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.