Gloria Escoffery’s talents as an intellect and a painter were apparent from early. As a Jamaica Scholar, after gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree at McGill University in Canada, Escoffery went on to pursue her Masters at the Slade School of Art in London. Like many of her peers such as Ralph Campbell, Barrington Watson and Albert Huie, she absorbed the lessons offered in European art forms, but after returning to Jamaica in the 1950’s she quickly adapted these principles to suit her Caribbean environment and Jamaican vision. She returned from London with a definitive style, no longer content to render her subject matter in representational form. The fusion of influences produced works of a modern, semi-abstract nature replete with local content and Jamaican social realities.
Escoffery's canvases, usually panoramic in scale, depict figures in various poses strung out across the picture plain. These are people/models normally from her hometown; rural workers engaged in some form of labour suggestive of nation building. Her interest in local genre scenes from Brownstown, St Ann where she lived and worked most of her life, was reflective of the mood of the newly independent Jamaica, its people and culture. Even so, Escoffery’s paintings are never propogandised or sentimental, rather, her flat use of colour and linear design give them a precision and sense of deliberation, typical of her enquiring and analytical mind.
Gloria Escoffery was as much a literary figure as an artistic one in Jamaica. For many years, she wrote art reviews for the national newspapers as well as the Jamaica Journal. These articles demonstrated her love of the arts and the breadth of her art historical knowledge. Her favourite painter was Poussin and it is easy to see how, that French classicist’s imagery affected her own compositions. Art Historian, Dr David Boxer remembering Escoffery writes:“Her continued study of his [Poussin’s] works imparted a structural clarity and sound colour sense to her own canvases. Best known for her ‘straight’ paintings of the fifties and sixties and early sixties, it is rather those paintings of the later sixties and seventies, works like The Three Graces and The Centaur that her true imaginative power shines, and reveal her as a true original. In these works she actually ‘quotes’ from masterpieces of the past and in effect uses them to comment on, or draw parallels with the Jamaican ‘scene’ which she is depicting.” This process of collage/montage became even more sophisticated in her later paintings as Escoffery selected images and scenes from her favourite artists incorporating them into larger works using patterning and other compositional devices. Her works became increasingly ambitions in scale culminating in the five-panelled work Mirage that currently hangs in the library of the University of the West Indies.
During her lifetime, Escoffery’s work was exhibited widely in one person and group exhibitions in Jamaica, England, the US, Europe, Trinidad, Cuba and Puerto Rico.Escoffery died in 2002, her life and work will be the subject of a forthcoming retrospective to be mounted at the National Gallery of Jamaica.PA-S