Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Sculpting Marcus Garvey and Usain Bolt

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Sibling rivalry is a hell of a thing. As the firstborn child, I enjoyed a privileged place in my family. On a pedestal! Then two years, six months and 14 days after my birth - I can't calculate the minutes and seconds - I was dethroned. The arrival of my brother, Kingsley, ended my reign as only child. I was not amused. But I was a nuff lickle pikni, and no boy baby was going to keep me down. Especially when he seemed like a very entertaining toy!

Seriously, though, I certainly don't want to stir up any sibling rivalry between Raymond and Basil Watson. They are both accomplished sculptors. But I wonder if their identical choice of career may not have caused some friendly rivalry over the years. And, as sons of the legendary painter Barrington Watson, they probably both felt the pressure of living up to their father's inevitable expectations.

Kai Watson, Basil's son, is also an artist, but not a sculptor. Like his grandfather, he chose to be a painter. The issue of rivalry could not possibly arise at such a distance across generations. This is how the Arts Jamaica website describes this exceptional family: "The Watsons are an artistic dynasty that spans three generations, which is rare enough. It is of particular interest and significance when this happens in a country the size of Jamaica and says much about the culture in which the dynasty has evolved."

 

DISTINCT STYLES

 

Raymond and Basil have clearly mastered distinct styles. The late Petrine Archer, a distinguished art historian, described Basil's work this way on her blog: "Watson relishes the challenge of representation. He strives constantly for perfection of form and truth to what he sees." By contrast, I think Raymond is engaged with representing abstract ideas in an arresting physical form.

The great controversy over Raymond's two Garvey busts, designed for the University of the West Indies, could have been completely avoided if attention had been paid to the artist's preferred style. Whoever negotiated the commission simply did not understand the precise nature of Raymond's artistic vision. So we've ended up with two Garvey busts that don't add up to a satisfying whole.

Comparisons will probably be made between Basil's magisterial statue of Usain Bolt and Raymond's contested Garvey busts. But it's not fair. A bust is a diminished image to begin with. Head, shoulders and chest only! A statue is a far grander enterprise. Bolt's is larger than life at eight feet tall, mounted high on an imposing pedestal! His 'To di Worl' signature pose extends the reach of the image. The monument is pure poetry. Not a soul is going to quarrel with the artist. And, you done know, we are notoriously contentious about public art.

 

LIGUANEA ART FESTIVAL

 

The Bolt statue was unveiled on the same day as the Liguanea Art Festival. What a celebration of Jamaican creativity! The expanded venue accommodated more artists than in previous years and the booths were laid out elegantly. One of the displays that attracted a lot of attention was the work of first-time exhibitor Derval Johnson. Though he was new to the festival, Johnson's work has been shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica in the 2017 and 2014 Biennial exhibitions.

I overheard an enthusiastic patron saying that if there was a prize for the best booth, Mr Johnson would surely have won it. His striking carvings in unpolished cedar stood out in sharp relief against the black cloth on which they were displayed. Birds of all sizes were a dominant theme. Then there were several masks and three huge figures that seemed to be both animal and human.

In 2015, UNESCO designated Kingston as a creative city of music. But we are so much more than that. Our creative writers are world-famous and so are our artists. Last week, an exhibition of 50 posters by the late Michael 'Freestylee' Thompson, an internationally recognised graphic designer, opened at the University of the West Indies Museum. It's up until the 15th of December.

'Freestylee Roots' is a brilliant collection of posters that tell the story of our reggae icons and other outstanding Jamaicans. Michael's politically engaged posters also speak to global issues such as genocide, food insecurity and natural disaster. Michael's art is decidedly ideological, influenced by the Cuban masters he discovered in the 1970s. Michael was also a very practical man who made a good living as a commercial artist. One of his major clients was the cosmetics company Clinique. For Michael, art was art, whatever its form.

Many artists just want to create. They can't manage the stresses of marketing their work. Then there are those entrepreneurial artists, like Gene Pearson, who completely understand the business. His designs in clay are now featured on bags, scarves and T-shirts and are sold internationally at shopvida.com. June Wong and her team at the Liguanea Art Festival have done an excellent job, providing opportunities for both established and new artists to collaborate and take their work to di worl!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.