Colin Garland (1935-2007)

Australian by birth and trained in Sydney and London, Garland came to Jamaica in 1962 and adopted the newly independent nation as his home. His commitment was immediately reflected in his art that became Jamaican in content. Inspired by both Haitian and Jamaican self-taught painters such as John Dunkley, but underpinned by a taste for the fantastic, in the works of artists such as Botticelli, Bosch, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Richard Dadd, he brought a wry, intellectual humour to his depictions of life in the Caribbean.

Garland also showed mastery over his media, his willingness to experiment with new formats, to apply collage and montage techniques as well as create assemblages established him as one of Jamaica’s important modern artists and within a short time Garland’s surrealist/ magic realist style became popular with collectors as well as other artists. By the seventies, his work was regularly selected to represent Jamaica in national group exhibitions.

Trained in theatre and set designs, Garland's paintings although often small in scale read like panoramic epics chocked full of imagery and painted in painstaking detail. And in his forty odd years of painting here, his oeuvre has documented the most significant aspects of island culture as well as his own personal life. However, without a key to Garland’s imagery it is difficult to follow the narrative that he is creating because his work is so strongly based in fantasy, dream imagery and personal anecdotes. As a result the viewer is drawn into their mystery, each composition appears to tell a very intimate story that begs for, yet defies, comprehension. He is renowned for his inclusion of the islands flora and fauna in his compositions as well as his emphasis on animal and female imagery, and even though much of his works stem from ancient history and Greek mythology, he creolizes these themes to giving them Caribbean relevance. As a result, his Madonnas, Venuses, and Demeters are regularly black; more closely related to Azuli the Haitian Goddess of love.

The prominence of the female in his work may also account for the childlike manner in which Garland represents the world, the viewer rather like Alice in Wonderland is thrown into a world of figurative distortion and altered perception all loosely held together by Garland’s decorative and patterning techniques. Even so, like the surrealist Salvador Dali, the level of detail that he brings to each composition and his view of the world, he fools both the eye and the mind by feigning accuracy.

In later years Garland lived in St Mary on Jamaica’s north coast and although he continued to exhibit abroad, through his twenty years as a teacher at the Jamaica School of Art and through his consistent participation in solo and group exhibitions, he became part of the art world mainstream. His surrealist fantasies have had a profound influence on contemporary Jamaican imagery. PA-S