Hylton Nembhard (1950-2011)

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The National Gallery of Jamaica regrets the passing of Jamaican artist Hylton Nembhard (1950-2011). This is our tribute to him, with thanks to Herman van Asbroeck for images of his recent work.

Hylton Nembhard (1950-2012) received early training at the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica and later attended the Jamaica School of Art, now the Edna Manley College. He exhibited regularly over the years, starting with the Festival Fine Arts exhibition in the 1960s and the NGJ’s Annual National in the 1970s. He also exhibited his work at the Bolivar Gallery and Amaicraft.

Nembhard’s earlier work consisted of figurative woodcarvings, in local woods such as lignumvitae and cedar, but more recently he worked inventively with recuperated materials, especially sheet metal, which he hammered into relief shapes, combined with fibers and sometimes also painted.

The NGJ’s Chief Curator David Boxer contributed the following reflection on hearing of Nembhard’s passing:

Hylton Nembhard was one of those interesting hybrid artists that the Jamaican Art movement has thrown up from time to time. He began his career as a woodcarver (though he has also worked in metal) that we would today define as an Intuitive, but he sought out the advice and training available to young artists associated with the Institute of Jamaica in the fifties, sixties and early seventies. These associations resulted in his early vital work being somewhat tempered. When I arrived at the NGJ in 1974 two of his carvings an Eve, and a Rasta Head, both done in the early seventies attracted me and over the years I have shown the Rasta Head in one of the Intuitives galleries at the National Gallery. He has never however been included in any of the exhibitions which have virtually established the Intuitive canon. This Rasta Head remains, in my opinion his finest work, full of vitality and raw expressive energy.

Nembhard’s work indeed defies the categorizations that have been proposed in Jamaican art history. He was an eccentric and this became more pronounced in his later life but his artistic style and subject matter always remained rooted in the local popular culture, particularly the world of Rastafari. His work also existed in dialogue with the artistic language of mainstream artists such as Osmond Watson and, even, the Rasta-inspired woodcarvings that proliferate in the local tourist market.

Irrespective of how he is categorized, or whether he can be categorized at all, Hylton Nembhard possessed a powerful artistic voice and deserves to be studied and recognized as a significant figure in the context of Jamaican art.

Note: We had initially reported that Hylton Nembhard had passed away in 2012 but have since learned that it occurred on December 13, 2011.


6 thoughts on “Hylton Nembhard (1950-2011)

  1. Pingback: Jamaica: Tribute to Nembhard · Global Voices

  2. Remembering Hon. Hylton Nembhard
    By. C. Wainwright Iton

    I first met Hylton circa 1999/2000 outside Hi-Qo when it was located at Spanish Court. He had taken a wooden sculpture to sell to the gallery, but was turned down. We chatted briefly and I bought the sculpture. There begun a relationship that endured…thereafter, Hylton become a regular visitor to the Jamaica Stock Exchange where I worked.

    I became a serial custodian of his art…what an oeuvre. I have work in wood, in metal and in oil.

    He first introduced me to his relief barrel tops unadorned, and then one day he brought the first painted (coloured) barrel top. I was blown away, but I was not the only one. I submitted the piece for inclusion in the National Gallery’s Biennial (circa 2000) and it was selected.

    Hylton would pick up the side of old refrigerators, old aluminium pots and various scrap metal and create the most unimaginable masterpieces. His three dimensional pieces are especial.

    One of my visits to the National Gallery I was pleasantly surprised to find the most exquisite wood bust done by Hylton circa 1970.

    I have a friend who has a most discerning eye for art, particularly intuitive Jamaican art, whom I told about this most creative artist that I had just met. On introducing him to a few of my earlier pieces he was not deeply impressed. A few months on, I introduced Hylton to my friend, shortly after he confessed to me that he was a genuine, creative artist. My friend is also a custodian of many of Hylton’s masterpieces and in fact his last masterpiece.

    The Bolivar Gallery was early to recognise Hylton’s genius and hosted at least two (2) one-man shows. I opened the latter one for Hylton. It was a memorable night…especially when I handed the mike to Hylton for his comments.

    Hylton deserves to be on the pedestal with all other truly great Jamaican/Caribbean artist. Art historians who do not know his work should research same and inform a wider audience. Such was the esteem in which he regarded himself that every piece of his work carried the inscription “Hon. Hylton Nembhard” and Hon was not misplaced as in some other instances.

    Rest in peace my friend Hon Hylton Nembhard.

    • Dear Sir,
      Your tribute to the “Hon Hylton Nembhard” truly warmed my heart.

      I met him in 1978 while working at the Dunlop Corbin Compton Advertising Agency in Kingston. He always came to Gurney Beckford and he was totally smitten by my “baby mother” self when I walked into Gurney’s office.

      I loved the sheer genius of his negotiating that Lignum Vitae.. the hardest wood in the world! So he promised that he would make a piece especially for me since I was the poster woman for our “Eat right to have a healthy baby” campaign.

      I loved and purchased 2 pieces from him for a ridiculously small sum…the going rate…and he was happy to have a signed poster of me.

      Today, I wish to sell ALL my Jamaican Art since I believe Art needs to be “home” to inspire the next generation.

      So ,to properly price my 2 pieces, I did some research online and found your amazing tribute that would make him smile from ear to ear.

      Thank You
      Marilyn Haynes Smith

  3. Pingback: Jamaica: Tisztelgés Nembhard előtt · Global Voices Magyarul

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