Jamaican Artist Joshua Higgins

Joshua Higgins

Article published in the Jamaican Observer , November 20th, 2019

Construction Boom Lacking Art Fine Artist says Jamaican fine artist Joshua Higgins is concerned about what he perceives as a decline in the local art scene, particularly painting, and the glaring lack of an artistic imprint in the current construction boom under way in Kingston and other parts of Jamaica.

An article from his publicist says the painter, whose works grace the halls of international institutions, embassies, banks, universities and are held by discerning private collectors around the world, feels that this apparent disinterest in art is contributing to the coarsening of Jamaican sensibilities and the growing alienation manifested in the absence of an aesthetic appeal, especially in urban spaces, for enriching the lives of the youth and the general populace.

“Art is important for so many reasons. It livens up the dull concrete spaces and gives people a deep connection with their emotions, like love, beauty, serenity and faith. It can inspire hope and enrich the quality of life of our people,” the article quotes the artist.

Higgins, who splits his time between Canada and the United States when not home in Jamaica, is concerned about the dwindling number of art galleries in Kingston, noting that many spaces which make such claims are nothing but “glorified frame studios” rather than true galleries.

He is, the article states, prepared to be an advocate for a revival of the Jamaican art movement and feels the Government needs to firstly recognise the importance of carving out a section of its budget for construction projects to include works of public art that capture “the essence of the Jamaican experience and the sensibilities of our people”.

“Our urban planners and architects must factor art into their decisions,” he states, noting that such arrangements should be legislated, if not already so. “Individuals, corporations, law firms and banks have led the way in this regard, but it needs to become more entrenched,” he asserts.

“When people think of cities around the world, invariably they picture iconic sculptures like the statue of Christ the Redeemer which towers over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the classic paintings and sculptures in Venice, Italy, the vibrant street art scene in Havana, Cuba… but when you think about Kingston what stands out really?… and we have produced world-class artists,” he observ

The protégé of towering artists like Barrington Watson, Osmond Watson, Albert Huie, Gene Pearson, Joe James, Alexander Cooper and Nelson Cooper, and who has made his living almost exclusively from his work as a multimedia professional painter for over 30 years, hopes that increasing economic development locally will fuel a renewed interest in purchasing art by institutions, professionals, the average person and the business class.

“Young, emerging professionals, established professionals, the heads of corporations and private and State institutions need to buy art, not just as an investment but to develop our patrimony, our own aesthetic, our young emerging artists, our own culture so that when people think about our capital city and indeed Jamaica as a whole, they will not only think about our great musicians and sports persons, they will not think about shanty towns and crime, but about the beauty of our murals and statues, the vibrant murals and frescos on the walls of our new and old buildings and in our parks and along our highways,” he urges.

Higgins also knows the value of art in engendering peace in troubled communities. In the 1990s he guided a mural project in Southside, Kingston that helped to bring literacy, training and peaceful coexistence to troubled young gang members in that inner-city area.

“I believe in using art as a tool for social re-engineering and to promote justice, especially for people in the diaspora who have been denied so much,” Higgins affirms.

He is inspired by programmes such as the Chicago Public Art Projects funded by that American city, which includes over 500 works of art exhibited in over 150 municipal facilities around the city, such as police stations, transport centres and libraries, providing citizens with an improved public environment while enhancing city buildings and spaces with quality works of art by professional artists.

“Cities like New York have a Percent for Art programme which provides that one per cent of the city budget for construction projects is allocated for public artwork. Why can’t we do something similar here among our artists to capture the energy and vibrancy of Jamaicans?” he asks.

“ I hear talk about making Kingston into the ‘pearl of the Caribbean’, that is all well and good, but there has to be an accompanying recognition that it takes some significant investments in art to make it a reality,” Higgins argues.

“We are spending billions of dollars on our roadways and new buildings, we need to make them resonate and do more than transport and house people and goods; it must tell our story, capture our glorious struggles to overcome adversity and achieve excellence. Every parish has a story to tell through art, every parish boundary should declare its beauty, history and diversity,” he declares.

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Joshua has proved himself to be a Jamaican fine artist influenced, but not defined by his tropical origins. A 1978 graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, who continues to specialize in painting and drawing. As a graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, he understudied with Barrington Watson and Alex Cooper for several years after graduation.

In the early 70’s Joshua created agricultural literacy guides for JAMAL.  In the late 70’s he taught art at St Mary’s High School and Wolmer’s Boy’s School in St Mary’s Jamaica. In the early 80’s he lived in New York and worked advertising and model making. In then 90’s he led a mural project in south side of Kingston to bring literacy, training and peace to urban youth gangs.

Over the span of his nearly three decades in art;he consistently brings those influences to bear in processing his experiences through his paintings, which are characterized by passion, clarity, diversity and vigor. His current portfolio showcases a range of works that is as expansive as it is expressive, seemingly unhurried, yet never outpaced by the cosmopolitan global village in which he now operates. Joshua is vibrant, visionary, eloquent artist, who is rooted in the Jamaican community.

Joshua is currently using his experience to explore the assimilation his art with fabrics, laser and 3D technologies to further  his capabilities as a creator, which will  influence future generations of artists.

Joshua has been constantly promoting  change to the fabric of Jamaican society through the arts. Higgins’s art graces the halls of international institutions, organizations, banks and private collectors.

preview(3)

Joshua is currently using his experience to explore the  assimilation his art with fabrics, laser and 3D technologies to further  his capabilities as a creator, which will  influence future generations of artists.

In February 2015 Joshua Higgins sponsored the premiere showing of “They Call Me Barrington”.The two-act documentary film is 50 minutes in length and is based on the life and works of Jamaica’s master painter Barrington Watson. The film  premiered on Sunday  February 1st at the Carib Cinema in Kingston Jamaica. The film is the second of Lennie Little-White’s trilogy on Jamaican icons in the arts. The first film was based on Rex Nettleford and the subsequent film will be based on Miss Lou.

Joshua Higgins Sponsors Film Showing

In 2013, Dr. Alafia Samuels & Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J Patterson celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the University of West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados by donating  Joshua Higgins painting “Enrapture”.

Dr. Alafia Samuels & Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J Patterson celebrate the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Barbados 50th Anniversary by handing over Joshua Higgins painting "Enrapture".

Enjoying the exhibition

So here is what went down  in the Toronto African Canadian Art scene in 2007 .

Celebration ! opened in honour of Caribana’ s 40th year anniversary and is a milestone event for both the gallery and the artist. That year marked the fifth year Studio Visuals had been in business in Corktown and the first time that Joshua Higgins had exhibited his art in giclee format in Canada. The art was exquisitely framed by Farouk our ever supportive framer. The vibrant colours and characters jumped off the canvas. As one viewer put it “A refreshing yet spiritual portrayal of Jamaica”. The another artist wrote in the guest book “Your work represents the more vibrant side of life and abstracts it complexities”.  Joshua has painted on a full time basis for the past 30 years using Jamaica as his studio which he describes as “a violent , dynamic, creative place, which is his muse”. Art from Jamaica of this caliber has never been seen in Toronto before.

Ms Anne Marie Bonner the Jamaican Council General in Canada (pictured in the photo receiving a gift from Josh and the gallery ) opened the event with words of praise for Joshua and his art.

It was a smashing event with Mento Music in the air. Appleton Rum sponsored the opening event in part with smooth libations and the ever dependable Welsh sisters threw down some wicked platters of food, which were gobbled up by the attendees and washed down with Sunshine Shakes from Ms Joanne Anderson .

chavez2-1

Written by Michael Edwards for the Jamaican Gleaner September 2010

One of the highlights for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his recent visit to Jamaica was the presentation, by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, of a large painting by one of Jamaica’s leading artists. The Prime Minister made the presentation during a reception at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay. 

The piece, entitled “Unity”, was conceived and executed by painter Joshua Higgins, who said he used the opportunity of the commission to make a statement – in a positive manner – about issues of common interest to both countries.

“Whether you’re in Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean, in order to succeed in this globalized scenario, you need unity and co-operation. What I really tried to focus on with this work is what I visualize as the emerging class, in Jamaica, Venezuela or in any other developing country.That emerging class is seeking to achieve greater social mobility, to move up so to speak, through education and through increased economic activity. Basically, this painting speaks to a shared vision and consciousness and a belief in the possibility of a better life. I really feel that we as Jamaican artists need to first of all be more aware and then to reflect more of the socio-political realities that face us as people of the Americas in this day and age,”  Higgins  said. “Our neighbours in Latin America have been doing it and I think we need to do more in that regard.

The move to address social and geo-political concerns through art is one that the career artist hopes others will emulate.As cognizant as he is of the need to make such statements, Higgins also realizes the demands of the medium and the occasion.

Joshua noted that “It is important, in a circumstance like this, to be able to cut across linguistic barriers. In essence, the painting must have a language that is unique to it and yet a language that is universal, in the sense that the meaning can be clearly ascertained by any viewer regardless of background.

Reports are that the President was immediately taken with the canvas and that its message was indeed not lost on him.[/tab]

dancehall

While much of the attention at the recent launch of Dr Carolyn Cooper’s book Sound Clash was on the author, dancehall luminaries like Capelton and former opposition leader Edward Seaga, another Jamaican was making his mark on the proceedings as well as on the product.

In 2004, fine arts painter Joshua Higgins had the honour of having his work, entitled “The Dancehall”, chosen as the cover image for the book.

Higgins says the author was instrumental in having the image chosen and impressed on her publishers, New York-based Palgrave Macmillan, the appropriateness of the image for the work.

“She endorsed it from the beginning,” he says. “The publishers have their own art department and thousands of works that they could have chosen from or otherwise created on their own.”

Higgins further states that for his work to be chosen is an affirmation, not only of the ability of Jamaican art to stand up to the scrutiny of an international entity, but also that alternative avenues for promotion of the visual arts do exist and are fruitful with the right approach.

“The negotiation process was quite an intense one,” he says, “with several contacts between the publishers and myself. A professional approach on my part helped to sway the publishers to accepting the image.”

For her part, Dr Cooper said she readily put forward the image, which Higgins had given to her previously. “The publishers initially wanted to use some kind of computer-generated image, that wasn’t even showing full human figures,” she says.

“But I insisted that they use the image from Joshua instead and looking at it, they agreed.” She added that the publishers also agreed to the artist having his website address printed on the back cover.

“I think its important that our painters and writers go forward even as the music has gone forward and continues to do. Thus as the book succeeds then Joshua will succeed and we will have a model for other Jamaican artists and creative people to build their careers.

Dr Cooper’s previous work – the series Noises in the Blood also used Jamaican art works, particularly from Barrington Watson and Dawn Scott.

Josh Higgins & Professor Rex Nettleford take in Higgins's "Dance Hall" in 1990.