Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Pride of Jamaica: Albert Huie

Jamaica's painter/printmaker Albert Huie - who died in 2010 at the age of 89, was a man truly in love with his work. He was born in the town of Falmouth, in Trelawny, and was a largely self-trained artist. Born into a poor family during colonial rule,  his grandmother was only person of his family who encouraged his artistic ambitions.

At 16 years of age, Huie moved to Kingston and took a position as a china painter.  His family wanted him to become a teacher so he began some formal art training with the Armenian painter Koren der HarootianHe then met and became a part of the circle of friends and acquaintances of sculptor  Edna Manley. She became one of Huie's first admirers and he later co-founded an art school with her called the Jamaica School of Art. He taught classes there from 1940-44.  

 In 1939, Huie's work was selected for two world art exhibitions, one at the New York World's Fair (he won a prize) and the San Francisco Golden Gate exhibition. He later exhibited his work in the United States, Canada, Cuba and England, including an exhibtion at  the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia.

 In 1943, Huie's  first major solo exhibition was at the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston, which was notable because it was the first solo show ever given there to any living Jamaican artist
Huie then went to the Ontario College of Art on a British Council Scholarship in 1944. He went on to study aesthetics at the University of Toronto.  Later that same decade,  he moved to Britain and studied at the Leicester College of Art, and the Camberwell School of Art in south-east London, were he studied under artists Victor Pasmore and Claude Rogers.
The National Gallery’s Chief Curator, Dr. David Boxer said,  “Albert Huie in these early days turned principally to portraits and to figure compositions which dealt with the everyday life of the average Jamaican. Baptismal scenes, the reaping of crops, market vending, washing by the river, all became subjects for his precocious talent.”
By the early 1950s, Huie’s style was fully developed. His work was relatively small in scale but it possessed an epic, monumental feel reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s murals.  His visual ties are also aligned with artists like Cortez, Millet, and Courbet in that he chooses to show the masses working together, although one doesn't sense the drudgery of the job as much as a comraderie of a team effort to complete a task.

Dr. Boxer also wrote, “Huie has subjected reality to  into a single composition showing a myriad of activities: growing sugar cane, hoeing, planting, reaping, dressing, sorting, bundling, and carting, all enacted against the almost Cubist backdrop of the sugar factory.”

The only thing that seemed a slight to Huie's artistic dominance in Jamaica was that the intellectual elite of his own countrymen had turned away from the type of art ne produced in favor of the untutored, Rastafarian-influenced artists, whose work resembles Haitian voodoo imagery. These were thought to be more representative of Jamaican sensibilities  linking themselves with African their African roots.
In spite of that, Huie was often described as the father of Jamaican art. He produced folkloric simplified compositions, showing his love of Jamaica's rich landscape and its beautiful people. His legacy is still growing and we can only hope the people of Jamaica and the world continue to embrace his rhythmic and sincere depictions of the working class.
Huie 's genial personality was much loved and he was always celebrated whenever he returned to Jamaica.

The Institute of Jamaica, Silver Musgrave medal -1958
The Institute of Jamaica, Gold Musgrave medal -1976
The Order of Distinction -1983
Commander of the Order of Distinction -1992
Jamaican postage stamp, "The Vendor"

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