rickards

While we continue to prepare for the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which opens with several events from February 24 to 26, we now present the first of several features on artists in the exhibition, starting with Peter Dean Rickards, one of two artists to whom the Biennial pays special tribute with a special exhibition of his work. Here is a short bio and the tribute text, which was produced by the Afflicted Yard team of Russell Hergert, Ross Sheil and Shayne Morris, who preserve Rickards’ artistic legacy. The Peter Dean Rickards tribute will be on view at the NGJ in Kingston.

BIO

Peter Dean Rickards (1969-2014), was an influential and innovative self-taught photographer, videographer and publisher, who straddled the worlds of unique photojournalism, fashion photography, music video production and fine arts. He called himself a “media terrorist” and launched his website The Afflicted Yard, which provided provocative but poetic visual and verbal commentary on various aspects of Jamaican life. He successfully exhibited his work outside of Jamaica, first in Switzerland, then in London along with various unique contributions to projects and venues worldwide, while this Biennial will be his first major exhibition in Jamaica. The art world did not escape his sardonic eye, such as his collaboration with L.A. Lewis who became “The Conceptual Artist,” in a hilarious spoof of the pretentiousness of the art world, while literally exposing and cutting down the cult of Banksy. He also published the magazine FIRST, which was impeccably designed and produced featuring his photographic work and creative direction. FIRST set a new standard in local magazine publishing. At the time of his passing he was also shooting unique fly-on-the-wall documentaries, and gathering incredible international momentum.

© Peter Dean Rickards

TRIBUTE

“We are Jamaicans living within and without cultural control. We are at once proud nationalists and harsh critics of our country of origin. A country known for its extremes. A place packed with originality and creative energy that continues to flourish despite the current socio-political state that has removed the personal pride of many. An island filled with beauty unsurpassed and ugliness that would make a rat puke. This is the Afflicted Yard. A place of extremes where you will see life as we see it.” 

– Peter Dean Rickards (1969-2014)

Peter exposed Jamaica to the world as “an unofficial member of the Jamaican Tourist Board,” as he put it. He captivated by destroying typical stereotypes of the island and replacing them with stronger images of reality. Untrained ‘officially’ as an artist, he started shooting with a 1-megapixel point-and-shoot but with an innate sense of the beauty of natural lighting, how to uniquely frame his subject, and instil a gut-wrenching power of the story behind them. At times harsh but also equally sensitive and dignified.

At the beginning of the millennium, he was figuring out how to use glitchy dial-up internet to stream sound systems live from a Constant Spring Road basement, while intercepting taxi driver radios for street news, all with AfflictedYard.com as his evolving canvas and forum. Photography was a happy accident as he captured a high-point in dancehall culture, while introducing new perspectives on traditional and daily-life subject matter, never before seen in such a way through a lens.

AfflictedYard.com though often controversial was a vital footprint for Jamaica emerging online; Peter was creating blogs, memes and digital videos from a decade-and-a-half-ago, along with the groundbreaking print magazine FIRST. He was always ahead of his time, well before social media and before anyone had smartphones. Above it all, he was infamous for remaining true to his passion, his imagery and his perspectives – and the work he’s left behind will serve his manifesto above, long into the future.

All photos are copyright of the Peter Dean Rickards Estate, all rights reserved.

Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 6: The Awards

Ebony G. Patterson was the winner of the 2014 Aaron Matalon Award. Here is one of her two works in that Biennial, Lillies, Carnations and Rozebuds (from Dead Treez), installation view at Devon House

Artists who participate in the Jamaica Biennial qualify for two awards. One is the National Gallery of Jamaica’s own Aaron Matalon Award; the other is the Dawn Scott Memorial Award, which is the private initiative of the New York-based art critic Edward M. Gómez. Both awards will be announced at the main opening function of the Biennial, at the National Gallery of Jamaica, on Sunday, February 26. This opening function starts at 1:30 pm. Edward Gómez will be in attendance to present the Dawn Scott Memorial award.

The Aaron Matalon Award is granted to the artist who, in the opinion of the combined Exhibitions and Acquisitions committees of the National Gallery made the most outstanding contribution to the Biennial. The award is named after the National Gallery’s late Chairman and benefactor, the Hon. Aaron Matalon, O.J. Awardees receive a unique medal, hand-crafted by the noted Jamaican jeweller Carol Campbell, and a monetary award of $ 100,000. Artists who have won the Aaron Matalon Award in the past are: Omari Ra, Renee Cox, Norma Rodney Harrack, Phillip Thomas, Laura Facey, Jasmine Thomas-Girvan and, most recently, Ebony G. Patterson.

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The Hon. Aaron Matalon O.J. and Marjorie Matalon at the NGJ in the company of the Rt. Hon. P.L Patterson, the then Prime Minister of Jamaica, in 1999.

Aaron Matalon, an impassioned philanthropist and supporter of the arts, was not only the National Gallery’s Chairman for many years, but also one of its most generous donors. In 1999, Aaron Matalon and his wife Marjorie presented the National Gallery with its largest and arguably its most significant donation thus far. This gift consisted of 218 items, ranging from rare early maps of Jamaica and the Caribbean, early prints and photographs, and a wide, carefully selected group of modern Jamaican art works that filled many gaps in the National Gallery’s collection. This collection is now known as the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection and is extensively used in the National Gallery’s temporary and permanent exhibitions.

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Dawn Scott and Edward Gomez in 2006

The Dawn Scott Memorial Award is granted to an artist whose work in the Biennial reflects the inquisitive and innovative spirit, fine craftsmanship and independent thinking that characterised the late Dawn Scott’s approach to art-making. Edward Gómez created the Dawn Scott Memorial Award in 2014 and personally selects the recipient(s). The first award in 2014 was shared between two young artists, Camille Chedda and Kimani Beckford. A monetary prize of US$ 500 is attached to the award.

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Co-winner of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Kimani Beckford – B.i.B. (2014)

The multifaceted body of work of the influential Jamaican artist, teacher and environmental activist Alison Dawn Scott (1951-2010) encompassed drawing, painting, sculpture, architectural design and sophisticated batik fabric-dyeing techniques. Scott’s art often evoked timely, even controversial social-cultural and political themes. Her ground-breaking mixed-media installation, A Cultural Object (1985), which is now in the National Gallery of Jamaica’s permanent collection, is made from found materials from the street, calling attention to issues of class, race, cultural history and everyday economics with a sense of drama and psychological intensity that challenged a viewer’s sense of reality. It remains an urgent, powerful work of art today. Edward Gómez lived and worked in Jamaica as a cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston in the 1980s and became a close friend of Dawn Scott at that time. Since then, he has maintained close ties to Jamaica and its arts community. He has published numerous articles and essays about Jamaican artists, including the legendary Intuitives, which helped introduce their achievements to broad, international audiences.

Co-winner of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Camille Chedda - Wholesale Degradables (2014)

Co-winner of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Camille Chedda – Wholesale Degradables (2014)

Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 5: The Biennial @ Devon House

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Deborah Anzinger – A Piercing Cold Where We Meet (2017, digital study)

The 2014 edition of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Jamaica Biennial was shown at multiple venues—a first for this exhibition in Jamaica—and this included Devon House, the original home of the National Gallery and one of Kingston’s main heritage sites. Devon House was included as part of the National Gallery’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, as a home-coming of sorts, but also in response to the Devon House Management’s invitation to organize regular joint exhibitions.

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Laura Facey – Bumpy Top Desk and Mirror (2016)

The Jamaica Biennial 2014 at Devon House featured work by Laura Facey, Ebony G. Patterson (who won the Biennial’s Aaron Matalon Award that year), Greg Bailey, Cosmo Whyte, James Cooper, and Oneika Russell, and was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed parts of the exhibition. The approach taken was for the works selected to be installed the Devon House mansion interior, alongside or in replacement the regular furniture and art works, and, in the case of Laura Facey, also in the formal gardens in front of the house. The result was a rich dialogue between the history and context of the house—which was built and owned by Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel, in 1881—and the issues raised in the art works, such as the historical and contemporary dynamics of race and class, the politics of visibility and invisibility in the face of social violence, and our relationship to the natural environment.

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Sharon Norwood – Root of the Matter XI (2016)

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Jamaica Biennial 2017 – Bulletin 4: Biennial at National Gallery West ft. David Gumbs’ Xing Wang Video Installation

National Gallery West

2017-biennial-invitation-montego-bayThe Jamaica Biennial 2017, the National Gallery of Jamaica’s flagship exhibition, is shown at three locations, namely at the National Gallery and Devon House in Kingston and at National Gallery West in Montego Bay. At National Gallery West, which is located at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Sam Sharpe Square, the Biennial will feature an interactive video installation by the Martinique-based David Gumbs. This exhibition will open to the public on Friday, February 24 at 7 pm. The guest speaker will be His Worship Homer Davis, the Mayor of Montego Bay, and the artist David Gumbs will be in attendance.

david-gumbs-dome-2David Gumbs is one of six specially invited international artists in the Jamaica Biennial 2017, who exhibit along with more than 80 artists from Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora, and the inclusion of these international artists is part of the National Gallery’s efforts to give the Biennial…

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