Barrington Watson's Retrospective currently showing at the National Gallery of Jamaica and two annex sites at the Olympia and the Bank of Jamaica, is the largest endeavor devoted to the work of a single artist that the NGJ has ever undertaken. With more than 250 works including paintings, drawings and prints, the retrospective traces the development and fruition of Watson's oeuvre, also documented in a 192 page colour-illustrated catalogue providing scholarly essays and supporting material. The huge crowd that attended the opening, confirmed that this show will be a 'blockbuster', a term rarely required in the Jamaican art scene since few exhibitions here ever achieve that scale or level of popularity.

The Jamaican public's unwavering admiration of Barrington Watson's art since he first returned to Jamaica in the 1961, on the cusp of Jamaica's Independence from British rule, tells us a great deal about our passion for art and also about our inherently conservative taste. Watson's academic approach applied to history-painting, portraiture, landscapes and still-life, found favour with a local viewing public at a time when other modern artists including our own Karl Parboosingh were abandoning traditional methods and approaches to painting for more conceptual models that suited ideas of liberation and the free thinking 1960s. Instead, Jamaican audiences were satisfied to celebrate Watson's essentially representational imagery that reinforced rather than challenged romanticized notions of ourselves. Beginning with Ignacy Ecker, our first professional art writer, reviews promoted Watson as a master painter par excellence with very little critical judgement of his work.

This retrospective displaying Watson's paintings over more than 50 years provides an opportunity to finally critically engage with this artist's work; its nationalist ideology, its bourgeois values and its artistic strengths and weaknesses, at a time when the country is itself embarking on a year of celebration and a process of introspection.


This season's exhibitions, craft fairs, antique shows and xmas sales have left me questioning notions of value, especially around art and gift giving. In today's market place, where so much of what we buy is convenient and disposable, its tempting to buy gifts that are empty of significance. We lose sight of what true gifts represent and disengage ourselves from the process of giving, by choosing presents that are depersonalized and banal. Giving art militates against this sense of alienataion. Quality materials, precision workmanship, durability and inherent ideas help to distinguish art from dross. The next time you're tempted to buy trinkets or tinsel, remember that gift giving is a magical act of reciprocity that obliges us to another. Giving art serves to reinforce the social contract that bonds ourselves to others – giving art shows that we still care.


Caribbean Art World's recent decision to suspend the print version of its magazine in favour of its virtual publication and social network site, and the launch of two new Caribbean digital magazines ARC and Caribbean Intransit this year, underscores the efficiencies of online publishing.  ARC maintains both an on and offline version but increasingly, the web is becoming the space of choice for creating quality designed art publications that inexpensively communicate  to wider audiences. In the real world (and especially the less affluent Caribbean), the production of these lavishly designed magazines would be a complex and costly exercise, but online it seems anything is possible. Here, all three magazines can offer stunning high resolution photography and rich production values that make them a joy to browse.  Of course, one misses the sensory experience of feeling the weight and sheen of their paper stock, but their visual stimuli is satisfying. Ultimately however, what will keep these magazines in demand, whether in their digital or hard form, is the quality of their content. Hopefully, the standards set in their initial issues will be maintained.


The Indian High Commission to Jamaica celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of the poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore with an evening of reflection and dance recently.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) or Gurudev was a creative genius who excelled in many areas of Indian life including literature, fine art, music and dance reorienting the nation's cultural landscape away from colonial dependence towards nationhood and political autonomy. In 1913, Tagore became the first non-European Nobel Laureate, he was knighted by King George the Vth of England in 1915 and when he died in August 1941 he was lauded not only for his artistic achievements but also his role as a goodwill ambassador throughout the world.

The anniversary programme honoured Tagore's life by taking a brief look at his poetry, drama, dance and fine art, with readings, a scene from one of his plays, a video podcast about his art, and a creative Manipuri dance ballet titled Chitra performed by Priti Patel and the Anjika group, currently touring the Caribbean.

Rabindranath Tagore's genius is still relatively little known outside of India. But the evening served to educate even as it entertained. Find out more about Tagore's art. Click here to watch the video.


Oddities is in exhibition selected by Amaicraft gallery owner Herman van Asbroeck that displays his interest in strange and wonderful objects. It is an ecclectic range of expressionist paintings, historical prints, tribal masks, contemporary photographs and disarming curios that speaks to this collector's essentially modernist sensibility. Walking through the warm red upper rooms of his small framing business in Kingston and experiencing the juxtaposition of works by 19th century printmaker Isaac Mendes Belisario (1795-1849), the late painter Milton George (1939-2008), intuitive Albert Artwell (b.1942 ) or the Cuban Roberto Fabelo (b.1951) brings to mind the connoisseurship of Parisian collectors such as Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) or poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1919) whose financial support and intellect provided the backdrop to that city's avant-garde movement. Oddities' strange and wonderful marriage of objects, with Caribbean art at its core, demonstrates Herman van Asbroeck's discerning taste but also the extent to which this region's art deserves to be part of a larger story about western art and modernism. 

A new documentary film Amos Ferguson: Match me if you can, featuring the life and work of Bahamian self-taught artist Amos Ferguson, previews at the 8th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival next month in Nassau. It's the third film by the director/producer duo Karen Arthur and Thomas Neuwirth that explores local art; the first two being  Artists of the Bahamas (2010) and Brent Malone: Father of Bahamian Art (2011) which both received accolades. This I hour video uses historical footage of the artist in interviews and at work in his studio with supporting testimonials from a host of Bahamian art-world celebrities, to flesh the artist's incredible oeuvre. The footage is fresh, informative and evocative, giving the viewer a very real sense of life in pre- and post-independence Bahamas and this artist's struggle to overcome adversity through his art. Most compelling are the paintings themselves that steal the show and beg the question as to why more documentary films of this nature are not being made throughout the region to capture the images and insights of pioneer painters like Amos. Sneak a peak preview below.


An exhibition exploring the Myths, Beliefs, Religions and Imagination in the Caribbean is on show in Martinique's Regional Council building in Fort de France this month. Organized by the Director of Culture Reneé-Paul Yung-Hing  , the multi-media display brings together contemporary work from the English, French and Spanish speaking islands including Cuba's Manuel Mendive, Martnique's Patricia Donatien-Yssa, Haiti's Eduard Duval Carrié, Trinidad's Leroy Clarke, Barbados' Ras Akyem and Ras Ishi and Jamaica's Albert Chong. Creating any exhibition that crosses language barriers and geographical boundaries is a major task especially when its works and artists are forced to navigate airline hubs such as Miami and San Juan, but the shows language of myth and spirituality is a forceful one that speaks more to the region's spiritual commonalities rather than its differences.

The human form features prominently in the art on show. The ritualized body whether stripped naked in Ras Akyem's drawings, bio-morphised in the paintings of Mendive, or costumed with bric-a-brac in the assemblages of Duval Carrie (shown here), demonstrates how as a result of slavery, the region's dispossessed peoples harnessed their inner resources to create intimate sites of worship that could speak to other worlds and realities. Whether inspired by Vodou, Revival, Rastafari or Santaria, the art works in Myths, Beliefs, Religions and Imagination in the Caribbean show how the enshrined body becomes the altar where our people display inner wealth and offerings, to praise and appease their gods.


Princeton University's collection of photographs related to the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 was the highlight of the National Library of Jamaica's Distinguished Lecture recently. Even though the talk was intended to focus on works already in the national archive, it was easy to see why UWI lecturer Clinton Hutton might have been seduced by this rare album. Acquired in 2009, the collection of 165 albumen photos documented by Julie Mellby details the horrific events of 1865 when more than 500 were slain on both sides of the post-slavery revolt. Portraits of military commanders, victims, rebel leaders and even the maroons who aided the British in suppressing the rebellion, all figure in the album thought to have been owned by Alexander Dudgeon Gulland, a surgeon in the British Army. The lecture underscored the popularity of these types of images in the 19th century when photography served to illustrate overseas incidents in ways that might be the equivalent of today's cable television news. But the prevalence of photographs such as Colonal Fyfe and the Maroons shown here, which allowed for reconstruction of events to meet the demands of faraway audiences, also underscores how technology can be manipulated to re-stage history, and that seeing is not always believing...


A respectful crowd turned out to hear master painter Barrington Watson's lecture at the National Gallery of Jamaica yesterday. At eighty, his presentation was not the most dynamic but the extensive slide-show of his works and his anecdotes were enough to keep the audience engaged. His tales of immigrant life in 1960s London at the Royal College and later studies in Europe, peppered with names such as Ruskin Spear and Norman Manley provided rare details about the artist's determination to become one of the region's finest painters. Most telling, was his description of how he stole skills from the great western masters to arrive at a way of painting that he considered uniquely Caribbean. His often quoted aspiration to utilize... “ ..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” vainly articulates how so many post-colonial period painters balanced on a fine line as they painted their personal histories and narratives. The talk served to whet the appetite of fans who can anticipate his retrospective of over 300 works scheduled for display at the NGJ in January 2012.


The Olympia Gallery in Kingston has just launched its new website. Appropriately, the online design features the mural by senior artist Barrington Watson that has come to characterize the gallery's distinctive architecture and the optimism that accompanied the building's establishment in the 1960s. Founded by art patron A.D. Scott and supported by members of the Contemporary Artists Association such as Karl Parboosingh, Eugene Hyde, Aubrey Williams, the gallery represented the dream of Jamaica's newly independent intelligentsia who wanted to see art placed at the center of their country's nationalist agenda. Although, the vision of the Gallery as a thriving arts community and artist in residence retreat was never fully realized, its architecture and permanent collection still speak to the potential of that moment. Currently, the Olympia is experiencing a revival in popularity under the management of Rosemarie Thwaites and it is good that she has the foresight to see that Olympia's outreach must go beyond its brick and mortar facilities to embrace an extensive audience online. Click here to watch the 2 min video and to learn more about the gallery's design and history.