Jamaica officially became independent on 6 August, 1962. It was the first day that the Jamaica National Flag was hoisted, a design that features a diagonal cross creating four triangles. The black triangles represent the strength and creativity of the people; the gold cross, the natural wealth and beauty of sunlight; and the green triangles represent hope and agricultural resources.
On 6 August, 2012, Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence, and as the Cayman Islands not only has strong historical ties to the island it also is home to a large population of Jamaicans. There will be many events on the local calendar to recognise this important anniversary.
On 20 July the official opening of an exhibit of Jamaican art will be held at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, also known as the Harquail Bypass. The first evening will be an invitation-only event, but the exhibit will be open to the public for the following week and anyone interested in the work of prominent Jamaican artists is urged to attend. The exhibit has been made possible by the generosity of private individuals lending paintings from their collections, and the support of the Jamaican Consulate.
A number of different artists’ works will be on display, including Barrington Watson, Christopher Gonzalez, Alexander Cooper and Albert Huie.
Barrington Watson was born in Lucea, Jamaica in 1931 and although he initially made a name for himself as a football player for Kingston College, art was a passion he could not deny. His parents had hoped that he would become a lawyer, but he followed his heart and enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London. He travelled extensively and studied many different styles which enabled him to create unique works when he returned to Jamaica.
In 1962 he became the first director of studies for the Jamaica School of Art, and encouraged young artists to explore and nurture their talent. This did not mean, however, that he lost focus of his own goals. He was determined to become a professional artist, and his work began to garner international acclaim in the late 1960s.
He always understood the importance of art in the community, and consistently advocated for the building of more art institutions in Jamaica. He founded the Contemporary Jamaican Artists Association in 1964, and he and two other artists remained active as members until they passed away. He is the only surviving member of the trio, and is still involved in the Contemporary Art Centre which he founded in 1984. In that same year he was awarded the Commander of the Order of Distinction and the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s Award for Excellence.
Watson is a master painter, and he still teaches young aspiring artists in his Orange Park Studios in St.Thomas, Jamaica.
“I utilise 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.” – Barrington Watson
Christopher Gonzalez was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1943. In 1963 he graduated from the Jamaica School of Art, also known as The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he majored in sculpture. He earned his Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Carfsts, and his works were heavily influenced by Edna Manley, often considered the mother of Jamaican art, and Pablo Picasso.
Gonzalez’s pieces were not without controversy, and in fact his abstract creations garnered him a certain level of notoriety. One of his most famous is the statue of Bob Marley which now resides in Ocho Rios. The statue portrays Marley’s lower half as a tree, growing from the ground. His dreadlocks join with the roots and he is holding his microphone stand as though it were a staff. The artist was quoted as saying that “the symbolism of the tree trunk from which the figure emerges represents Marley’s ascent from the ghetto into international acclaim with the music he created.” Neither fans of Bob Marley in Kingston were happy with the statue upon its unveiling, nor were members of the Marley family. It was moved to Ocho Rios in 2002 initially only for a year, but it has remained there ever since.
Gonzalez created two bronze reliefs which commemorated Jamaican independence from Great Britain, and he also worked on the tomb of Norman Manley. He was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal in 1974 amongst many other awards he received in his career as a sculptor and painter. He passed away on 2 August, 2008 at the age of 65.
Alexander Cooper was born in Enfield, Jamaica in 1934. His earliest influences were his friends, Ralph Campbell and Osmond Watson, two celebrated Jamaican artists. He graduated the Jamaica School of the Arts in 1959 and also studied at the New York School of Visual Arts. When he returned home, he won the first prize in the 1962 and 1964 Jamaica National Fine Arts Competition which paved the path to international recognition.
1965 was a tumultuous time in the United States for the African American people, yet Cooper was the first Jamaican artist invited to hold an art exhibit at the United States State Department in Washington D.C.
Cooper’s work has been displayed in exhibitions around the world including such notable locations as New York, London, Mexico, Canada and Germany. His pieces have been enjoyed by the likes of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Angela Bassett.
In 1983 the Prime Minister of Jamaica recognized him for his outstanding contribution to the art world. His first public exhibition after a long hiatus was held in 1999 entitled “Celebrating Mothers.” The Jamaican people lauded his return and collectors of his works embraced his reemergence, declaring him as “back and stronger than ever.”
Albert Huie was born in Falmouth, Jamaica in 1920. He moved to Kingston when he was 16 years old, and received his first formal training with Koren der Harootian, an Armenian-born American sculptor. Originally a painter, der Harootian turned to sculpture whilst residing in Jamaica.
In the early 1940s Huie worked as an assistant to Edna Manley whilst she taught at Kingston’s Junior Centre. He subsequently went overseas and studied at a couple of institutes including the Ontario College of Art before returning home.
As he established himself overseas, so he exhibited his works in the United States and Jamaica. He finally settled in the US, and in 2009 on National Heroes Day he was honoured by the Jamaican Embassy for his contribution to the Jamaican community in and around Washington, D.C.
Huie was best known for his landscape scenes, but he did paint portraits as well. His later works showed the influence of post-Impressionism, and although he usually painted with oils, he was known to use acrylics from time to time. Some of his pieces hang in the National Gallery of Jamaica, and others can be found in private collections.
He died in 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.