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Jamaican Afternoon by Robert Genn

Jamaican Afternoon
by Robert Genn

In the afternoon, the smell of ganja drifted down the beach, giving a mild creative abandon to my normally controlled painting activities. I'd been aware of a few dreadlocked, Haile Selassie-type characters down there--now they were being joined by large, laughing women and a few rag-tag children who ran noisily and furiously in and out of the surf. Like a scene out of a movie, the crowd now moved toward me, their shoulder-born reggae growing in volume as they approached.

"Wot you doin' mon?" said a nicotine-stained voice behind me. It belonged to the skinniest, tallest Jamaican guy I'd ever seen. "You got all those nice colours there, you oughtta use them, mon."

The Rastafarian religion claims only about 100,000 Jamaicans, but its influence permeates the culture. There's spiritual healing when all else fails and a sense of community like no other. It doesn't seem to matter whose kids are whose, or even whose lady is whose--a moving, bumping, singing family of mankind is exuding love and the unabashed celebration of life. Intellectual examination is out of the question. Bob Marley is the prophet.

The short pause by the tall gentlemen was meant as encouragement. Indigenous Jamaican paintings, for the most part, are laced with a laid-back, colourful and carefree energy. Influenced from many shores--from cubism to primitivism, as well as Black Africa--it's less about technique than magic. Like the loud but faded shirts of some of these Rastas, Jamaican art often tells stories. We've put up a panel of some of my favourite Jamaican painters at the top of the current clickback.

Intuition drives a great deal of Jamaican art. Extroverted groups and daily life scenes are loaded with gossip and frivolity. Albert Artwell (b. 1942) is an example of the Jamaican Intuitive School--in his case the reworking of biblical material laced with Jamaican humour and comment. A Crucifixion scene, for example, shows a range of goofy onlookers including colonial figures and a British officer. Clear and fresh colours, flatly painted, mark his and many other Jamaican paintings. The shops around here are full of similar work. It's been my observation that art can be an island, especially when it comes from an island.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Life is one big road with lots of signs,
So when you riding through the ruts, don't you complicate your minds:
Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy!
Don't bury your thoughts; put your vision to reality, yeah!"
(from Wake up and Live by Bob Marley)

Esoterica: Today is Bob Marley's birthday and the beach people are partying hard. Some go swimming with their clothes on, then set up a clothesline right on the beach. It's straight out of Milton Messam (b. 1944), known around these parts by the nickname "Artist." He's a taxi driver and chef who became a celebrated painter after taking a correspondence course in commercial art. The skinny guy comes back. "Come and join in, mon. You're taking things too serious." I figure I may as well, though it's part of my culture not to let these acrylics dry up.
Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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