On Sunday January 12th, 2014, Barrington Watson, Jamaican master painter celebrated his 83rd birthday at his home with a circle of select family and friends including, artists Alex Cooper, Joshua Higgins, Stafford Schliefer, director Lennie Little-White, and business men Paul Matalon and Bill Clarke. I am geographically challenged by my Toronto Tundra, and regretfully I missed the luncheon, beautifully organized by Barry’s wife Doreen. On the other hand, my man on the rock, who is geographically fortunate attended and reported on the events. So through my privilege of one degree of separation, I have the honour of sharing some candid moments from the party. To ease my regrets, let’s take a sunny diversion down memory lane to the day when I met Barry and visited his home and studio at Orange Park Estate.
With my post secondary education in chemistry and medical laboratory technology I have never taken an art course in my life, so when I began to follow my dreams into art world it was an uphill challenge. After hopscotching through the Middle East and Africa, I decided to open an art gallery in Toronto. Serendipitously on a Y2K trip to Jamaica my sister hooked me up with the artist Joshua Higgins, who’s nude reproducion”Trilogy” had hung over her bed for years. On subsequents visits when we connected I stayed at Joshua’s raw expansive studio on Camp road in the heart of Kingston, so a drive to the country, to visit the homes of various artists along the way was defintely warranted.
Joshua always navigated the careening roads with the experience of an Indy 500 driver keeping me safe, yet just on the edge of nervousness. This particular day we headed through the mountainous parish of St.Thomas to the home where Joshua had apprenticed as a young artist in his early years. The conversation was entertaining and enlightening, you know bad boy antics stories that validated every biography of every famous male artist that I had ever read. Even under Joshua’s accomplished steady hands, I felt pitched and titled on the Yallahs cliffside roads of the lush green drive onto our final destination.
Orange Park, home and studio of Barrington Watson, this was the backdrop for the lusty bad boy stories. Honestly, I had never been in such a preeminant home in either Canada or Jamaica. Not even sure if I had my camera that day so I only have my memories to recall the essence of the visit. The Orange Park estate property is quite an expansive and well appointed location. Previously a coffee plantation the estate has a main house, a couple of tennis courts and couple of cottages, and of course Barry’s main studio. The studio was brimming with the quintessence of Barry and his life’s work. Barry has spent his life promoting pan-Africanism through popular portraits of black leaders, creating narrative depictions of Jamaican life, and impassioned nude scenes. A large scale paintings ” The Pan Africans” was being prepared for transportation, if I recall correctly this particular piece was going to the United Nations. Leaders of both continental Africa and the Diaspora, large in life ready to step off the canvas. The visit to Barrington’s estate pulled back the curtain on elements of creativity which I had never considered or observed before. Barry has prospered successfully throughout his career and has benefitted from the luxury of living and working in such a fine location for the past forty years.
Last year the National Gallery of Jamaica honoured Barrington with a retrospective exhibition of his works and created an educational film. The film puts the artist work into perspective within the context of his Pan African philosophy’s, Jamaican post independence history and the relevance of the influential nature of the body of his works. Please take a some time out of your day to learn something about Barry and see his work.
Thirteen years ago I believed myself to be much more sophisticated than I actually was, in fact several hundred hours later of self education in the Caribbean art realm, it is only now, looking back in retrospect that I have absorbed the honour and the pleasure of my one degree of separation.
Happy Birthday Barry!