In Memoriam, Susan Shirley (1950 – 2019)

Mat183-SusanShirley, Building with Fret work

Susan Shirley – Building with Fretwork, 1999

In light of the passing of American-born painter Susan Shirley in October 2019, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) recognizes her for her contribution to the visual arts community. 

Born in 1950, Michigan, USA, she was formally trained at Michigan State University (MSU) where she earned her degree in Design at the College of Human Ecology with a Minor in Fine Art. After completing her studies she worked as a commercial Interior Designer in Detroit, Michigan, specializing in Architectural Renderings and Presentation.

Mrs. Shirley made Jamaica her home in 1976 after migrating to the island with her Jamaican husband, Greg Shirley. Determined to make a positive impact in Jamaica through her passion for art, she continued free-lance design and was encouraged by Grenadian sculptor Fitz Harrack, whom she met as a colleague while teaching art at the Convent of Mercy Academy (Alpha) in Kingston. Mrs. Shirley held and participated in many solo and group exhibitions throughout her career, including her participation in the 2004 Jamaica National Biennial exhibition. Among her repertoire of exhibitions, she has showcased her works in places such as Toronto, Antigua, Miami and New York. Within the art community in Jamaica, she is particularly known for her still-life studies, as well as her detailed watercolour works of old Jamaican houses. One example of the latter is Building with Fret Work, which was included in the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon donation to the NGJ permanent collection in 1999. 

Shirley’s lifetime passions included volunteer projects that appealed to her interest in history, archaeology and art. One perfect example of that was demonstrated when she championed for the restoration of the Rio Nuevo Battle Site in St. Mary, enamoured with that aspect of Jamaican history. Alongside her husband, she enthusiastically presented a case on the significance of the Battle site, the Rio Nuevo Battle Site Association was awarded the management agreement by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust in August 2004 and Mrs. Shirley was appointed Curator of the Rio Nuevo Battle Site museum.

The NGJ’s Board of Directors, management and staff remembers Susan Shirley for her commitment to preserving aspects of Jamaican heritage and the value she added to the visual arts community. 

For Further Reading:

Shirley, Susan. “Biography” 

“10 Things You Didn’t Know About Susan Shirley.” The Gleaner, January 13, 2013. 

Silvera, Janet. “Susan Shirley: A Passion For Preserving Jamaica’s History.” The Gleaner, May 26, 2013.    

NGJ Summer Exhibition: Angela Baker

Angela Baker

Angela Baker - Dawn in Blue Mountain - NG160

Angela Baker – Dawn in Blue Mountain

I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Mts. in Golden Spring. The distant atmospheric pale blues always lured me long before I knew about aerial perspective. I wanted to know how to paint that colour to get that effect of distance. Hoping to find out, I sailed all the way across the Atlantic in a banana boat to cold, old England to art school, when all I needed to know was “add white!”

I used to ride a horse on the ridge between Hermitage Dam road and Kingston, and from Golden Spring to Mt. James. The magic of mountains and the mystery of distances were a magnet. What is around the next corner? What new vista will emerge?

Though in mid-life I moved to another island, Newfoundland, off Canada’s east coast, my heart never left the roots of my artistic identity, Jamaica. My passion for Jamaica’s Blue Mountains lasted into my septuagenarian days. This yearning has brought me home repeatedly. As I cannot afford the luxury of time to paint plein air in the mountains, I photographed the mountains with the intention of painting them in my absence from Jamaica. I have returned to New Castle, Hardwar Gap, Silver Hill Gap, Clydesdale, Cinchona, Guava Ridge, Mahogany Vale, Whitfield Hall and Blue Mountain Peak.

At age nineteen I and a group of friends had hiked from Hagley Gap to Whitfield Hall and Blue Mountain Peak. In my seventies I returned to Whitfield Hall one winter and walked as far as I could with Ras Loxley, with many stops to catch my breath, restricted by COPD. I made it nearly to Portland Gap. Ras Loxley said he could have found me a donkey. I resolved to do just that the following year. Thus it was that I rode a donkey from Whitfield Hall to Blue Mountain Peak at age 74, with my camera dangling around my neck. “The arse on the ass” became a standing joke with friends and family.

The structural forms of the mountains’ interlocking spurs always fascinated me, but it was the dramatic early morning light that blew me away. I could say “blue” me away. I was awed by one particularly significant experience of light behind clouds creating a stark silhouette of a banana tree and seemingly singling out and penetrating the light green of a banana leaf. 

This was the inspiration for my painting “Blue Mountain Dawn”.

This honour feels to me like the completion of a circle, a gestalt, a sharing of my artistic roots with my country, a “thank you” to the source of my inspiration, a symbolic home coming of the heart.

Instagram: @creolenfld

NGJ Summer Exhibition: Tiana Anglin

Tiana Anglin

Tiana Anglin - Npo Place like Home - NG046

Tiana Anglin – No Place Like Home

‘No Place Like Home: Squatter’s Paradise’ represents a culture of expedience, make-do comfort and the dynamics of settlement. It suggests contrasting ideas of comfort and anxiety, labour and rest, isolation and accessibility. It also displays the unique nature of Jamaican construction and decoration. The make-shift living space in ‘Squatter’s Paradise’ suggests function over form, yet still holds collage-like aesthetics, delineating the authentic sensibilities that exist when need overrides beauty.

Instagram: @tianascanvas
Facebook: tianascanvas
Linkedin: Tiana Anglin