Spiritual Yards – Gallery 2: Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown

Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, opens on December 11. Here is a post on three of the artists in the exhibition, along with video footage, courtesy of Wayne Cox.

Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton (1961-2012) lived in Albany, St Mary. He participated in Kumina-influenced Bongo meetings and had a deep sense of the power of the ancestors. He was also the son of intuitive artist, Vincent Atherton, creating, in Randall Morris’ words, “one of the most powerful yard shows in Jamaica with offertory seals honouring the carvings of his father, Vincent.” In addition to carving, he also painted words on wood and zinc to invoke the ancestors. Powah’s work has been exhibited locally since around 2000, when it was featured in the exhibition Prophets and Messengers, held at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston, Jamaica. His work was also featured in 2008 as a part of the National Biennial, held at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He is represented in a number of private and public collections—local and overseas—including the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Vincent Atherton (1924-2007) lived in Albany, St Mary. He worked as a groundskeeper at the Green Castle estate and he had a carving shack on the property. It was during this time that he developed his carving skills, initially focusing on utilitarian wooden items such as axe handles and vases before transitioning into his own conceptual forms, which included effigy figures, amulets, helmets and staffs. A number of these are reminiscent of similar objects carved in Taino and some African traditions. Atherton described the objects as possessing great spiritual power and influence for protecting and guarding or to pacify spiritual forces. In some instances, he carved such objects in response to specific events and phenomena, for example, during the transition into the new millennium in 2000. Several of his sons were also carvers, more importantly, Errol Lloyd Atherton. Vincent Atherton’s work has been exhibited locally, most notably in the exhibition Intuitives III (2006) held at the National Gallery of Jamaica, and has also been widely exhibited in the United States. His work is in the collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Everald Brown (1917-2003) also called “Brother Brown,” was born in Clarendon as the fifth of seven children and the only son of his parents Robert and Nelly Brown. His mother was a religious Baptist, who influenced him on his spiritual path. In 1946, Brother Brown married Jenny Gray with whom he had ten children. One year later they settled at 82 ½ Spanish Town Road, a yard which housed several religious groups. There he became aware of Rastafari and the Ethiopian Orthodox church, establishing the Assembly of the Living as a self-appointed mission of the latter. Around 1973, as a result increasingly volatile social environment of West Kingston, Brother Brown relocated his family and mission to Murray Mountain in deep rural St Ann. Much of the imagery in his artworks were expressions from his visions. Many of these included mystical depictions of landscapes, animals, plants and other beings of the physical as well as supernatural world. He has become highly regarded for creating a rather diverse complement of highly decorated art and religious objects including paintings, wood carvings and a variety of musical instruments of his own design. According to him, “my painting is not just an expression of what is, but what I would like things to be—what things should be.” His artistic legacy has been maintained to an extent by his children, some of whom are also regarded as established Jamaican artists. In 1973, he was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal for Art by the Institute of Jamaica. Brother Brown was a frequent exhibitor in numerous local and international. Notable showings include the Intuitives exhibition series of the National Gallery of Jamaica and the most comprehensive posthumous exhibition of his work, The Rainbow Valley: Everald Brown, A Retrospective, organized by the National Gallery of Jamaica in 2004. He is represented in a number of private and public collections, locally and internationally.

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Spiritual Yards – Gallery 1: Pastor Winston Brown, Reginald English

Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection will be on view at the NGJ from December 11, 2016 to January 29, 2017. Here is the first of a series of short features on the artists in the exhibition, organized according to which gallery their work appears in, and accompanied by rare video footage on each of them, courtesy of Wayne Cox (all rights reserved).

Pastor Winston Brown (1932-2015) was born in Manchester and moved to Hope Bay, Portland, as a young adult. He was employed in Public Works for the Parish Council and later kept a shop. In his spare time, he would visit various churches, sermonizing based on his visions. He built a house just west of Hope Bay, adding on a room at a time. Pastor Brown began with creating assemblages mounted on poles. He painted vibrant floral and abstract design on his walls and on objects outside. On the street, he constructed signs and assemblages with spiritual messages, calling this place the Garden of Eden attraction. He leaned zinc fencing painted with his designs along the slope of the hill across the street. He had a bench there where he would lie down, read his Bible and wave to drivers passing through the Garden of Eden.

Reginald English (1929-1997) was a Jonkunnu performer, who was known for creating painted metal cut-outs depicting Jonkunnu characters and spirit figures he called “whoodies” which he believed lived in the countryside. During the 1980s and 1990s, English created and sold these works of cut-out metal at a stand on the main road just east of Boscobel, St Mary. English often recycled discarded metal to make his figures, which displayed strong gestural characteristics, and he used metallic automotive spray paint to provide vivid and radiant colouring. His work was has been exhibited both locally and overseas, most notably in the exhibitions Prophets and Messengers (2000) and Intuitives III (2006) at the Mutual Gallery in Kingston and National Gallery of Jamaica, as well as the Redemption Songs exhibition in the United States, held in 1997. English also represented in the permanent collection of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami.

YARD POWAH by Wayne Cox – Part II

Pastor Winston Brown (Photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Pastor Winston Brown (Photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Here is part II of Wayne Cox’s catalogue essay for the exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, which opens on December 11. Part I can be found here.

Pastor Winston Brown

Pastor Winston Brown created the Garden of Eden attraction at his home on the main road just east of Hope Bay, Portland. It is by far the most vibrantly colored of Jamaica’s yard shows. At the roadside, he has signs with spiritual messages, seals, rows of zinc panels, even his whole house, all covered with unique patterning. He preaches occasionally in the area, sermonizing on his visions.

Vincent Atherton (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Vincent Atherton (Photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Vincent Atherton and Errol Lloyd Atherton

Errol Lloyd Atherton lived back in the countryside in Albany, St Mary. He knew the power of carved effigies from his father Vincent who carved to help him gain control over unpredictable forces. Vincent carved highly evocative heads, the tops of which were carved out or burned out, becoming vessels. In 1999, he carved two figures—one to propitiate the century leaving and another to welcome the new one arriving.  His son Lloyd was known as “Powah” in part because of the “powah” his yard possessed.[1] He participated in Kumina-influenced “Bongo” meetings that brought forth spirit possession, particularly, by the ancestors.

Errol Lloyd Atherton (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Lloyd displayed numerous stands on bamboo poles, many holding highly charged figures carved by his father or himself. On some he added material such as dried herbs, libations, metal objects and toy figures. The zinc at the border of his yard was painted with messages to please the ancestors. He hung a three-meter long strap of metal he says was an earlier relative’s gong. A gowned figure hung in effigy from a tree high above his front gate. He incised panels of zinc fencing, some in the shape of crosses, with designs and spirit words. Backlit by the sun, the panel’s spirit message would shine through. He placed round objects reflecting the power of the circle passed down from the Kongo cosmogram that evokes the redemptive healing of the daily movement of the sun where the day’s troubles are lifted each night during one’s time with the ancestors when the sun goes below the ground.[2]   Continue reading

YARD POWAH by Wayne Cox – Part I

elijah-for-blog

Elijah (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Here is our second post from the catalogue of the exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection, which opens on December 11 – part 1 of the catalogue essay by Wayne Cox.

Elijah

In the mid-1990s, if one turned east from Maxfield Avenue onto Brown’s Lane in the Rose Town neighbourhood of Kingston, the zinc wall lining the road on the right changed abruptly from raw and rusted to vibrant and painted—covered with murals depicting angels, conquering lions and biblical scenes such as the Magi. The bottom half of the zinc gate to the yard there was painted red. The whole gate was overpainted with admonitions and moral messages and quotations from the Bible. The sign above the gate identified the location as Elijah Tabernacle. Inside the yard, spiritual murals covered the walls of the buildings. I watched Elijah, leading a service, turn toward the outside gate, point with her rod and quote Jesus. “I want my blood to be painted on the gates of Zion.” Elijah added, “That’s why my gate is painted red…It is the blood of Christ.”[1]

Before she was Elijah, she was Geneva Mais Jarrett. As an adult, she decided to get baptized after an illness. The woman performing the baptism saw an overwhelming number of angels surrounding Jarrett during the baptism. She also saw the Prophet Elijah. Jarrett then began her life of spiritual service under her new name, Elijah.

Her Revival Zion service sought spirit possession as a goal. Her murals helped in drawing spirits, as did other physical aspects, such as water basins and poles through which spirits could enter from below the ground or within the water. Other poles contained chest-high platforms, referred to as seals, on which were placed offerings of food and libation to attract the spirits.[2] Music, singing, dancing, clapping and marching around the water basin counter clockwise were the welcoming call to the spirits.[3] In Revival Zion the spirits who might answer the call include the Holy Spirit, Old Testament prophets, and archangels.[4] A Swiss woman who admired her murals visited her and suggested she also paint these types of scenes on canvas. Elijah did and soon was included in international exhibitions and at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Detail of Errol Lloyd Atherton's spiritual yard (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Detail of Errol Lloyd Atherton’s spiritual yard (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Home Ground

Barry Chevannes believed Jamaica’s Intuitives “draw inspiration from their native religions. In the cosmology of the Jamaican people, their worldview, there is no great distinction between this world and the next world. You can easily pass from one dimension to another.”[5] For many of the Intuitives, their first canvas often was their own yard. This practice occurs throughout the Pan-African Diaspora. Before these artists made works for patrons, they worked to transform their own space. Often, that is their greatest work. Visual enactments are known as yard show or yard work or home ground. Judith McWillie, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and a scholar of postcolonial art and visual culture, spent years documenting yards of this type in the United States. She said those who undertake to empower their yard with intensity are ones who “maintain the belief that life can be transformed through ritual intentionality (art) when it is celebrated by men and women who assume the epic history of a People and convert it to themselves as individuals. Theirs is the ability to live mythically and in depth, on an intimate scale, while holding on to the idea that such a life flashes brightly from the center of all life.”[6]

These yards are often complex places of protection, resistance, power, affirmation, spiritual invocation and healing, ancestral memory, creative invention, community improvement and much more. The noted scholar of African and African Diasporic culture and Professor of Art History at Yale University Robert Farris Thompson sees them as “acts of defense and affirmation. Black yard art…has emerged as an independent African-American aesthetic of immense consequence and influence.”[7] Scholar and curator Randall Morris believes this practice is diaspora-wide and he documented the yards of several Jamaican Intuitives. In his essay for his exhibition HomeGround-Art of the Pan-African Diaspora (2012), that included a number of Jamaica’s Intuitives, he wrote:

The artists in this exhibition are all culture-bearers (who) have taken upon themselves the weight of carrying tradition personally, and manifesting it by various means…it is an ancient calling.[8]

Leonard Daley (photo Wayne Cox - all rights reserved)

Leonard Daley (photo Wayne Cox – all rights reserved)

Leonard Daley

Much is known and popularly understood about street art in Jamaica, as most of it reflects well-known Rasta iconography and accessible subjects such as National Heroes, politics and popular culture. Intense yard shows are different. In 1979, Boxer saw his first painting by Leonard Daley when he viewed the wall in a garage on Donhead Avenue in Kingston. “The angst that streamed from the walls was tempered by the extra-ordinary inventiveness of the depictions of the various animal and human forms, and the distorted tortured heads…Bosch incarnate.”[9]

Daley created a new yard display whenever he moved. The “meanings” of his canvases are seldom apparent to a viewer. They were clearly understood to Daley, but he did not intend to present them didactically, rather as prompts or provocations for the viewer to deposit into his or her own mind to aid in their own transformation. It is like dub music without the tune as a guidepost. When he uses words it is to raise questions about society’s contradictions. “Which judge can have me not guilty when I am guilty?” he asks in his painting I Am a Wrongdoer/Who Can Judge the Seven Big Men? (1994-95). Continue reading

Spiritual Yards – Introduction

The exhibition Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection opens on December 11. As usual, we are posting texts that appear in the catalogue and serve as text panels in the exhibition. Here is the first installment of these posts, the catalogue introduction by Executive Director Veerle Poupeye.

The story of John Dunkley’s discovery by the emerging Jamaican cultural establishment of the late 1930s is well-known. The then Secretary of the Institute of Jamaica, Delves Molesworth, was impressed by Dunkley’s elaborately decorated barber shop on Princess Street, which included paintings and carved elements, and Dunkley was soon recognized as a major, self-taught artistic talent and included in exhibitions and collections. Dunkley’s work did not emerge from the popular tradition of the “spiritual yard,” which is the focus of this exhibition, although the mystical symbolism apparent in his work may have related to his Masonic beliefs. His barbershop however reflected a similar impulse to create a cohesive aesthetic and symbolic environment. Dunkley’s story also drives home that there must have been spiritual yards in various parts of the island at that time. However, none of the producers of the ritual and symbolic objects and images that would been part of such yards made the transition to the formal art world, even though popular culture, including Revival practices, served as iconic subject matter in the nationalist art of that era. This was clearly a function of how “art” was defined in the context of the early nationalist movement, which was premised on middle class cultural values, and what was deemed worthy of documentation and preservation or recuperation as “art,” to which Dunkley more readily conformed.

It took until the 1950s and 60s for this to change, thanks to the advances in the cultural anthropology of the Caribbean and changing public and official attitudes towards popular culture. Rastafari and Black Power were a major factor in this, as these movements challenged the old cultural hierarchies and assertively claimed space for all aspects of black culture. The young politician Edward Seaga, who had been trained in sociology and had done pioneering research on Jamaica’s Revival religions, became an influential advocate of the art of Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who was a Zion Revival leader. Kapo also found an avid supporter in John Pringle, Jamaica’s first Director of Tourism. Aspects of the popular culture were, interestingly enough, used in the promotion of Jamaican tourism, as Jamaica was trying to assert a more distinctive voice in the lucrative but socially problematic and culturally reductive “sun, sea and sand” tourism industry which was emerging during that period. Some of the earliest photographs of Kapo and Brother Everald Brown, another self-taught artist who was associated with the religious side of Rastafari, were commissioned by the Jamaica Tourist Board, as well as being produced by, more predictably, the pioneering anthropologists and cultural researchers of that period. Kapo and Brother Brown had both established spiritual yards before they were recognized as major artists, and maintained such spaces throughout their lives, and several of these photographs document the early incarnations of their spiritual yards. Their work was also exhibited and collected by the Institute of Jamaica from the late 1960s onwards and the National Gallery inherited most of these early holdings.

Everald Brown at his church yard, the Assembly of the Living, photographed by Penny Tweedie for the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1972

Everald Brown at his church yard, the Assembly of the Living, photographed by Penny Tweedie for the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1972

Continue reading

“Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives – Selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection” Opens on December 11

spiritual-yard-flyer-invite

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present Spiritual Yards: Home Ground of Jamaica’s Intuitives, which features selections from the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection. The exhibition opens on Sunday, December 11, with the formalities starting at 1:30 pm, starting with opening remarks by Wayne Cox and followed by a musical performance by the Nexus Performing Arts Company.

The theme of Spiritual Yards was proposed by Wayne Cox, who co-curated this exhibition, and explores how many of the artists who have been recognized as Intuitives are rooted in popular religious and spiritual practices, especially the Revival religions and also Rastafari. Several produced or contributed to so-called spiritual yards, also known as home ground, or sacred spaces that featured ritual and symbolic objects and images that are meant to engage or represent the spirits, which was either the start of their artistic practice or remained as its main focus. As Wayne Cox has rightly argued, these spiritual yards are often their most outstanding works of art and their cultural significance in the Jamaican context warrants further exploration. Spiritual Yards features the work of ten such artists, namely Errol Lloyd “Powah” Atherton, Vincent Atherton, Everald Brown, Pastor Winston Brown, Leonard Daley, Reginald English, Elijah (Geneva Mais Jarrett), William “Woody” Joseph, Errol McKenzie, and Sylvester Stephens, along with photographs and video material on their life, work and spiritual yards from the Wayne and Myrene Cox archives. Spiritual Yards will be on view until January 29, 2017.

Wayne Cox and his wife Myrene have collected and documented the work of Jamaica’s Intuitives for 30 years. Their homes in Port Maria and in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, serve as important repositories of the work of these artists. Works of the Wayne and Myrene Cox Collection have been widely exhibited internationally. Wayne has written exhibition catalogue essays for a number of exhibitions, including Intuitives III at the National Gallery of Jamaica. He has presented at symposiums including Taking the Road Less Traveled: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists at the Kohler Art Center and Uncommon Visions at the American Folk Art Museum in the United States. In 2005, Art and Antiques named the Coxes to their list of the “Top 100 Art Collectors in the United States.”

In what is now an established Holiday Season tradition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, the programme on Sunday, December 11 will include the award-winning Nexus Performing Arts Company, with a performance which will start right after the short 1:30 pm opening function for Spiritual Yards. The Nexus Performing Arts Company was formed in 2001 by Hugh Douse, Artistic Director, voice tutor, singer, actor, conductor, songwriter, and a former Director of Culture in Education. The group has a broad musical repertoire that draws on Gospel, Negro Spirituals, Semi-classical, Popular music including Reggae and show tunes, African and Classical music of the European and African traditions. The performance by Nexus will take the form of a musical tour of the galleries, with selections inspired by the Spiritual Yards exhibition.

Since the last Sunday of December of 2016 coincides with Christmas Day there will be no Last Sundays programme on December 25. The programme presented on December 11 thus takes the place of what would have been our Last Sundays event for December. Admission on December 11 is free but donations are always welcome. The gift and coffee shop will be open for business and the gift shop is well stocked with Jamaican-made art and craft items and a wide selection of Christmas cards that feature outstanding examples of Jamaican art. Proceeds from these ventures and donations help to fund the National Gallery’s programmes and exhibitions.