Avia Ustanny, Outlook Writer
INTUITIVE ARTIST Roy Reid has been exhibiting at the National Gallery since 1972, but little about his humble surroundings today attests to this.
In April 2005, his three-bedroom home on Grass Quit Glades, off Olympic Way in Kingston was badly burnt by fire - caused by an electrical short circuit - leaving his studio and several rooms gutted and the roof gone.
Fortunately, his artwork was saved, as they were stored in a front room that the fire did not penetrate.
"I don't know what I would have done," Roy Reid replies in response to the question about the miraculous preservation of dozens of his canvases.
With his hands on his head and tears spurting from his eyes, he said; "It is not the loss that gets to me. If we think about losses, we would not have enough energy to go forward."
Still, he has not been able to lift a brush since the event.
Roy Reid has been interpreting the world around him on canvas since the year 1964. Critic Andrew Hope has in the past described his work as "A joyous occasion communicating a love of people".
Born in Portland on December 21, 1937, to farming parents, Reid attended Seaside Primary School and attempted to make a living from farming until the lure of the big city pulled him away from home.
He dropped out of school at age 11 and by age 23 still could not read a word.
"The support wasn't there, " he told Outlook cryptically, remembering those early days.
Coming to live in Kingston, he obtained work with the Public Works Department, first as a handy man and then as a sign painter. Very soon he became addicted to creating art.
By age 34, Roy Reid had taught himself to read with the Bible and had succeeded in impressing those on the art circuit, including Pat Ramsay of Mutual Life, with his work. Ramsay's assistance resulted in the purchase of his home on Grass Quit Glades.
Group exhibitions in which the artist has since participated include Eight Jamaican Primitives in Havana, Cuba, 1976; The Intuitive Eye, National Gallery of Jamaica in 1979; and Jamaican Intuitives in Wolverhampton, UK. He has also participated in a number of three-person exhibitions at the Makonde Gallery in Kingston, the National Gallery of Jamaica and the Mutual Life Gallery.
Roy Reid's one-person exhibitions included 'Serendipity' in Kingston in 1986, another at the Pegasus Hotel in 1981 and others at the Bolivar gallery in 1982 and the Mutual life Gallery in 1987.
In the annual national exhibition of the National Gallery between December 2000 to February 2001, his paintings were 'The Unforgettable Defenceless Street People Removal' and 'Everyone has a Cross to Bear'.
Roy Reid admits that he is drawn to disaster as seen by his portrayal of the 'Orange Lane Fire', the 'Eventide Fire' and the Street People saga.
His creative works include Orange Lane fire (for which he received awards), 'Landlord city', 'Bright Star Sister Warns', 'The Church', 'The Beggars and the Have Nots' and 'A Journey Around the Curves of Life'.
"They have me as a social commentator. It is as if people don't want to remember these things after they happen," he told Outlook.
Landlord City a piece for which he is well known, depicts the treatment of the poor by many landlords. These themes, he says, do not sell well. Better responses have been forthcoming for his paintings of religious life - including the 'Bright Star People'' series - of which he is a great admirer.
"It (the religious life) is the best way anyone could choose. To know God, to live your prayer and to find virtue and strength in thinking about God and to try to live with people a type of way" is highly desirable, the artist claims.
His Bright Star People are barefooted and Roy Reid explains that this reflects an intimacy with the bare ground and with nature which is also desirable. "They get everything from the earth."
Several of his works also have figures looking upwards to the elements. In explanation he says, "Some people do not look up. They do not know the seasons. There is a season for everything, from the new moon to the full moon. If you want to come in touch with the father, pray in the right season."
The artist has received the Musgrave Bronze medal for his contribution to the Arts and the Caribbean Development for the Arts and Culture Foundation Sixth Annual Caribbean Hall of Fame Award for Excellence. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Roy Reid states that he has used what resources he had to "come to this stage". Proceeds of work sold in the 2004 Biennial exhibition were plunged into reconstructing his home after the fire. Most of the rooms in his home remain unfurnished. He is seeking assistance in completing the rebuilding and constructing a new work room.
The work of the artist can be viewed in many galleries across the island including Frame Gallery and the National Gallery.
The artist offers many thanks to neighbours and to the fire brigade who he states saved his life. He was the last person who knew that the fire was on. The neighbours called the fire brigade.
The residence is shared with his wife Mable and two sons. He loves to play the guitar and listen to gospel music. The man who does not own a car, explains, "I like to be free. I like to stay at home to think and to paint."
He says that once his home and studio is completely rebuilt and his family once again made comfortable, he will be able to return to what he loves best.