This second in a two-part feature on Eugene Hyde was researched and compiled by Monique Barnett, Curatorial Assistant.
Eugene Hyde’s artistic oeuvre includes drawings and etchings on paper, mix media paintings on canvas as well as explorations in architectural ceramics. Hyde also executed commissions for large murals, for example a stone mural for University of the West Indies Extramural Campus on South Camp Road. He was also commissioned to do a stage backdrop for Dialogue for Three, a dance piece choreographed by the late Professor Rex Nettleford for the National Dance Theatre Company during the mid-1960. Today, he is considered one of Jamaica’s great muralists. “Hyde brought a new aesthetic to Jamaica…together with Barrington Watson, he introduced a new sense of scale [and] a more “expansive” imagery.” (Smith-McCrea, 1984, 10)
Throughout his artistic career, Hyde seemed to always have a preoccupation with visually exploring the human figure. Perhaps for Hyde, the human figure with its versatility of form and expression could be used as the ultimate symbol for a myriad of human conditions and expressions of his time. His interest in the human figure began long before his fine arts career (see blog article Jamaica’s Art Pioneers: Eugene Hyde (1931-1980) – Part I: His Life, May 11, 2011) and after committing himself to exploring visual art beyond the boundaries of illustrative design through the study of fine art painting, Hyde would continually push the envelope in terms of finding that ‘new’ image or images of the modern humankind.
Hyde was adept at communicating deep emotional content in his works as observed in one of his earlier illustrations, Man Reading Paper (1953-55). His gestural approach in other drawings, particularly the misshapen and distant character of some of his figures, such as Standing Woman (1954-55), is largely credited to the influence of Italian-born painter and sculptor Rico LeBrun (1900-1964), who taught classes at the University of California while Hyde attended the institution during the mid to late 1950’s. Though it is not certain that Hyde was ever taught directly by LeBrun, Hyde greatly admired and identified with the older artist’s proficiency with line as well as his ability to invoke psychological content into his figures and the spaces in which they existed.
Particularly in his etchings, Hyde sought to extend the linear dynamism of his human figures into the rest of the pictorial space, effectively revealing yet trapping them inside the composition as seen in Bunch Fruit and Jelly Man, both done in 1959. He would push the envelope even further as evidenced in paintings such as Standing Figure (1964) in which the figure is almost completely abstracted and sculptural. It should be noted, however, that no matter what lengths Hyde took to explore abstraction, there was always a representational element in his compositions.
Eugene Hyde is categorised by some as an artist whose works, beginning around the mid-1960’s, reflect strong influence of Abstract Expressionism, an art movement that was innovated in the USA, post-World War II in the mid to late forties. Though the movement itself was losing prominence during the late fifties to early sixties, there were still international artists that were using elements of it in their works. Elements of abstract expressionism such as the dynamism and movement of form, shape and space characterized most, if not all, works produced by Eugene Hyde. Works from his flower series, such as Sunflowers (1964) and Croton Series (1974), micro-cosmically display sweeping movements of gradating colours as they begin to imply form.
In the late 1970’s, Hyde would more aggressively apply his use of figurative expression with social commentary in another of his painting series, The Casualties. Hyde depicted the human figures in this series as figures of poverty and deprivation – marginalized individuals without identity, represented in flurries of restless, fragmented lines and hollowed forms as seen in Good Friday (1978). Socio-political references are evidenced through the use of the Jamaican flag colours, subtly dominated by the existence of a thin red line (possibly a visual clue to what Hyde what perceived as a political move towards communist ideology by the government at that time). Hyde was adamant about the demise that would befall his island home if certain political ideologies were to be adopted. Landing of the Advisors (1978), for instance, depicts a merging of the Cuban and Jamaican flag colours as they appear to plummet into a restless and formless dark space.
As mentioned previously, Eugene Hyde’s stylistic approach was adventurous and foreign to Jamaican audiences who, at the time, had come to embrace the calm and edifying characteristic of traditional Jamaican artwork. Considered a major force in the development of abstract art in Jamaica, Eugene Hyde can be seen as the fore-runner for later expressionists like Omari Ra and Milton George in the late eighties to nineties. Their post-modern approaches to art making and the expansion of the conceptual framework of abstract art to speak about various subject matter further challenged the way Jamaicans accepted the evolution of Jamaican art within the context of a more advanced global perspective. According to Smith-McCrea (1984), Hyde did not feel that he belonged to mainstream Jamaican art, even questioning the idea of a Jamaican art movement. Despite that, Hyde – through his collaborations with artists, local and foreign as well as other cultural entities and corporate business institutions – was able to contribute to developing the infrastructure needed to facilitate the development of Jamaican artists through education, organized contemporary exhibitions and a culture of art appreciation and collection. His lifelong commitment and work has indeed earned him the title of Jamaican Art Pioneer.
For more on Hyde’s life, click here.
Archer-Straw, Petrine, and Kim Robinson. Jamaican Art. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1990.
Hyde Archives, National Gallery of Jamaica
Smith-McCrea, Rosalie. Eugene Hyde: A Retrospective. Kingston: National Gallery of Jamaica, 1984.