Colin Garland – In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974), oil on canvas, Collection: NGJ
One of the theoretical pillars of the Natural Histories exhibition is our interest in how artists have utilised natural history motifs to speak about the different aspects of human history and experience. Perhaps informed by his childhood fascination with nature and collecting specimens in his native Australia, Colin Garland makes eloquent use of the inherent beauty and symbolic content of natural elements found in his compositions. There are three works by Garland in this exhibition: Venus Reliquary (1977), Patoo (1994) and the thematically rich In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974).
Looking at the contents of the jewel box-like container represented in Venus Reliquary, one is inevitably reminded of the collections of species of exotic marine life amassed by pioneering natural history scientists like Sir Hans Sloane, the so-called cabinet of curiosities. Seemingly opened for the viewers’ perusal, the massively scaled work magnifies its precious contents, a variety of seashells and coral, the shells represent prosperity, the feminine as well as the spiritual aspect of life, rebirth and baptism. The coral referred to as the sea tree was a symbol of the Great Goddess and was linked to fertility, like Venus whose reliquary it is. Born of sea foam and depicted in classic works like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1486) journeying to land on a scallop shell, the variety of shells here could be representative of the many transatlantic journeys that transformed the Caribbean.
Colin Garland – Venus Reliquary (1977), oil on board, Aaron & Marjorie Matalon Collection
Colin Garland – In the Beautiful Caribbean (1974), Collection: NGJ
Colin Garland was born on April 12, 1935 to a working class family in Sydney, Australia, during the period of the Great Depression. Garland described his family as poor but artistic and creative, coming up with ingenious ways of survival. As a youngster, Garland developed a love for exploring the outdoors and collecting the objects and small creatures he found. Additionally, his aptitude and noticeable talent for drawing, painting and modelling was encouraged particularly by his mother who allowed him to enter art competitions and use his prize money to buy more art materials. Eventually, he made the decision to study at the National School of Art in Sydney with the intention of studying theatre art. However, theatre art was not offered and he studied the fine arts instead. Theatre was a life-long interest of Garland, however, and he worked part-time as a performer and later designed and made costumes and sets for various theatrical groups. After five years at the National School of Art, Garland decided to go to England to continue his studies.
It was through his Caribbean theatre contacts in England that Garland first arrived in Jamaica briefly in 1962 – the year of Jamaica’s independence. Later that year, he decided to return to the Island permanently having secured a teaching job at the Jamaica School of Art (now part of the Edna Manley College). He eventually remained at the school for almost two decades. Initially living in Oracabessa, St Mary, Garland eventually relocated to nearby Boscobel where he spent the rest of his life. He also continued to work with theatre community in Jamaica. Notable among his contributions is the set design for the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) production entitled Court of Jah held in 1975.
Colin Garland – End of an Empire (1971), Collection: NGJ