Mon | Dec 11, 2017

McKenzie paints poets' essence - Debut novel coincides with portrait exhibition

Published:Tuesday | November 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Professor Mervyn Morris (right) and Dr Velma Pollard with the paintings of them done by Dr Earl McKenzie.
Dr Earl McKenzie's painting of Dr Ralph Thompson.
Dr Earl McKenzie with one of two self-portraits in his exhibition Portraits of Jamaica Poets and Other Paintings.
Monica Minott with Dr Earl McKenzie's painting of her.
Professor Clinton Hutton speaks at the recent opening of Dr Earl McKenzie's exhibition Portraits of Jamaican Poets And Other Painting and launch of his book The Roosm of His Life at the UWI's Regional Headquarters at the Mona Campus.
Millicent Graham beside Dr Earl McKenzie's painting of her.
Dr Earl McKenzie looks up at a painting he did of himself which is included in his exhibition Portraits of Jamaican Poets and Other Paintings at the Regional Headquarters, UWI, Mona.
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In his paintings of poets now mounted in the entrance level of the UWI's Regional Headquarters at the Mona Campus, Dr Earl McKenzie did not try to replicate the features of the men and women of verse.

"They are not identical, but more imaginative. It is more about the essence of the poet," McKenzie told The Gleaner. The exhibition is titled 'Portraits of Jamaican Poets and Other Paintings' and, at the recent opening, McKenzie also presented his debut novel The Rooms of His Life.

In painting each poet, McKenzie used three resources - his memory of them (where applicable), a photograph and their writing, a quote from the writer attached to the bottom left hand corner of the canvas. "At first, I thought I would paint some of my friends and colleagues," McKenzie said, Professors Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris among those. It grew from there, McKenzie getting the permission of those included in the exhibition before doing the portrait.

 

FIRST TO BE PAINTED

 

Chronologically, first to be done in the series was Roger Mais, and Dr Ralph Thomson was the last. There could have been more, but McKenzie said "I think I have done enough for now", while not ruling out the possibility of expanding on his portraits of Jamaican poets.

McKenzie's debut novel, The Rooms of His Life, comes from living in New York while studying at Columbia University. "I bounced around from room to room for a while," McKenzie said. I thought 'so many rooms' and got the idea of using the motif of rooms," McKenzie said. Noting that the narrative of what took place in those rooms is not about his life, McKenzie dubbed 'The Rooms of His Life' a "fictional autobiography".

McKenzie, whose poetry collections include Against Linearity (1993) and The Almond Leaf (2008), also told The Gleaner that some persons may have mistakenly believed that he already did a novel, his book of short stories titled A Boy Named Ossie: A Jamaican Childhood.

And, speaking on behalf of those whom McKenzie has painted Millicent Graham (author of The Damp in Things (2009)), alluded to the essence which was his objective, saying "we find in each canvas a compelling portrait, human and vulnerable."