In Memoriam Albert Artwell (1942-2018)

Albert Artwell holding “Black Star Liner”. Image courtesy of Jessica Ogden.

The National Gallery of Jamaica has received the sad news of the passing renowned intuitive painter Albert Artwell.

Albert Artwell was born in 1942 to farming parents in Catadupa St. James. He attended school in the same district and eventually became a farmer himself. At the age of 26 he grew locks after having visions of the Biblical prophets Abraham and Moses and saw himself as a shepherd of the Rastafari faith. Deeply religious, he differentiated himself from other Rastafari claiming to be a ‘Hebrew,’ “because he recognized Abraham as the father of the Israelites.” The genesis of his artistic production can be traced back to the highly decorated hardboard panels on which he used to write verses from the Bible that held personal significance for him.  Religious visions played a critical role in his artistic development, as they were noted as the inspiration for his decision in 1975 to begin illustrating scenes from the Bible which proved to be recurrent themes in his painting for the rest of his career.

Albert Artwell – City of Africa (1978, Collection: NGJ)

His paintings utilized the archaic compositional device of vertical stacking, which is found in Egyptian art and other African artistic traditions including Ethiopian Illuminated Manuscripts.  The sometimes seemingly arbitrary scale of his figures, are also related to a hieratic compositional mode found in medieval and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in which the relative importance of the figures in the work, relate to the artist’s concept of their importance in the narrative presented.

Dr David Boxer in his essay Introducing Fifteen Intuitives described his work as “wondrous visions caught in intricate drawings that seem to chart the very wanderings and yearnings of his soul”…His iconography, however has been clearly updated by his obvious Black Rasta consciousness. Thus in a Crucifixion for example, Christ will be black (‘The Sufferer’) and his tormenting soldiers will be white – sometimes dressed in the garb of British colonial officers”  

His work was exhibited locally in the Fifteen Intuitives and the Intuitive Eye at the National Gallery of Jamaica and internationally in the critically acclaimed Jamaican Art 1922-82 exhibition staged at several North American venues by the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES); The Commonwealth Institutes Jamaican Intuitives staged in London, Sheffield and Edinburgh in 1986 and Redemption Songs: The Intuitive Artists of Jamaica which toured the United States from 1999-2002 and most recently the Jamaica Jamaica! Exhibition staged last year at the Philharmonie de Paris which travelled to Brazil and is currently on show at the SESC 24 de Maio in São Paulo.

Over the years his work was very popular with collectors of Jamaican Intuitive art and he developed a close working relationship with several of the galleries that represented him in particular the Harmony Hall Gallery in Ocho Rios and the Gallery of West Indian Art in Montego Bay.

Albert Artwell – The Birth of Jesus (n.d.), Annabella and Peter Proudlock Collection

“Artwell’s religious work and especially his recasting of Christ’s story and mission, indeed the very essence of Christianity, in his terms as a proud and dignified Black man, is his indelible gift to the visual arts of Jamaica”

In 2003 Albert Artwell received a bronze Musgrave Award from the Institute of Jamaica for Outstanding Merit in the Field of Art.

The Board of Directors and the staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Albert Artwell.

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