Kingston: Crossroads

Isaac Mendez Belisario, Sketches of Character: French Set Girls (1837-38)

Isaac Mendez Belisario, Sketches of Character: French Set Girls (1837-38)

Here is another feature on our current exhibition, Kingston – Part 1: The City and Art, which opened on July 31. It was written by the exhibition curator, Monique Barnett-Davidson:

Like any major capital city, Kingston is a proverbial land of opportunity and a microcosm of social development in Jamaica. And like its predecessor Port Royal, it is a point of intersection, the juncture of a myriad of commercial and cultural pathways. One needs to look no further than the intensely trade- and business-oriented areas of Downtown, the Waterfront, our natural harbour (the seventh largest in the world), or the Crossroads and Half Way Tree areas. Artists have always been active participants and beneficiaries in these intersections, by participating in these exchanges and commercial opportunities, and by representing them in their work.

This section features pre-twentieth century itinerant artists such as Frenchman Adolphe Duperly, who operated his commercial photography and lithography studio, Adolphe Duperly and Son, at 85 King Street in Kingston. Duperly published a number of images of early Jamaican places, people and events such as the Daguerian Excursions (c1844), a series of lithographs of island scenes that were originally produced as daguerrotypes. Duperly is generally credited as the one who introduced photographic technology to Jamaica in the 1840s.

Duperly also collaborated with the Kingston-born lithographer and painter, Isaac Mendes Belisario who is famous for his 1837-1838 lithograph publications Sketches of Character in Illustration of the Habits, Occupation and Costume of the Negro Population in the Island of Jamaica. Despite the problematic ideological questions raised by Belisario’s images, the Christmas Amusements and Cries of Kingston have become icons of heritage that inform the memory of our enslaved, apprenticed, and later emancipated Jamaican fore-parents, as they worked and celebrated the gift of life and culture during times of great colonial oppression.

Kay Sullivan - Star Boy (1972), Collection: NGJ

Kay Sullivan – Star Boy (1972), Collection: NGJ

The development of tourism in Kingston and other parts of the island in the late 19th and early 20th century also created opportunities. Artists such as the Millers (father and son both named David), who lived at 8 Bray Street in East Kingston and capitalised on the tourist trade by carving and selling a variety of wooden curios from tiny carved animals to large figurative works of fantasy and caricature. Their unique artistic talents were soon recognized and they are today regarded as major figures in Jamaican art history.

Several pioneering modern Jamaican artists, such as John Dunkley, Cecil Baugh and Albert Huie left their birthplaces in rural Jamaica to seek their fortunes in the only city in Jamaica which could facilitate the artistic aspirations of so many—another dimension to rural to urban migration. John Dunkley from Savanna-la-Mar, having spent his early life as a sailor and migrant worker in Cuba, Costa Rica and Panama, returned to Jamaica in 1926 and opened a barbershop on Princess Street in Kingston. The unusual painted and sculpted decorations he produced for his barbershop, like the work of the Millers, attracted the attention of the emerging Kingston art establishment, and specifically of the nearby Institute of Jamaica’s Secretary Delves Molesworth, and led to him being recognized from early on as a one of Jamaica’s most significant and original painters.

John Dunkley, Diamond Wedding (1940), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica (Gift of Cassie Dunkley)

John Dunkley, Diamond Wedding (1940), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica (Gift of Cassie Dunkley)

The young Albert Huie, migrating from Falmouth in the parish of Trelawney in 1936, was also guided to the profession by Molesworth, and initially taught and mentored by the expatriate Armenian artist Koren der Harootian, who lived in Kingston in the 1930s. Huie is now recognized as the “father of Jamaican painting.” And it was in the area now known as Mountain View that seventeen-year-old Cecil Baugh, who was originally from Bangor Ridge, Portland, began his first apprenticeship as a potter in the early 1920s, initially producing traditional utilitarian pottery, for which there was a significant market in Kingston.

David Pottinger - Snapper Time (1970), Collection: NGJ

David Pottinger – Snapper Time (1970), Collection: NGJ

Several artists took Kingston as their main subject. The St Thomas-based artist Sidney McLaren and the Kingston-born and-based painter David “Jack” Pottinger both created vivid depictions of city life. Pottinger is best known for his sombre but dignified depictions of street life in central and west Kingston; McLaren presented a more upbeat, colourful picture of the hustle and bustle of the city. Perhaps the contrast between their work stems from the different perspectives of a “town man,” who had first-hand experience of life in what quickly became Kingston’s inner cities, and a visiting “country man,” who was fascinated by the marvels and modernity of city life.

In searching for the most defining Jamaican subject matter, artists have been drawn consistently to one particular set of subjects, markets and market vendors as icons of economic enterprise and self-reliance, and there are many examples in Jamaican art that depict this subject (which is also one of the most common subjects in other Caribbean art generally). Many of these art works merely record (and romanticize) the market environment but some add other layers of meaning to the subject. Osmond Watson’s classic The Lawd is My Shepherd (1969), for instance, moves far beyond the conventional Jamaican market scene depiction and represents the vendor as a person of faith and spiritual endurance.

Monique Barnett-Davidson

Osmond Watson - The Lawd is My Shepard (1969), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

Osmond Watson – The Lawd is My Shepard (1969), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

3 thoughts on “Kingston: Crossroads

  1. I really enjoy reading your blogs. I would love to share them but you don’t have any social media links for sharing. Your are missing out in taking your message to a wider audience by not making it easy to share your content. A link to Facebook it Twitter is is must. Sherry

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thank you for your comment. However, the Facebook and Twitter links are in fact below each post. Please have a look and let us know if you found it.

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