Petrona Morrison

From an early age Morrison sketched incessantly, covering family books with figure drawings. By the time she reached her teens she was certain that she wanted to be an artist. Art satisfied an obsession that she had not yet clearly defined but had welcomed wholly.School teachers advised that she seek higher education. At McMaster University in Canada, and later, at Howard University in Washington D.C., she specialized in painting, but later developed an interest in sculpture.

Returning to Jamaica in 1976, Morrison taught for a year and found it ‘draining’. She stayed at home for ten months simply considering her next move. She did nothing, and people kept asking her what was wrong. A job in television at the Agency for Public Information presented new options for refining her politics. This was during the era of Jamaica’s experiment with democratic socialism, and she thrived in such an environment, with all its robust ideas. The pressured nature of television production and constant interaction with the public further built her confidence. She now faced the world with a little less hesitancy.

Morrison is a very private person. Aspects of her life shared with family and friends can only be made public through her art. She is adamant that her work should speak for her, remaining wary of the written word. She often uses that art to work through her problems. Her sculptures are metaphors for her body and her psyche. They also reveal her optimism and faith in healing. Harmony, balance and wholeness are central to her assemblages even though they are constructed from fragmented and disparate elements. She revels in the act of welding them together. It is as though she is reworking some of the more painful and disjointed moments of her life to give them positive meaning.Morrison is one of few artists in Jamaica working on large constructions and installations that are as commanding conceptually as they are physically daunting. Yes, she’s a small person – under five feet - but she is drawn to making larger than life, totem-like sculptures. Typically she is drawn to forms that challenge her physical capabilities. Overcoming constraint is a silent challenge in her life, and the sheer size of her work suggests she meets it well.

Morrison is a scavenger. Before any piece of work can begin, she hunts for suitable materials, her hand and eye drawing her to forms for her massive assemblages. Heavy metal, large wooden beams, car-parts, metal sheets from appliances such as fridges and stoves and other found objects are combined. She blends then into minimalist constructions that defy the term ‘junk sculpture’. More recently her work has become even more pared down invloving photographs, X Rays and collaged compositions that coolly and clinically bring her life and beliefs under scrutiny.PA-S

Extracted and amended from ARCHER-STRAW, P. A Pilgrims Progress, CARIBBEAN BEAT Port of Spain, 1999, p.32