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Barbed Wires, Picket Fences and Pop-Up Art

Phillip Thomas

This is the age of pop-ups, when entities shed the restrictive confines of specific brick and mortar spaces and chose mobility instead. The visual arts in Jamaica have now joined that movement with the introduction of Red Easel. Red Easel had its first event last Friday, with the stirring and insightful work of painter Phillip Thomas.

Named ‘Barbed Wire and Picket Fences’ the exhibition was an exploration of social and cultural boundaries and the quiet and often economically motivated violence behind them. 

The lobby area of the Regional Headquarters of the UWI, based at Mona, were covered with Thomas’ large scale oil paintings but the first image to greet patrons was an installation featuring a slice of manicured lawn surrounded by picket fences and wrought iron fencing. The lawn also features gardening implements, including sharpened machetes, hinting at the layers of violence that go into keeping the lawns pristine.

NNevada Powe delivers a vibrant introduction to Phillip Thomas' workevada Powe presented an engaging and insightful introduction to Thomas’ work in general, paying particular focus to the pieces on display. 

“He’s probably the most contemplative painter we’ve ever had,” Powe declared. And the pieces on display, from Thomas' self portrait to his renditions of Norman Manley and Bustamante, underscored this. More importantly, the symbol laden pieces invite the viewer to participate in that quiet, yet active contemplation.

Thomas’ pieces provoke you to question how power, economics and ideas of heroism are related.

Powe, described Thomas’ work as an exploration of the “gentility of violence” wherein “nothing is accidental”. Powe pointed out that even the seating for the event was designed as a part of Thomas’ conversation about society and politics, with green and orange chairs placed on opposite sides of the room. 

Paul Morrison, creative director of Red Easel explained that the art pop-up event was created to fill the space left in the wake of Mutual Gallery’s closure.

“With the closing of Mutual Gallery, there are few spaces where art can be sold,” he said. “There are spaces where art can be displayed.”

This man seemed almost a part of the installation of Thomas' self portrait Red Easel is attempting to bridge that gap by providing focused exhibitions created to celebrate  art but with an economic motive as well. The events will feature the works of both established and emerging artists. 

“Phillip had never done a solo exhibition in Jamaica before,” Morrison said. “So, I thought it would therefore be the most impactful. His first solo show, and Red Easel’s first exhibition.”

It seemed a great union, and it is certainly high time that Thomas had a solo exhibition on the island.

The opening of Barbed Wire and Picket Fences took place on Friday, December 4, 2015 at 7:00 p.m.