Thu | Apr 25, 2019

John Dunkley's homecoming

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Good Shepherd
Most Faithful, 1939

The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) will host the exhibition John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night from April 29 to July 29, 2018, after its eight-month run at the Perez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM), where it was hailed as one of "the most exciting museum shows around the US in 2017".

"Little in the history of Western art prepares us for Dunkley," wrote the late David Boxer, Dunkley historian and curatorial adviser PAMM.

"There is a hypnotic rhythmic intensity in Dunkley's paintings that is alien to English and American masters."

John Dunkley (born 1891, Savanna-la-Mar; died 1947, Kingston) is considered one of Jamaica's first and finest 'Intuitive' or self-taught artists, and the title of the show is a reference to his work's idiosyncratic mood and palette: detailed, haunting imagery of landscapes, with psychologically and psycho sexually suggestive underpinnings.

Though a selection of Dunkley's work is on permanent display at the NGJ, only 50 paintings by Dunkley exist in the world.

The exhibition's return home gives local audiences the rare opportunity to see this collection of 34 paintings and nine sculptures together for the first time since the NGJ Retrospective of his work in 1976.

Aside from his inclusion in the 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco and the NGJ-Smithsonian travelling exhibition of 1983, Dunkley's work was relatively unknown in the United States until PAMM's light shone on Dunkley as a beacon of modern and contemporary art from the Caribbean.

The Miami exhibition, organised by Curators Diana Nawi, former Associate Curator at PAMM, along with Nicole Smythe-Johnson, independent curator, received rave reviews from ArtForum, Miami Rail, The Huffington Post, among others, and art critic Matthew Higgs lamented the fact that he would have included it in his Best of 2017 list had he seen it sooner.

Smythe-Johnson, assisted by the NGJ curatorial team, will oversee the local abridged installation of the show. An accompanying monograph includes Dr David Boxer's last essay, which brings together over 40 years of research into Dunkley's life and work; an essay by Olive Senior that contextualises Dunkley within his historical moment; and an essay by the exhibition's curators.

The monograph and the exhibition together present not only what Dunkley has been for Jamaica and the region, but also what he could become for the world.