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Passing of an era - Remembering K. Patrick Byles

Published:Friday | December 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma
K. Patrick Byles

There are seldom occasions and there are rarely people to describe that put one at a loss for words - where similes and attributes seem to lose their sheen. Perhaps, in essence it would be akin to trying to match the intensity of sunlight with a lamp. K. Patrick Byles was one such person whose larger-than-life persona went over, beyond, and above his physical attributes.

An artist par excellence, marketing and communications doyen, strategist, thinker - Pat (he insisted that he should be addressed by this name, what else can a 90-year-old youngster want) passed away on December 1.

Pat had one lifelong mission: to break the stereotypes and change the broad-brush generalisation of the artist.

The traditional notion of painting with the hope of selling each picture as fast as possible and the traditional focus of building a collection of objects to exhibit in the halls of high rise are passe, he always said. His vision was for the maturity of art to be recognised at boardroom levels - art impacts all areas of communication, commerce, packaging, architecture, decorating, and entertainment.

"My creations capture the happiness, colours, and the energy of the sun-kissed islands of the region," he once said. High energy, Pat maintained, is the key to giving the wow factor to any art form - be it creating a painting or marketing a product or service.

"I have tried to capture the freshness of the Caribbean life, images, and ideas and transformed them into materials of merchandise and reproduction," Pat once said.

Keith Patrick Duncan Byles was born in Mt Olivet, Brown's Town, in St Ann on February 3, 1927. He started his artistic journey when he was at high school, creating murals at Jamaica College and then St George's College, gaining accolades.

"Edna Manley used to encourage me to paint. She always used to say that I had potential," he said.

"The sensitivity of creative people is a large part of the creativity," Byles said. "A lot of people mistakenly do not relate creativity and sensitivity. To them, sensitivity can be considered a weakness."

He maintained that the confluence of creativity and rationalisation is time-tested and cannot be brushed aside.

Pat began his career as a commercial artist, painting and illustrating film posters for Palace Amusement Cinemas, then moving to Agency Art & Publicity Ltd, which send him to The Bahamas. Along the way, he added to his repertoire, being appointed the representative of the Interpublic Group of Companies, one of the world's largest advertising agencies.

His inspiration had flights of imagination from his travels across the Caribbean, having lived and run a successful advertising agency in The Bahamas, which he started in 1948. His agency also handled high-end clients in Jamaica.

Pat graduated from St George's College. After attending Jamaica College in 1945, and he already knew what kind of work he wanted to do.


Impressive foundation


He had been involved in creative endeavours, including creating backdrops and murals at the St George's College Theatre and the Ward Theatre, supplying hand-painted greeting cards to Times Store, and as a cartoonist for Catholic Opinion. A stint as a draughtsman added to an impressive foundation.

In 1946, he was employed to advertising Agency Art & Publicity Ltd, a leading advertising agency in Jamaica.

He was sent by the company to Nassau, Bahamas to spearhead and manage a sub-office there. In Nassau, he worked with the Nassau Daily Tribune as advertising sales manager. There, he said, he learnt a great deal under the tutelage of Sir Etienne Dupuch, who was the editor.

Pat returned to Jamaica in 1953 and joined A & P as account executive and director.

His heart, though, was always in the fine arts, and he strived to change the perception of an artist, to marry creativity with business acumen.

In the later years, though he was physically weak, his mind was razor sharp, and even when he was bedridden, he would scribble strategy notes - he loved his Sharpies.

Pat always said that only strong foundations could bring about sustained growth and development, and to evolve was the key to that growth. Notwithstanding that there would be failures along the way, but one has to learn from them and move on.

Like blooming flowers and the cool shade of trees owe their existence and potency to one critical attribute - their roots are well embedded. This fact is often overlooked as everyone is busy enjoying the sweetness of the fruits that bear in abundance. This analogy was best fit for K. Patrick Byles.

Though his physical being has transited, his legacy is omnipresent.

Whoever passed by his studios, a hand-painted sign, 'Art That Is Alive', would greet them it is a poignant reminder that like his art, he is always going to be alive.