Telling the story of Jamaica through art
Rayon Griffiths, 32, did not have the same opportunities living in Thornton district, St Elizabeth, as the other children in his grade one class who benefited from having electricity and a television to watch cartoons as early as 7:00 on Saturday mornings.
He, instead, had to resort to other measures to find enjoyment.
While sitting outside one evening, Griffiths decided to pick up a pencil and paper as he was inspired to draw the community’s scenery and its people, paying particular attention to the line work and placement of his pencil as he drew what was in front of him.
“Drawing, to me, was the strongest thing about me because I grew up very poor and that was what I used to feel equal to other persons,” he said as he recalled many days at school where he was unable to relate to his peers and the many conversations they had about cartoons.
Teaching himself how to draw, Griffiths created sketches at a tender age, and over time, it allowed him to gain the attention and admiration of his peers, as they were mesmerised by his work. This quickly changed their conversations about children’s television programmes to conversations about Griffiths and his budding artistic abilities.
“I never drew cartoon characters because I never saw them. I drew trucks, landscapes [and] real people,” he said.
Recognition of his talent came early in his life from those around him, including teachers. His class teacher soon requested that he made charts and drew diagrams on the chalk board as teaching aids and for the benefit of other students.
“From then I knew that this was something special and I started to do it more,” he told The Gleaner on Friday.
Griffiths’ talent was further developed when he started attending St Elizabeth Technical High School and came under the tutelage of art teacher and mentor, Rodney Lewis, who he described as the catalyst for propelling his advancement in art.
With the support and encouragement of Lewis, Griffiths, after leaving high school, went on to The Mico University College where he studied visual arts.
He began to diversify by not only creating pencil sketches, but also exploring the use of other mediums, namely crayon, paint and cardboard. He created portraits, sketchbooks and paintings, for commission.
Griffiths, now an art teacher at Munro College, said, “Following the onset of the pandemic, I started looking at my work more seriously.” He added that being away from the classroom had allowed him extra time to create more art pieces.
One such art piece is a cardboard sculpture of the Morant Bay Courthouse in St Thomas. The symbolic structure, which was the scene of the famous Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 headed by National Hero Paul Bogle, had captured the eyes of Griffiths who is on a mission to visit national sites across the island.
“I came up with the idea that what I want to do is to represent a national heritage site in every single parish,” he said.
Beginning in the east of Jamaica, upon visiting St Thomas, Griffiths was deeply disappointed by the structure that had deteriorated over time and was without roofing.
Though the condition of the national landmark was disheartening, Griffiths said it was also inspiring because it gave him the ability to rehabilitate the deteriorated property and display it in its original state to children born after 2007.
“I think it’s a way of preserving our natural heritage,” said Griffiths, who plans to continue his travels across the island making other replicas of important buildings that tell the story of the advancement of people.
Griffiths can be reached at 876-347-1716 to commission any of his works and can be found on YouTube at RayonG89 and on Instagram at Rayongriffiths.