Karl Parboosingh (1923-1975)

Something of a prodigy, Karl Parboosingh’s paintings reveal his rare and gifted talents as a painter. Examination of his background however shows that whatever artistic skills he may have been born with, they were enhanced during his lifetime by  solid training and exposure to art. During his younger years he had the rare opportunity (at least, for Jamaican painters) to work alongside some of the masters of the international modern art movement in such cities as  Paris, New York and Mexico and this undoubtedly supported his success.

Born in 1923 in Hopewell, St. Mary, to Mr. and Mrs. Vivien Coy, Parboosingh was originally baptized Karl Coy. And as a teenager, he was educated as Calabar and Wolmer's Boy's School. It is possible that he inherited some of his artist's skills and eye for design from his mother Gladys Coy who was a dress designer. When in the 1940’s she moved to New York to establish a dress making business there, Parboosingh followed. These were the years that witnessed the beginning of the Second World War, and Parboosingh as a young man, joined the forces and saw active service in war torn Europe. 

It was only on his return to New York after the war that Parboosingh began his career as an artist in earnest, enrolling at the New York Arts Students League. But Parboosingh was a restless spirit and Greenwich Village, New York could not support his interests completely. Anxious to experience more of the art world he set off for Paris and spent the next few years traveling, studying and working extensively in the main art centres of Europe.  In Paris, he studied at the Ecole de Beaux de Paris and reportedly in the atelier of vanguard artist Fernand Leger. He is also said to have studied with the expressionist, George Grosz, French painter and stained glass designer, Georges Rouault at the Centre d'Art Paris, and in Mexico - with Alfaro Siqueiros. As a result, Parboosingh adopted modern approaches to his work, becoming Jamaica’s first artist to truly experiment with avant-garde styles. Despite his leanings towards simplified flat surfaces in the manner of Henri Matisse, Parboosingh’s temperament was too tempestuous to create similarly minimalist paintings. Soon his smooth edged forms would give way to rougher more crudely drawn images that were somehow more in keeping with the social shifts in Jamaican society.  By the time he returned to Jamaica in the late 1950’s his paintings were bursting with an energy more reflective of expressionism. This was the style that would dominate his paintings until his death in 1975. It was also the style that was most indicative of this artist’s life that was always edgy, experimental and full of excess. PA-S