Tue | Jan 22, 2019

John Dunkley's triumphant return - 'Neither Day nor Night hailed as one of 'the most exciting museum shows around the US in 2017'

Published:Wednesday | April 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
John Dunkley, Cuban Scenery, c1945
John Dunkley, Agriculture, Art, Statesmanship, c1945
John Dunkley, Diamond Wedding, 1940

The National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) will be hosting the homecoming of the exhibition of John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night from April 29 to July 29, after its eight-month run at the Perez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM), Florida, United States, 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 Dr David Boxer (1946-2017), historian and curatorial adviser to PAMM.

"There is a hypnotic rhythmic intensity in Dunkley's paintings that is alien to English and American masters," John Dunkley (b. 1891, Savanna-la-Mar - d. 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 imageries of landscapes, with psychologically and psychosexually 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.


Travelling exhibition


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.

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.