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Celebrating Barry Watson -The NGJ's Barrington: A Retrospective

Catalogue Cover of Barrington: A Retrospective

The exhibition Barrington: A Retrospective, currently underway at the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston is beautifully timed for the commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence as Watson’s paintings provide a marvelous prism through which to gaze at the nation.

Barrington Watson is one of Jamaica’s most influential artists and the exhibition presents an in-depth look at his work. Curated by Dr. David Boxer, Chief Curator of the NGJ, the exhibition is separated into thirteen segments beginning with the artists self portraits. It also contains his numerous portraits, nudes and erotic pieces, still life and landscapes.

Watson’s importance as in artist is certainly is marked by the number of portraits of important historical and cultural figures that have been captured by his brush. These include images of several past prime ministers including Sir Alexander Bustamante, Donald Sangster, Hugh Shearer and Michael Manley.  However, it his portrayal of ordinary Jamaicans and moments of historical import that mark his true significance.

Watson’s work presents a wonderful tapestry of Jamaican life. His depictions of the hanging of George William Gordon and the storming of the Morant Bay Court House are haunting. The latter captures the outrage, pain and massacre. Watson’s brush has also captured unique cultural moments such as a revival, a river baptism scene and a mento dance. He transforms the Yallahs river bed to a place of mystery and allows us to pause and explore men and women at work and the sense of community that is created as they go about their daily toil. The realist nature of the images allows the images to be larger than life allowing us to look at the mundane through a very different light.

“You pass these people on the road and you take it as a normal thing so you don’t pay it no mind. But when you see it on canvas, its just so beautiful” says one woman as she moves between the galleries exhibiting images of men at work and women at work.

The exhibition opened in January and closes on April 14, 2012. There are two annexes to the exhibition at The Bank of Jamaica and the Olympia Art Centre. The exhibition at the Bank of Jamaica surrounds the mural ‘The Garden Party’ (1975). The annex exhibition at the Olympia, titled ‘Our African Heritage’ explores Watson’s Pan-African images inclusive of the mural ‘Our Heritage’ which is located at the the art centre. Barrington: A Retrospective is accompanied by a catalogue which includes all the paintings in the exhibition as well as scholarly essays by Claudia Hucke, Veerle Poupeye and David Boxer.