Robyn Miller, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The art world has long contended that it has never been taken seriously enough by media and other sections of society to garner the necessary support to showcase it as an authentic part of the Jamaican culture.
With more than a decade of investment in art, SuperPlus Food Stores is well on its way to retexturing that image.
Now in its 12th year, its Under 40 Artist of the Year Competition will, this weekend, unveil yet another bright and promising young artist when it announces the winner of this year's competition.
With a robust exhibition earlier this month, Leasho Johnson, Marvin Bartley, Olivia McGilchrist and Berette Macaulay, displayed some mind-boggling pieces to one of the biggest crowds yet to trek through the Mutual Gallery and Art Centre.
A vision of art collector, SuperPlus CEO Wayne Chen, the collaboration with Mutual Gallery and a handful of corporate sponsors serves to unearth the artists' creativity while giving them the opportunity to express their art, "undiluted" to a larger audience, Chen said.
"One thing I've always been certain of is there is a wealth of creativity in the visual arts in Jamaica, but many of the young artists get disappointed because there isn't a large enough local market to really support them in their art.
As a result, he said, many of these artists "tend to paint for the market rather than paint where their talent or passion lies".
If anything, the art that followed proved Chen right, the first being Johnson's 'Church Session'.
Using two mediums; painted white stoneware and mixed media on canvas, the artist spread acrylic and industrial fluorescent paint over the bodies of his pint-size subjects, in bright oranges and reds, in a vivid interpretation of the Jamaican dancehall culture.
He explained that dancehall, like Christianity, is revered by Jamaicans in "a culture that you have to feel and try your best to evoke [in your art].
The towering and dapperly dressed Bartley, who suited up in a black and white ensemble, stood out for more reasons than one. He was no less sparing with his photography, which revolved around Greek mythology.
A mere three pieces to his portfolio, its impact and size were never in doubt.
Among Bartley's submissions was a reconstruction of Sandro Bottecheli's acclaimed 1486 'Birth of Venus' painting. Only this time, Venus was a heavy-set black woman.
'River Styx (the arrival of Christopher Columbus)' was as vibrant as it was destruction-filled. An orgy of bodies skimpily clad and clashing against each other, Bartley said it took him at least eight months to shoot, then piece together the hundreds of pictures that brought the work to life, his base being archival print on watercolour paper.
'The Great Rape', signalling Columbus' coming, rounded out the installation.
feelings of conflict
Caucasion and of Jamaican heritage, McGilchrist 'Whitey's' combined photographic tableau and multilayered video exhibits were inspired by feelings of conflict with her environment on her return to Jamaica some 18 months ago.
Realising she was "out of her depth", the artist said she started taking pictures of herself within those 'conflicting' spaces to reconcile her feelings.
Macaulay's ReKon: 'Differenzierte Moglichkeit' was declared a winner by the self-styled Seven Star General L.A. Lewis.
The photo-based mixed media installation consisted of a series of photo transfer images set in light boxes, a driftwood suspended vertical print, and a cast iron female form dressed to represent the Greek Goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne.
The eventual winner will be decided on for the public prize - voted for at the exhibition - and a jury prize, to be determined by a panel of art experts, with cash prizes and a solo exhibition among the winnings.
The entrants, all of whom received a grant to complete their works, were selected from a pool of artists across the island, and must be under 40, Jamaican, or have been practising their craft in Jamaica for at least two years.
The competition has been a springboard for young talents, many of whom have gone on to gain international recognition, 2001 and 2005 winners Nakazzi Hutchinson and Ebony Patterson, respectively, among them.
The exhibition runs until November 26, and can be viewed by appointment (contact Gilou Bauer at 929-4302) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The sponsors are SuperPlus, The Gleaner, National Commercial Bank Ideal Portfolio Services, RBC Royal Bank, JN General Insurance Company, Island Mist Spring Water, British Caribbean Insurance Company and KOOL 97FM.