Michael Robinson, Gleaner Writer
Proud To Be Jamaican
EACH ONE of Michael Parchment's pieces is full of imagery laced with metaphors. A deep spirituality appears to fuel his brush, as the content of the work traverses themes like Garveyism, Rastafari, and the Bible. Works like 'Five Were Wise, Five Were Foolish' and 'Moses Carried The Ark Of God' evoke scenes from the world's number one bestselling book, while presenting an afrocentric take on matters.
'Michael Parchment: Recent Paintings' is a collection of paintings and sculpture currently on view at The Mutual Gallery. Oil and acrylic paintings hang in colourful tribute to the vision of an artist who has been exhibiting for the better part of a quarter century. Parchment has so much to say, that each painting demands close perusal. 'Forgive Them Lord', 'Higglers' and 'Tormented' show Parchment using up negative space in a style faintly reminiscent of MC Escher. Parchment may have influences, but the style is all his own.
'Kapo The Revivalist' is a nod to the cultural icon that must have been one of Michael's muses. Revivalist shepherd Mallica 'Kapo' Reynolds, confined to a wheelchair in his final years, was a painter and sculptor as well. The piece shows the elder Kapo in a wheelchair, trademark cane in hand. It also shows what seems to be a younger Kapo taking part in a revival. The piece draws parallels between the circular tambourine - a key instrument in the revival - and the circles of the chair's wheels.
Three of Parchment's pieces were awarded gold, silver and bronze in last year's National Art Competition held by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. As a result, the artist landed a space inside the National Gallery of Jamaica, where an exhibition of the medallists was mounted.
This exhibition's centrepieces are two of Parchment's sculptures, 'Nativity II' and 'The Lord's Supper'. Coloured almost completely gold, the pieces are wooden cut-outs in a style similar to that of the paintings. Both sculptures depict traditional Christian scenes in a decidedly untraditional way. The title scenes take place atop platforms drawn by harnessed animals - camels for the Nativity and African elephants in the case of the Last Supper.
The placement of the pieces, one behind the other, makes them present like a vibrant monochrome parade. Movement is created through the repetition of shapes and the arrangement of the animal and human figures that make up the compositions. 'The Lord's Supper' actually contains other scenes like Jesus' Palm Sunday parade into Jerusalem and the carrying of the cross on the day of the Crucifixion. 'Nativity II', also has smaller scenes-within-the-scene along all four sides of the piece.
Some of Michael's wall pieces, like 'Marcus Says Up You Mighty Race' are in relief. The artist has cut out the shapes and painted them to create raised areas on the painting's surface. Combined with Parchment's bold use of colour and shape, these pieces are endowed with a strong presence that grabs the attention; their content maintains it.
Michael Parchment is also a nationalist. 'Proud To Be Jamaican' honours Jamaican athletes and their Olympic performances. The relief painting features a parade of international athletes being cheered on by their countrymen. While the work taps into current popular sentiment, the painting was actually done after the Athens Olympics in 2004. Jamaica's gold-medal winning women are highlighted on a stand, but Ethiopia stands at the heart of the procession.
'Michael Parchment: Recent Paintings' is an important exhibition of indigenous work. The artist's focus and consistency has paid off in the form of a culturally invaluable body of work. Like any responsible artist, Parchment has chosen to faithfully document his vision in a form that stimulates attention and thought. His documentation has the unique perspective of one steeped in spirituality and consciousness - in every sense of the word - making his work a timely and relevant piece of the tapestry that is Jamaican art.