Portland artists hope to rise from the ashes
A spark is all you need, they say, to ignite one’s imagination. The analogy of lighting a spark holds true for anyone – especially for those in the creative field who need that inspiration to produce work.
Unfortunately, a spark is also what it took to bring Portland Art Gallery – housed in Port Antonio, at the Old Railway Station building – to the ground and turn it into ashes.
“It was really a sad day,” said Mark Bell, one of the artists who are a part of the Portland Art Gallery. “What was even more sad is that we could not save anything as the fire was high.”
Bell was one of the first persons to reach the premises, but couldn’t do anything but watch the flames destroy the railway station building and their gallery.
It is a devastating loss for all the artists – eight who used to create there every day, eight others whose works were at the gallery for sale, and four trainees who were picking up the nuances of the fine arts. For these Portland artists, the gallery not only provided a space to create and a source of collective livelihood, but it was a place they could call home.
“It [Portland Art Gallery] is a collective effort of the artists to service our community, creating quality artwork, develop the talent of younger artists, help with schoolchildren in projects and train upcoming artists to earn a living,” Bell said.
The artists in residence include Mark Bell, Hopeton Cargill, Zack Ireland, Scion Darby, Clive Passley, O’Neil Lewis, Cornel Skirvin, and Winston Hill.
Cargill laid the foundations of the gallery in 2014, other artists joined, and they have never looked back.
“We have over the years integrated the wider community,” Bell said.
The Portland Art Gallery offers an internship programme for youth development in the arts. The artists also often assist students with their art projects, Bell informed, with students from the College of Agriculture, Science and Education getting help.
“We also assisted high school students who wanted to go to Edna [Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts] and train them.”
Almost all their services to the students were offered for free or at a minimal cost.
“We freely give because we were freely given,” Bell said.
The core group of artists of the Portland Art Gallery – Hopeton Cargill, Mark Bell and Zack Ireland – have distinctive styles which they bring to the table. Bell uses acrylic on canvas as his medium to reflect the simplicity of life in rural Jamaica – from roasting breadfruit to hurricane lamps, he has captured them all. Cargill primarily paints landscapes and seascapes, using oil on canvas as his medium. Ireland is a graphic artist.
Collectively these artists from Portland have made a mark not only in their parish, but across the island. They have been instrumental in creating murals in Portland, Kingston, Montego Bay and other key locations. The mural on West Palm Avenue in Portland, which is across the road from their gallery, was painted in 2020, by their artists. It is a compendium of the entire parish of Portland – highlighting the natural beauty, food, history and culture.
Bell said that the gallery space was also one of the catalysts that kept the Portland Railway Station, which is a historical landmark, alive and relevant.
The physical structure might have been reduced to ashes in the blaze, but it has not in any way dampened the spirit and hope of the artists.
Speaking of hope and divine messages, a painting that Bell did last year, ‘Big Catch’, was rescued from the ashes.
“It is a miracle that the painting is intact,” Bell said. “The entire wall where the painting was on got burnt, and this painting was taken out of the ashes.”
Largely unscathed, the front is pale, but on the back of the canvas, there is a mirror image of the painting. A work of divinity indeed – showing that in all setbacks there is hope.
“We [the artists] are supporting each other and keeping our heads up,” Bell said. “Nothing stops right here, it was an unfortunate accident, but we have to be together, keeping the strength and the faith.
“The life of the gallery is in our hands and in our brushes,” he said.
Help revive Portland Art Gallery
Art supplies – canvas, oil paint, acrylic paint, brushes, vinyl cutter and a laptop
Two 40-foot shipping containers
Cash contributions via GoFundMe: