Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds (1911-1989)

Kapo - Deryck Robert

Kapo at his Revival Yard, surrounded by several sculptures from the Larry Wirth Collection, c1983 - Photo: Deryck Roberts

On Tuesday, November 17, the NGJ will open an exhibition of work by Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds from its permanent collection, under the title “Selections from the Kapo Collection”. This exhibition temporarily replaces what used to be known as the Larry Wirth Gallery of Kapo’s work, which is currently closed for refurbishing and will reopen as the Kapo Galleries in early 2011, as was explained in the previous post. Below is a short biographic tribute Kapo, written by the NGJ’s Chief Curator, David Boxer, and starting with an excerpt from an autobiographic account by Kapo from the NGJ archives.

“I was born 1911 the 10th day of February in Byndloss, St. Catherine. My father’s name was David Reynolds, my mother’s name before marriage was Rebecca Morgan. My father married her when I was nine years old. At the age of 12, I received the Spirit of Conversion. I was then reading in Fifth Standard. At the age of 16 I left school; I was not bad at reading. I did not love drawing. Drawing days I used to prefer to go and work in the garden. Before the death of all my sisters and brothers, we all used to play together, go to Church and school. I can remember as far back as my creeping days, and forty years ago when I started as a self-taught artist, scraping on a stone with homemade tools, never having seen before a piece of sculpture in any medium. Then I started working steadfastly without any instruction. Happily for me guiding lights appeared in my life – a number of prominent men who took interest in my work and encouraged me.” — Kapo

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, charismatic Zion Revivalist leader, the Patriarch Bishop of the St. Michael Tabernacle, was known to most Jamaicans simply as Kapo, a cultural force who played an indelible role in the defining of Jamaican art – particularly the so-called Intuitive or Self-Taught genre – of the second half of the twentieth century.

Kapo’s brief autobiography above barely covers the essentials. What is missing is the story of how that “encouragement” from “guiding lights” in the fifties and sixties, which included the young cultural researcher and politician Edward Seaga and the hotelier and Director of Tourism John Pringle, bore rare fruit, for Kapo’s instinctive approaches to painting and to sculpture produced in him a truly rounded artist as adept in two dimensional forms (painting and drawing) as he was in three dimensional sculpture. He was also a truly inspired artist, drawing deeply from his immense spiritual resources, which included his own church, the St Michael Tabernacle.

Kapo was born in a rural St. Catherine community some thirty miles from Kingston. At age sixteen he received his first vision and started travelling the countryside preaching. In the early thirties he made his way to Kingston and settled in Trench Town where he established his Zion Revival church. In Trench Town in the mid-forties he began translating his visions and his imaginative transcriptions of biblical events into paintings. Most of these early works, it is said, were lost when they were confiscated by the police as evidence of Obeah practice. By 1950 he had begun to carve, first in stone and then in wood. Much of his works were elemental depictions of his cultural mileu, including portraits of those around him. He was also a fine landscape painter and was fond of depicting the environment of his childhood, the hills andvalleys of St Catherine’s interior. Other works are more spiritual in nature and were clearly inspired by his visions and practice as a Zion Revivalist leader.

While he encountered significant prejudice during his early years, he had by the time of his death in 1989 gained recognition as one of the most significant Jamaican artists of the twentieth century. He had also been recognized as one of the  world’s leading Intuitives, or as they say outside of the Caribbean, “Naïves” or “Primitives.” Early in his career, Seldon Rodman, the well-known critic of Haitian Art, said of Kapo: “As a painter, I find Kapo probably equal to the late Hector Hypolite of Haiti, whom Andre Breton considered the best since Henri Rousseau.” Later, writing in the London press in 1986, Edward Lucie- Smith who praised the emotional force of Kapo’s painting (then on view at the Commonwealth Institute) suggested that as a painter “Kapo deserves comparison not so much with the Haitians who have become more commercialised in recent times, but with the father of the whole genre, the great Henri “Douanier” Rousseau.”

MAT - Happiness in a Mango Walk, 1973

Mallica "Kapo" Reynolds, Happiness in a Mango Walk, 1993, Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

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35 thoughts on “Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds (1911-1989)

  1. my name is ernest christoper woolaston my stepfather is kapo reynolds he took me in from i was 4 yrs old i have been journey with him all over jamaica anyone wish to know in an out of his life let me know

    • Im currently writing a piece on Kapo for my art class, i cannot find however which year he lost his legs and how. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

      • Thank you for your query. We have been unable to ascertain the exact date but it would have been around 1982-83.

      • This is Kapo’s daughter Christine..He started having circulation issues in the mid to late seventies..He suffered what they called then..”Peripheral vascular disease”. Both legs were lost by 1979

      • Hi my name is Odessa, youngest daughter of Kapo. It’s 1980 and then again in 1981. Due to poor circulation derived from sculpting. Hope this helps for future enquiries. Feel free to ask any question; I’m willing to give whatever info is possible.

    • Earnest
      He was my mother’s second cousin. She is from the Reynold’s in St Elizabeth. David, your step-grandfather, left Round Hill St Elizabeth to start life in Byndloss. It would be good for us to talk.

    • hey Christine, I have been trying to reach you, but misted your response last year. I did not check the NGJ site till recently. I had mentioned I had an interesting story about your dad giving the statue of the angel seen in Dr.No to my mother (D.Keator). please write me at my email. steve keator

      • Hello Steve, we do seem to be playing ” e-mail tag” and are constantly missing each other, even though it may be months apart. Lol. Well if you see this post, please write, I would love to hear the story.

    • I have heard and been told, even believe it to be the unique quality of each piece. Him not having any training, instruction or initial interest in the field and turning out to be an artist with such a gift to express and bring to life everyday realities, spiritually and culture, beauty, truth, wisdom, his unique color combo & vibrancy etc., are some of the reasons people do and will like his work so much.

  2. Hi! My name is samu reynolds the great grand niece of kapo. And to say christine i want to know more bout him please.

    • Hello Samu, By the way, who are your parents and grand-parents? I would like to know more about them as well. My e-mail address is Write me whenever you like..your grand-aunt, Christine

  3. This was absolutely beautiful and very informative. I am a Jamaican blogger and I definitely intend to write a piece about “Kapo” who is without question a Jamaican/Caribbean cultural icon.

  4. i am Robert Reynols son of the late Kapo Reynolds, my father was a very great man, with a lot of insperation, kapo is a great lost, i love you daddy if my sister Elizabeth Reynolds, have seen this, contact me, please.

    • There is no published autobiography but there is a typescript with an autobiographical account in the files of the NGJ’s Education Department. Please email if you need further assistance.

      • An autobiography in the works, good to know, will have to make sure its integrity is intact. Kapo Reynolds’s granddaughter is getting married in june. His daughter, Christine (me) will be there then as well. I took his passing extremely hard, he raised me so obviously this was difficult. But its time to come home

  5. I’m aware that the gallery is under new management. It is my hope that we will still maintain the same, and develop an even better relationship and partnership than we’ve had for so many years. My mom (now deceased) had me acting on her behalf since about 2003 to date in relation to all contractual agreements, queries etc. Please feel free to contact me whenever you wish to. Thanks.

    • Noted, with thanks. The NGJ is highly committed to the preservation and promotion of your father’s legacy and we look forward to working with you.

  6. today incidentally is my dad’s birthday, he would have been a hundred three years old . ironIcally my godmother Roberta Flack, its her birthday today as well. I still miss my father terribly. I just want to say that I love them very much, they both very special people

  7. im an art student in jamaica and im preparing to do cxc visual arts bt now finishing the last part of my sba ( the journal) an this site has been very helpful. Kapo was a great artist. Every artist was first an armature

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