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.”