Ronald Moody (1900-1984)

Born in Kingston to a well-to-do family, Moody left Jamaica at aged 23, initially to pursue a career in dentistry. This was not necessarily his first choice, he was already widely read in Chinese and Indian metaphysics and showed an aptitude for the arts. While still a student he visited the British Museum and was so affected by the Egyptian and Asian collections there that he taught himself to carve. By the time he had completed his dental studies in 1930, he had also become a proficient artist creating significant works such as Wohin (1934; Sacramento, CA, Adolf Loeb priv. co.), and Johanaan (1935; London, Tate). These gigantic heads are archaised forms that pay homage to Eastern philosophy rather than Greek classicism. They communicated an idealised and universal understanding of man’s origins that went against the grain of fascist tendencies already apparent in prewar Europe. The success of these pieces and his first exhibition in Europe encouraged Moody to move to Paris where he stayed until the outbreak of the war when he was forced to flee the German occupation. After a hazardous journey across the Pyranees into Spain, he made it back to London in 1941 stricken with pleuracy that would plague him for the rest of his life.

Moody's wartime experiences and and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima would have a lasting effect on his work as he explored the frailty of mankind and man’s need for spiritual development. His postwar figures such as Three Heads (wood, 1946), although retaining their characteristic stillness also reflected his loss of innocence and concern for the fate of modern man. Moody’s ability to select and work with wood, releasing the movement and tensions of their grain have meant that his large heads have aged with dignity cracking and fracturing in ways that give even greater appeal, profundity and vulnerability as they mature.

Moody’s sentiments towards the Caribbean appear more positive. In 1964 he was commissioned to create a sculpture for the University of The West Indies. His metal sculpture Savacou (cast aluminium, h. 2.13 m) is a symbolic bird that harks back to Taino traditions intended to create pride in the Caribbean tradition and hope for New World civilization.

Moody died in England in 1985, but his sculpture and contribution to the arts in that country has gained greater visibility, championed by his niece Cynthia. His work can now be found in important collections such as the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate, London as well as the National Gallery of Jamaica.

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