The Jamaican ceramicist Gene Pearson in 2010 received a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, the NGJ’s parent organization. As has become customary for artists who have been awarded Musgrave medals, the 2010 National Biennial includes a special tribute exhibition of his work. Below is the citation for Gene Pearson’s Silver Musgrave medal.
The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Gene Pearson, O.D., for outstanding merit in the field of Art.
Ceramicist and sculptor Gene Hendricks Pearson was born in 1946 in St. Catherine, Jamaica. He attended the Jamaica School of Art; now the Edna College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he studied under Jamaica’s Master Potter Cecil Baugh and was one of the School’s first graduates with a diploma in ceramics in 1965. He subsequently taught at the Jamaica School of Art, for some eighteen years, and has also taught ceramics at the Calabar and Vere Technical High schools. At present, he works exclusively as a studio artist and divides his time between Jamaica and California. A keen cultural entrepreneur, he recently opened a gallery in New Kingston – the Gene Pearson Gallery – where he sells his ceramic and sculptural work.
While he also produces more conventional ceramic forms, such as vases and bowls, Pearson is best known for his sculptural work, especially his popular heads and masks. He has worked extensively with local clays, such as the Castleton clays, which he uses in his earthenware pieces. His ceramic work also shows the results of his constant experimentation with the ancient Japanese technique of Raku-style firing, of which he is an acknowledged master. The characteristic crackled surface of his Raku ware is used with great finesse in his sculptural forms and has become part of his signature style. While he works primarily in ceramic media, Pearson also produces bronze sculptures and this departure should not surprise, since the process of bronze casting involves the production of clay models and molds and thus incorporates ceramic media and techniques.
Pearson’s ceramic and bronze sculptural work celebrates black beauty and dignity, which accounts for the popularity of his work in Jamaica and the African Diaspora cultural sphere. His style and subject matter are inspired by the arts of ancient Nubia, Benin and Rastafarian culture and emerged in dialogue with the visual language of contemporaries, such as Christopher Gonzales. His style is however firmly distinguished from the latter’s moody expressionism by the silent, introverted monumentality of his sculptural and ceramic forms and is arguably among the most distinctive and recognizable of the artists of his generation.
Pearson sees the promotion of clay sculpture as his personal battle. Having, in his own words, fought “to get some recognition for the clay, boycotting the National Gallery for years when they were at Devon House [when] they didn’t recognize the clay.” And he has been quite successful in this struggle gaining greater local recognition for ceramics and ceramic sculpture as a fine art and is today one of Jamaica’s most sought-after and well acclaimed artists.
Gene Pearson has exhibited widely in Jamaica and overseas and is represented in major Jamaican collections, such as the National Gallery of Jamaica, the Bank of Jamaica and the Hardingham Collection, as well as the private collections of international celebrities such as Stevie Wonder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Diahann Carroll, and Alice Walker. His ceramic works have also served as official Jamaican gifts to Heads of States and other public figures including Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union, Prime Minister Phan Van Dong of Vietnam, President Lopez Portillo of Mexico, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Roberta Flack, Maya Angelou and President Bill Clinton of the USA.
Pearson’s work appears on the 1993 Jamaican $1.40 stamp, as part of an issue that featured Jamaica Ceramics from the Hardingham Collection. In 2001, he was awarded the Order of Distinction, Officer Class, for distinguished performance in the Arts.
For his contribution to Art the Council of the Institute of Jamaica is pleased to award Gene Pearson, O.D. the Silver Musgrave Medal for outstanding merit in the field.