The painting Road Menders, by Jamaican Intuitive Gaston Tabois (1924 – 2012), was created in 1956, six years before Jamaica achieved political Independence in 1962. It depicts a group of labourers in the process of building a road. Taking place within an idyllic tropical scene, women and men work together to ‘dig up’ the ground, lay aggregate and pour water. As they work, a steam roller operator paves the areas they had previously completed. In the background, left-hand side of the composition, another woman sits on the ground with a fire going under a vessel, perhaps cooking in preparation for when the workers take their break.
Despite the fact that Road Menders preceded 1962, its depictions symbolize major themes of Jamaican Independence, which have been used to enrich our contemporary understanding of what becoming a nation may have meant for Jamaicans, such as the ones Tabois portrayed. These include but are not limited to, the importance of our communities as a part of social, infrastructural and economic development, and also critically, of self-determination. It is the fight for this right that helped Jamaica to achieve self-governance in 1944, a celebration of which Tabois may have considered for this painted scene. It was also the continued advocacy for that right by Jamaicans that helped to establish the new nation of Jamaica on August 6, 1962.
As we reflect on the circumstances surrounding Jamaica’s first national achievement and the progressions we have made since, let us remember that the journey of nationhood will always be ongoing, transitioning from one generation of citizens to the next. As the current generation of Jamaican people, let us remember that challenges overcome will yield the fruits of resilience, unity and insight for a greater and prosperous future.
Having spent three months exhibiting a wide range of work produced in the last two years in the National Biennial, we at the National Gallery now turn our attention to history and memory. The current temporary exhibition honours those who are recently departed and brings back some of our Permanent Collection favourites.
In the last few months, the Jamaican artistic community has reeled from the deaths of three of our most long-standing, productive and prolific members; Gaston Tabois (d. Nov 20, 2012), Petrine Archer-Straw (d. Dec 5, 2012) and Fitz Harrack (d. Jan 10, 2013). To honour them, three mini tributes have been installed, showcasing their work. For the next few weeks, patrons will be able to see several of Tabois’ most beloved works (including Taino Cave Rituals – on loan from Michael Gardner), a display of a number of Harrack’s wood sculptures and his larger-than-life metal work North, South, East, West in Conversation. Both displays are accompanied by a text panel with a brief biography. In the case of Archer-Straw who was an artist, but also a curator and art historian, patrons will be treated to a small sampling of her art work, a display of a selection of her publications and an additional text panel that explains her work and its relationship to global and local art world trends.
The rest of the exhibition features works from our National Collection drawing on four themes: Pattern and Decoration, Postcolonialism and Religion, Depictions of Motherhood and the Intuitives. Longtime favourites of the Jamaican public such as Barrington Watson’s Mother and Child and Allan ‘Zion’ Johnson’s Peacock are back on display. However, there are also a number of rarely seen works such as Sherida Levy’s unusual Jamaican Madonna and J. McCloud’s Mother and Child.
Needless to say, the current exhibition offers something for everyone and complements our permanent exhibitions, which provide an overview of Jamaican art from the Taino the the late 20th century. School groups will benefit from the thematic focus of the current exhibition and families are encouraged to take advantage of our Last Sundays and other special events. Our more familiar visitors can engage with memories of friends passed and artwork long missed. We hope to see you soon!
Gaston Tabois – John Canoe in Guanaboa Vale (1962), Collection: NGJ
I put out my effort. Hopefully I’ll die very old having accomplished a lot of good for mankind.
Gaston Tabois, 1987
The National Gallery of Jamaica deeply regrets to announce that the Jamaican Intuitive artist Gaston Lascelles Tabois passed away earlier this week, on November 20, 2012.
Gaston Lascelles Tabois, circa 2010
Gaston Tabois was born in Trout Hall, Clarendon in 1924 but grew up in the small community of Rock River. He spent quite a bit of time on his parents’ small farm, but it was the solid work ethic that was instilled in him by instruction and example particularly that of his mother who insisted on the importance of him taking his educational opportunities seriously.
His artistic talent was apparent from an early age as his elementary school teachers regularly tasked him with making charts for the classes. His dedication to self improvement saw him teaching himself Latin, Spanish, History and Mathematics but it was art that remained a constant in his life, even with his entry into the civil service. Tabois eventually became the Acting Chief Draftsman in the Ministry of Construction but it was his artistic production that brought him national attention. As a self taught painter,he held his first solo show at the Hills Gallery in Kingston in 1955, where he was immediately hailed as one of the era’s most significant “primitive” painters. He continued exhibiting with the Hills Gallery for several years and his painting Road Menders (1956), which is now a prized part of the NGJ Collection, was originally shown there. Continue reading →
The Jamaican Intuitive painter Gaston Tabois in 2010 received a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, the NGJ’s parent organization. As has become customary for artists who have been awarded Musgrave medals, the 2010 National Biennial includes a special tribute exhibition of his work. Below is the citation for Gaston Tabois’ Silver Musgrave medal.
The Institute of Jamaica recognizes Gaston Tabois for outstanding merit in the field of Art.
Born in Trout Hall, Clarendon in 1924, Tabois’ early years were spent on his parents small farm in the village of Rock River, a few miles from Chapelton, where as an only child he received the full attention of a doting mother who instilled in him a sense of order, discipline and of pride in completing every set task with a maximum of constructive effort. The late Gloria Escoffery, author of a memorable account of Tabois’ journey as an artist, adds other early lessons from his mother:
Today Tabois has his mother to thank not only for the moral standards she set for him…, but also for the example of those nimble fingers as they brought to life the intricate designs she embroidered on the bridal gowns of Rock River belles (…) without realizing that he was learning, Tabois came to understand the importance of planning, of careful craftsmanship, of giving thought to the materials, or ground on which one worked, the tools and medium one selects for a particular job.