Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Eugene Hyde (1931-1980) – Part I: His Life

This first in a two-part feature on Eugene Hyde was researched and compiled by Monique Barnett, Curatorial Assistant.

Rex Nettleford in discussion with Jamaican painter Eugene Hyde, who was working on his 1966 exhibition The Dance (photographer unknown)

One of the most ambitious developments to take place within the realm of the
Jamaican art movement was the formation of the Contemporary Jamaica Artists’ Association (CJAA) in 1963. It emerged at a time when Jamaica had already established several galleries, a tertiary institution of art (the Jamaica School of Art), and a viewing public along with competent critics – all indicators of the professionalization of Jamaican art at that time. This association of professional artists was geared towards building “respectability for the profession as well as [making] art a financially viable concern and [elevating] it to a standard comparable with other movements abroad” (Archer-Straw & Robinson 1990, 57). The founders of the Association, Karl Parboosingh, Eugene Hyde and Barrington Watson, all shared strong commitment to the adoption of modern approaches to art in Jamaica. Hyde in particular was responsible for introducing a number of international artists to exhibit in Jamaica during the sixties and seventies. Described as a quiet and systematic worker, he was possibly the first of Jamaica’s artists to develop the idea of working ‘serially’- creating a series of works based on a single theme. In fact, it was his Flora series (1969-1973) that brought him public recognition as an accomplished young Jamaican painter.

Eugene Hyde - From the Croton Series (1974), mixed media on canvas, Collection: NGJ

Eugene Siedel Hyde was born on January 25, 1931 at Cooper’s Hill, Portland. His father, John Hyde, was described as a well-respected citizen and the leading photographer in Port Antonio at the time, responsible for doing graduation photography for schools, for leading families as well as photography for the United Fruit Company which was a banana shipping company. John Hyde had three sons of which Eugene was the eldest (the other two were John and Oswald). Three years after Eugene Hyde’s untimely death in 1980, Mrs. Ivy Larman, Eugene’s mother, describes to Rosalie Smith McCrea (then Assistant Curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica),  her son’s early years as a naturally gifted artist:

I noticed that during his childhood he undoubtedly had a special ability in art, even the way he coloured the cartoon figures in children’s books was special. This progressed until age nine when he used to draw and paint for hospitals, nurseries and schools in the locality (Smith-McCrea 1984, 30).

She added that Jonkanoo bands, which travelled about around Christmas and New Year’s time, played a major role in the entertainment life of young Hyde:

He always took a distinct interest in the exciting colours and designs which were displayed as well, he was an observer of poverty and how the average man worked for a living. (Ibid.)

Hyde attended Titchfield High School in Port Antonio. After the death of his father in 1944, Hyde and his mother moved Spanish Town where he attended Beckford and Smiths, now known as the St. Jago High School. In 1948, he began his career in advertising as a graphic apprentice at Art and Publicity Service, a graphics firm that used to operate on Harbour Street, Kingston. Before long he became a graphic artist and full member of staff. Hyde learned to draw from copying images in art books, particularly those that focused on the human figure. George Garel – an artist acquaintance of Hyde while he lived at Monk Street with his mother and stepfather – introduced him to the idea of drawing from nature. He described Hyde as someone who saw things with a graphic sense rather than in a painterly way and as such, landscapes did not really appeal to him as much as the human figure studies of Michelangelo. Hyde expressed to Garel that he was not particularly fulfilled at Art and Publicity – “he wanted to be a fine artist.” (Smith-McCrea 1984, 31)

Eugene Hyde - Counting (c1953-55), Collection: NGJ

In 1953 he studied Advertising Design for two years at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, California. There, he discovered there was more to art than just advertising. From 1955 – 1960, he majored in Graphic Art and Painting at the Los Angeles County Art Institute, ultimately receiving his Masters Degree in Fine Arts. In that same year, after completing his first solo exhibition of paintings and drawings at the Conde Gallery in Hollywood, California, Hyde returned to Jamaica. Initially he applied, without success, for teaching positions at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus and the Jamaica School of Art (now the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts). Eventually he was accepted as Art Director at Art and Publicity Service where he had first done his apprenticeship years before. He subsequently returned to the United States where he studied “Principles of Advertising” at the University of California Los Angeles and did extra post graduate work in Architectural Ceramics at Otis Art University. Upon his return to Jamaica in 1961, he became the art director of Stewart Johnson and Associates (formerly Art and Publicity Service). However, Hyde felt culturally out of touch having spent so much time away from his homeland. In addition to that he never applied his fine art background and it wasn’t until two years later that he was able to re-immerse himself into the movement and rhythm of Jamaica and begin his career as a serious fine artist.

Eugene Hyde - Standing Figure (1964), mixed media on board, Collection: NGJ

In 1963 Hyde accomplished his first solo exhibition in Jamaica at the Institute of Jamaica which consisted of 55 works – paintings, drawings, etchings, architectural ceramics and murals. Hyde’s art style was unusual and foreign for some Jamaican viewers, particularly his abstract representations of the human figure. However, there were others that felt that his level of expressiveness as a draughtsman represented possibly the beginnings of a shift in the current visual art paradigm of the day. From then on, Hyde involved himself in many activities related to the arts including having extra classes for young artists at his home at “Hyde-a-Way” at Old Stony Hill road, completing commissions for other artistic groups such as the N.D.T.C as well as a mural project for the late A.D. Scott at the Olympia International Art Centre. He also taught part-time at the Jamaica School of Art, brought on staff by Barrington Watson who was then the Director of Studies. Hyde was critical of teaching methodology at the Jamaica. Hyde admitted:

I was unpopular…they are not involved in history and the things which build the total person. An artist today is an educated…he must be able to understand and be aware of where he is in relationship to society (Smith-McCrea 1984, 35)

Hyde continued his work in the graphics and advertising industry eventually founding the firm Hyde, Held and Blackburn in 1968, with several partners (the company is now known as the Pear Tree Press). In 1970, he established the John Peartree Gallery with the objective of giving those artists legitimately involved in creative experimentation a place to display their work. In the same year, Hyde travelled with his wife, Beth, Karl and Seya Parboosingh to various parts of the Caribbean “to make contact with Caribbean artists with a view to promulgating cultural exchanges within the area and also to attend the first Biennial of Latin American Graphics, staged in Puerto Rico” (Smith-McCrea 1984, 48). Hyde continued to work passionately towards a development of modern visual arts in Jamaica through the various activities within Jamaica’s developing cultural sector. In March of 1980, he was invited to give a lecture to second year students at the Jamaica School of Art on the topic, My Work and its Development over the Last Twenty Years. He, however, didn’t fulfil the invitation, instead inviting the students to the John Peartree Gallery to view and discuss the works on view there. Tragedy struck on July 15, 1980, when Eugene Hyde drowned at a beach in Hellshire while on an outing there with his wife and three children. He was 49 years old. Posthumous exhibitions were held in his honour in 1981 at Gallery Barrington as well as at the John Peartree Gallery in 1982. In 1983, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for his contribution to the field of art. In 1984, another posthumous exhibition was mounted by the National Gallery of Jamaica, entitled, Eugene Hyde 1931-1980: A Retrospective.

For more on Hyde’s work, click here..


Archer-Straw, Petrine, and Kim Robinson. Jamaican Art. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1990.

Smith-McCrea, Rosalie. Eugene Hyde: A Retrospective. Kingston: National Gallery of Jamaica, 1984.

3 thoughts on “Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Eugene Hyde (1931-1980) – Part I: His Life

  1. Pingback: Jamaica: Hyde – Art Pioneer @ Current Affairs

  2. Pingback: Le Ciel et La Terre | Revue de presse | Jamaica: Hyde - Art Pioneer

  3. Pingback: The National Gallery and the Library « bread&circuses

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