Born in Kingston, Osmond Watson was a graduate of one of the first teaching programmes created by Edna Manley at the Jamaica School of Art and Crafts. In 1961, disappointed at the failure of plans for a West Indian Federation, he decided to travel to England with the intention of furthering his studies. He registered at St Martin’s School of Art, London, but spent much of his time teaching himself through visits to view the African masks at the British Museum and works of the modern masters at the Tate. After a brief stint in Paris he returned to London and remained there until 1965.
Back in Jamaica, he began teaching at the Jamaica School of Art where his students included Kofi Kayiga. He also began exhibiting regularly in single person and group exhibitions including the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971, Ten Jamaican Sculptors, Commonwealth Institute, London 1975 and the SITES: Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition in Washingston USA.
Watson’s style is unwavering, since the sixties when he began to synthesise cubist and iconic decorative elements in his work, his images have become ritualized, wavering only to accommodate the acrid and plastic finish resulting from his shift from oil to acrylic paints.
The statements expressed through Watson’s work are bold and uncompromising. His genre scenes and portraits speak about the lives of everyday people. With hindsight, they appear like animated documents of daily life in an increasingly urban community; one of pushcarts and street vendors all hustling to stay above the poverty line, Watch Video Johnny Cool
But Watson’s images are not depressing instead they celebrate survival and they bring a sense of dignity and even divinity to the depiction of black people. In Watson’s world we can almost hear the insistent demands of ska, reggae and rock steady music blasting on the roadside, or the quietly hummed psalms of ancient mothers as they wisely accommodate the errant ways of their young. In later years, his works became even more reverential as he repeated his mother and child images and depictions of Christ as a black man that were sometimes himself. With icons and symbols he used his art to uplift the race. In an often quoted statement he said:
As an Afro-Caribbean man who resides in the Caribbean and is faced with Caribbean problems, my philosophy on art is simple. My aim is to glorify Black people through my work with the hope that it will uplift the masses of the region, giving dignity and self-respect where it is needed and to make people more aware of their own beauty." OW (1995)
Osmond Watson was a prolific painter whose works can be found in numerous local and international collections. In 1992, he was awarded a prestigious Gold Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica. He died in November 2005.