Barrington Watson in Context – Part II

Barrington Watson - Self Portrait (1962) Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Self Portrait (1962) Collection: NGJ

The Jamaican Master Painter Barrington Watson passed away last month. Here is part 2 of the two-part post based on Veerle Poupeye’s essay for the 2012 Barrington Watson retrospective catalogue – Part 1 can be found here. This essay places Barrington Watson in the context of post-Independence art.

3. A Jamaican Master

Barrington Watson holds a special place among the Independence generation. As an academic realist, Watson’s work is more accessible than that of his CJAA contemporaries, which certainly contributes to his local popularity. His subject matter, furthermore, generally conforms to the norms set by the nationalist school and includes genre and history scenes and landscapes. Watson is also a sought-after portraitist, who has produced many official portraits, among others of Jamaica’s Prime Ministers. He is also known for his nudes and erotica, the latter of which was new and quite provocative in mainstream Jamaican art of the 1970s. The substantive difference between Watson and his nationalist predecessors was, however, that he represented his subjects in the “grand manner” of Western academism, with sweeping, theatrical compositions on large canvases, classically posed figures, and virtuoso drawing and brushwork. Watson’s popular appeal and assertions of high academic artistic status may, at first glance, seem like a contradiction but a closer look reveals otherwise.

Barrington Watson has not only been recognized as a Jamaican “Great Master” but has actively asserted himself as such. His illustrated book of short stories, Shades of Grey (1998) contains the story of a dream in which he encounters the 19th century European great masters Manet, Degas, Monet, Cezanne and Renoir, who assure him that they have been watching his progress and regard him as one of them.[1] This may contradict the dominant view that postcolonial art derives its legitimacy from positioning itself against the “Great Western Tradition” but Watson counterbalances this in another short story, also based on a dream, in which he encounters the king of Ancient Benin who reveals that he is of royal blood and invites him to produce a bronze lion for his throne.[2] By means of these two imaginary endorsements, Watson thus claims his dual legitimacy in the “Great Traditions” of Europe and Africa. This dual allegiance is also evident in his artistic motto: “The light of Turner; The line of Ingres; The range of Rembrandt; The techniques of Velasquez; The emotion of Goya; and, my birthright of Benin.” He therefore does not question the construct of “high art” but assertively claims his place in its hierarchies, and in doing so asserts himself as a black “Great Master.”

Style: "Neutral"

Barrington Watson – Conversation (1981), Collection: NGJ

Not surprisingly, Barrington Watson has been one of the main critics of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s promotion of Intuitive art. This came to a head while the exhibition Jamaican Art 1922-1982, which was curated by the National Gallery Director/Curator David Boxer and its former Deputy Director Vera Hyatt, toured in North America through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) from 1983 to 1985.[3] The exhibition was positively received in North America, where it attracted approximately 117,000 visitors, but several critics expressed reservations about what they saw as the Eurocentricity of the mainstream.[4] John Bentley Mays of the Globe and Mail of Toronto, for instance, wrote: “The most intriguing paintings and sculptures here, however, are not the polished Euro-Jamaican descendents of [Edna Manley’s] the Beadseller, but the home-spun, punchy pictures of the self-taught Intuitives” (11).[5] Predictably, this did not sit well with some of the mainstream artists, Barrington Watson chief among them.

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BARRINGTON WATSON IN CONTEXT – Part I

Barrington Watson - Dancer at Rest (c1962), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Dancer at Rest (c1962), Collection: NGJ

The Jamaican Master Painter Barrington Watson passed away last month. Here is part I of the two-part post based on Veerle Poupeye’s essay for the 2012 Barrington Watson retrospective catalogue. This essay places Barrington Watson in the context of post-Independence art.

Barrington Watson’s Appeal

Most persons familiar with the Jamaican art world will agree that Barrington Watson is one of Jamaica’s most popular and acclaimed artists.[1] This is supported by the high market value of his work and the enthusiastic and loyal support he has garnered from major Jamaican art patrons and collectors. Watson has also received significant official recognition and was in 2006 bestowed the Order of Jamaica, the highest national honor ever given to a Jamaican visual artist other than Edna Manley, who held the Order of Merit. Watson’s appeal reaches across Jamaica’s social boundaries, beyond the social class that typically supports fine art, and masterpieces such as Mother and Child (1958) and Conversation (1981) are among the most popular works of art in the National Gallery collection.

The question arises exactly why Barrington Watson’s work has such strong appeal. Other than its obvious artistic merit, there is his capacity to produce powerfully iconic and highly relatable images – Mother and Child (1958) and Conversation (1981) key among them. Even his less iconic work strongly appeals to Jamaican cultural sensibilities, however, and to gain fuller understanding of why this is so, it is necessary to see his work in its broader social and cultural context, particularly of the ideas about art and the artist that have emerged in postcolonial Jamaica.

Barrington Watson - Washer Women (1966), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Washer Women (1966), Collection: NGJ

Art and Independence

The years around Independence were, as the artist and critic Gloria Escoffery has argued, characterized by a combination of great ambition and sometimes naïve idealism.[2] The period was marked by the advent of a new generation of artists, most of whom had studied abroad and returned to the island eager to contribute to the development of Jamaican art and to national development, generally. Arguably the three most influential among them were Karl Parboosingh, who had studied in Paris, New York and Mexico; Eugene Hyde, who had studied in California; and Barrington Watson, who had studied in London and several continental European academies. They were also pioneers where they studied: Watson had been among the first black students at the Royal College of Art – Frank Bowling from Guyana was another. These young artists returned home with new ideas about art – high modernist in the case of Parboosingh and Hyde and academic-realist in the case of Watson – and had an ambitious, cosmopolitan outlook which challenged the more insular tenets of earlier nationalist art. Their subject matter was still recognizably Jamaican but they combined this with formal experimentation, a preference for monumental scale that transcended the modest “living room formats” used by the nationalist school, and a more critical and demanding attitude.

Karl Parboosingh - Cement Company (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Karl Parboosingh – Cement Company (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

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Last Sundays of February 28 to Feature Tribe Sankofa

February 28 Last Sundays-01

The National Gallery’s programme for Last Sundays on February 28, 2016 will feature Tribe Sankofa with Black Bodies and two exhibitions, Explorations IV: Masculinities and Tribute to Barrington Watson.

Black Bodies is a performance ritual that tells the stories and honours the memories of four Jamaicans (Vanessa Kirkland, Jhaneel Goulbourne, Michael Gayle and Mario Deane) killed by the Police or while in Police custody, combined with a tribute to several African-Americans who have died under similar circumstances in the US. The second half of Black Bodies will be a staged interpretation of an excerpt from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.

Tribe Sankofa performs Black Bodies

Tribe Sankofa performs Black Bodies

Black Bodies, the brainchild of Fabian Thomas, who also directed it, features Tribe Sankofa. Tribe Sankofa is a performing arts collective comprised of a vibrant and eclectic cadre of multi-talented performers who are combining their artistry to add an exciting new dimension to the performing arts landscape of Jamaica and the rest of the world. Thomas, who is the Founder/Artistic Director of the collective, describes their niche as “spoken word/poetry, soulful song-styling uniquely blended with other visual and performing arts”.

Sankofa performs Black Bodies

Sankofa performs Black Bodies

The National Gallery’s Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition is part of an open-ended series of exhibitions that examine major themes and issues in Jamaica’s art and visual culture. Masculinities explores how masculinities, and the use of the plural is deliberate, have been enacted and represented in works of art from the 18th century to the present, which are presented in dialogue with each other. Masculinities will close on March 5.

Barrington Watson - Athlete's Nightmare II (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Barrington Watson – Athlete’s Nightmare II (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Visitors will also be able to view a special tribute exhibition to Barrington Watson, who passed away on January 26. This tribute, which was recently expanded and includes masterworks from the National Gallery Collection and loans from various private collections, will be on view until March 5.

Doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm for Last Sundays on February 28 and the performance by Tribe Sankofa will start at 1:30 pm. As is customary, admission will be free and free tours and children’s activities will be offered. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and contributions to the donations box are gratefully accepted. Revenues from our shops and donations help to fund programmes such as the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition and our Last Sundays events.

Tribute to Barrington Watson

Further to our tribute to Prof. the Hon. Barrington Watson, O.J., who passed away on Tuesday, January 26, we have mounted a special display of some of Barrington’s key works from our collections, namely: Mother and Child (1958-59), Self-Portrait (1962), Barbara (1962), Dancer at Rest (c1962), Washer Women (1966), Conversation (1981) and Samantha’s World (1962). Works by Barrington from our collections can also be seen in the A.D. Scott Galleries, which presently feature his Portrait of A.D. Scott (1970) and Michael and Fidel (1977), both from the A.D. Scott Collection, and in the Explorations IV: Masculinities exhibition, which features Triangle (1972, A.D. Scott Collection), Athlete’s Nightmare II (1962, A.D. Scott Collection), Portrait of the Rt. Hon. Michael Manley (1975), and  Fishing Village (1996, Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection).

In Memoriam Barrington Watson (1931-2016)

National Gallery of Jamaica: Barrington Watson Lecture for the Edna Manley College Rex Nettleford Conference

Barrington Watson signs autographs for art students after his October 13, 2011 lecture at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

The National Gallery of Jamaica is deeply saddened by the news that Jamaica master artist Professor the Honourable Barrington Watson, O.J., has passed away yesterday, January 26, at age eighty-five.

Barrington Watson - Conversation (1981), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Conversation (1981), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – or Barrington, as he is popularly known – was born in Hanover, Jamaica, in 1931. He was educated at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London and attended several other major European art academies, including the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. He returned to Jamaica in 1961 and quickly rose to prominence as a major artist in post-Independence Jamaica. Along with Eugene Hyde and Karl Parboosingh, he established the Contemporary Jamaican Artists’ Association in 1964 and he was from 1962 to 1966 the first Director of Studies at the Jamaica School of Art (now part of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts), where he introduced the full-time diploma programme. He subsequently also acted as a visiting Professor at Spelman College in Atlanta. Barrington chaired the Bank of Jamaica art collection in the mid-1970s and operated several art galleries: Gallery Barrington, which has existed in several incarnations since 1974, and the Contemporary Art Centre, which was active from 1985 to 1998. His home in the parish of St Thomas, Orange Park, is recognized as a heritage site. It is part of a former coffee plantation and it has since he bought the property in 1968, served as the location of his main studio and a meeting place for artists and art lovers. Barrington left Orange Park to the Nation in 1994.

Barrington Watson - Washer Women

Barrington Watson – Washer Women (1966), Collection: NGJ

Essentially an academic realist, Barrington explored a wide range of themes and genres in his work, including history painting, genre, portraits and self-portraits, nudes, erotica, the landscape and the still life, ranging from the intimate to the epic and all interpreted with his unique painterly sensibility. Barrington insisted on being recognized as an artist first and as a Jamaican artist second but most of his paintings were inspired by Jamaica and its people and he produced some of the most iconic images in Jamaican art history, such as Mother and Child (1958-59) and Conversation (1981) in the National Gallery of Jamaica Collection. Although he is best known as a painter, Barrington was also an accomplished draughtsman and printmaker.

Barrington Watson - Athlete's Nightmare II (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Barrington Watson – Athlete’s Nightmare II (1966), A.D. Scott Collection, NGJ

Barrington executed several major commissions, including the mural The Garden Party (1975) and the installation Trust (1975, with Cecil Baugh) at the Bank of Jamaica, and the mural Our Heritage (1974) at Olympia in Kingston. He executed many official portraits, including those of past Prime Ministers of Jamaica, of Martin Luther King (1970) at Spelman College, and of former Commonwealth Secretary-General and UWI Chancellor Sir Shridath Ramphal at the University of the West Indies – Mona (1992) and Marlborough House in London (1995). His work is well represented in the National Gallery of Jamaica Collection, with masterworks such as Mother and Child (1958-59), Washerwomen (1966), Athlete’s Nightmare II (1966), Conversation (1981) and Fishing Village (1996), and he is featured in many other public, corporate and private collections in Jamaica and internationally.

Barrington Watson - Mother and Child (1958-59), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson – Mother and Child (1958-59), Collection: NGJ

Barrington Watson received many awards and accolades during his lifetime. These include the national orders, the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, in 1984, the Order of Jamaica in 2006, and the Institute of Jamaica’s Gold Musgrave Medal in 2000. The National Gallery of Jamaica honoured Barrington with a major retrospective in 2012, which was curated by the then Chief Curator Dr David Boxer and guest curator Claudia Hucke and presented as part of the National Gallery’s Jamaica 50 programme.

Barrington Watson - Barbara (c1962), Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

Barrington Watson – Barbara (c1962), Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, NGJ

The National Gallery’s Chairman, Mr Peter Reid, lauded Barrington for his outstanding contribution to the development of Jamaican art, as an eminent artist and art educator and as a role model to many artists in Jamaica, the Caribbean and the African diaspora. He stated “Barrington is a true national icon and we will treasure his artistic legacy for many generations to come.” The National Gallery’s Executive Director Dr Veerle Poupeye added: “Barrington Watson was a defining figure in post-Independence Jamaican art and his work reflects the spirit and imagination of Independent Jamaica. He was instrumental in the professionalization of the Jamaican art world and an outspoken and influential voice in the development of modern art in Jamaica.” Barrington Watson served on the National Gallery Board for several years.

The Board, Management and Staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica pay tribute to Barrington Watson, as one of Jamaica’s greats, and extend their heartfelt condolences to his wife Doreen, his children Janice, Raymond, Basil, Bright and Shauna-Kay and his other family members and friends.

Barrington Watson at his Eastwood Park studio in 1967

Barrington Watson at his Eastwood Park studio in 1967