albert-huei-retreat-jamaica

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Retreat, Jamaica

Albert Huei (1920 – 2010)

Price: $13,500

Signed lower right and left corners

Measurements:
Sight Size: 17.25 x 16.25 in. (43.82 x 42.28 cm.)
Framed Size: 24 x 23 in.  (60.96 x 58.42 cm.)

Oil on canvas on masonite board


Biography

Albert Huie (1920-2010) was a seminal figure in the formation and development of a national Jamaican artistic identity, overcoming the hurdles of a colonial-based system of race and class distinctions to become the first native-born Jamaican artist to attain international renown and respect. Working primarily in the areas of landscape, portraiture, and figurative art, he established a multiple award-winning career that spanned seven decades and earned him the title of “the Father of Jamaican Painting.” 

Huie was born on December 31, 1920, in the town of Falmouth, Trelawny Parish, located eighteen miles east of Montego Bay on Jamaica’s north coast. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, at a time when the notorious cross-Atlantic “triangular” slave trade was at its height, Falmouth flourished as a market centre and bustling port: on any given day in the town’s busy harbor, as many as 30 tall-ships could be sighted, many of them delivering slaves transported under inhumane conditions from Africa and loading their holds with rum and sugar (bound for Britain) manufactured by slave labour on the nearly one hundred plantations dotting the region. Following the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834, the area’s fortunes declined precipitously, though a number of historic buildings constructed in the early Jamaican-Georgian architectural style are still intact. Moreover, the area remains to this day one of great natural beauty: the shimmering turquoise clarity of Half Moon Bay; the self-regenerating flow of white-foamed water cascading over limestone rocks known as “Dunn’s River Falls” (further east along Jamaica’s northern coast near Ocho Rios); and the yellow blossoms of the logwood trees that grew near two salt water ponds close to Falmouth are examples of the naturally-occurring phenomena which played such a crucial early role in Huie’s artistic sensibility, imprinting in the nature-loving child’s mind images that would continue to inspire his art throughout his career. His biographer, Edward Lucie-Smith (1933- ), in his monograph Albert Huie: Father of Jamaican Painting (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2001)suggested that “many of his landscapes . . . have connections not just to things he has seen now, in front of his eyes, but to memories of the distant years of his boyhood.” Petrine Archer-Straw (1956-2012), a British artist and influential art historian and curator who specialized in the art of the Caribbean people, and who delivered a series of public lectures titled “Masterpieces From the (Jamaican) National Collection” (which concluded with Huie’s 1943 painting Noon), noted, in her own biographical essay on Huie (petrinearcher.com), that Huie’s “mother and grandmother who raised him worried about his reserved personality and that fact that he spent so much time observing nature or questioning his station in life. Brought up in a strong matriarchal and conservative setting that emphasized discipline and religion, Huie was not encouraged to ponder on the fact that his father, then living in Cuba, had named him Alphonso (after the Cuban president); in fact, his grandmother insisted that he be called by his third name - Albert - after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.” Additionally, Archer-Straw references Huie’s stated belief that he was “born to be an artist, painting from as far back as he could remember.” Initially, Huie gave expression to his childhood passion by drawing on the walls and floor of his grandmother Sarah’s pantry (and eventually any available surface), using charcoal taken from his grandmother’s old coal stove as his artistic medium. Huie’s first introduction to the painted canvas came when he saw a reproduction of Hope, an allegorical painting by the British artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), and also the original portrait of William Knibb (1803-1845; an English Baptist Minister and missionary to Jamaica who was posthumously awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit for his efforts to abolish slavery) at the Old Baptist Church in Savannah-la-Mar. These paintings left a lasting impression on him and strengthened his determination to become an artist. Huie’s parents, however, having been born in an age when national independence was still only a dream, and cognizant of the limitations imposed by the still extant race and class-based system underpinning Jamaican society, believed strongly in the value of an education, and their wish was for their son to become a teacher, not only for the respect and standing it would give him in the community, but also because a teacher’s job provided economic security for those not born into colonial-era privilege. Nonetheless, their son remained undeterred, even though the milieu was such that, “in the early days when Huie declared his intention to be a painter, many in genuine ignorance offered him jobs to paint houses.” (Editorial, Jamaica Observer, January 30, 2016) In 1934, Huie visited Kingston for the first time, and the youngster took a keen interest in the burgeoning struggle for workers’ rights, listening intently to the political discussions at his cousin’s tailoring establishment on Tower Street as well as attending the Sunday gatherings in the “Parade” area of downtown Kingston, where the fiery orator and early Jamaican Nationalist leader St. William Grant inspired the crowds with his demands for workers’ rights and his message of hope and redemption for the African diaspora. Two years later, not yet sixteen years old and aided only by a small amount of material support gifted by his grandmother (who alone was resolute in her support of her grandson’s dream), Huie left home permanently, once again bound for the capital city.

Kingston in 1936 was a city on the cusp of a crisis. The weight of colonialism and the effects of the Great Depression had nearly pushed the working class to its breaking point, and though it would be another two years before the situation culminated in the tumultuous events of 1938, restlessness and the anticipation of political and social change was already in the air, evidenced by the daily stream of speakers shouting for freedom and independence in what was then Victoria Park (now St. William Grant Park). Huie, who upon his arrival took lodging with an uncle, found employment working as an assistant to a customs broker, and began to hone his craft by creating paintings of the various activities he witnessed in Kingston and its environs (using enamels stored in small tins he had purchased at a hardware store). As Dr. David Boxer, the former (and first) Chief Curator of the Jamaican National Gallery, put it: “Albert Huie in those 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.” His paintings, which employed brush strokes in an instinctive “impressionist” style, took advantage of his inherent gift for understanding the nature of light (in particular, the brilliant tropical sunlight of Jamaica), and how its various permutations work to control color. It wasn’t long before his “precocious talent” paid a dividend: Through one of his cousins, a tailor, he was offered a commission of one shilling to paint a portrait. (At that juncture in time one shilling represented the better part of a week’s employment as a manual laborer.) Eventually he found work painting designs on fine china and glass, at first for wholesalers, then setting up his own business and selling his products from a stall at Cross Roads Market. (The eminent Impressionist painter Renoir also began his career as a professional painter of china.) Up to this point, Huie was an entirely self-educated artist, which, in the parlance of contemporary Jamaican art criticism, means he was an “intuitive,” unconstrained by a Western conceptual idiom that seeks to impose its self-regulating structure on external environments. Though the debate as to what constitutes “real” Jamaican art remains unresolved, in the world of the 1930s, it would have been perfectly natural for a young artist like Huie to seek out opportunities for advancement through established institutional structures, which is exactly what Huie did in 1937, walking into the Institute of Jamaica (the country’s preeminent cultural institution) with a folder of his work in his hand, the focus of which being his painting, The Dancers, conceived after he had observed the scene at a downtown piano-bar. As Huie later recalled: “I took this painting, along with a couple others and my sketches, to the Institute of Jamaica to show them to Delves Molesworth (the Institute’s Secretary). I was almost thrown out . . . Mr. Molesworth himself interceded, looked at what I had brought to show him and expressed an interest. He invited me to his house and commissioned a portrait to be done of his wife.” Molesworth also gave Huie a set of tube oil paints and professional artists’ brushes, Huie’s first encounter with these essential elements of an artist’s stock-in-trade. Additionally, Molesworth introduced Huie to his circle of friends, most prominently his neighbors Norman and Edna Manley, a couple who played a significant role in the oncoming rush of Jamaican history, Norman Manley becoming a leading nationalist politician (and future Premier) while his wife Edna - a renowned sculptor - became a vigorous advocate for the incipient national arts movement. (For her efforts, Edna Manley would later have the title “the mother of Jamaican art” bestowed upon her.)

By the year 1938, the combustible mix of mass poverty, unlivable wages, and a growing racial divide exploded in an island-wide conflagration of protests, strikes, and riots, further exacerbated by the arrests of prominent labor leaders (such as Alexander William Bustamante, later Jamaica’s first Prime Minister) as well as the deaths of dozens of protestors at the hands of the authorities. The restoration of calm gave rise to politically-influential labor unions and the eventual establishment of a New Constitution (in 1944) which established universal adult suffrage (a right championed by Norman Manley); however, the newly-awakened challenge to colonial power and its denigration of the African aspects of Jamaican society (a challenge in part fueled by the growth of the African diasporic movements of Garveyism, Ethiopianism, and Rastafarianism) had engendered growing demands on the part of the island’s majority that they be treated with the same respect and dignity - and granted the same rights and privileges - enjoyed by their colonial overseers. This atmosphere of long-overdue change sweeping across the island affected - and in a variety of ways was reflected in - the art produced by the pioneers of the burgeoning Jamaican national arts movement; in addition to Huie, this group consisted of such early artistic luminaries as Henry Daley, David Pottinger, and Ralph Campbell. Meeting together at the Institute of Jamaica (under the aegis of Edna Manley), these young artists, who became known as the “Institute Group,” exchanged skills and ideas, unified by nationalist concerns. This growing sense of Jamaican identity was made manifest in their art by the conscious depiction of black Jamaicans in figurative paintings as well as an emerging concentration on the Jamaican landscape. The idea that individuals of African descent were beautiful unto themselves and worthy of being represented as the subjects of artistic endeavors was a new and ground-breaking one, so engrained was the notion that only white people were deserving of such distinction. Huie became the first to boldly question the status-quo when, at the age of sixteen, he produced what was later to become recognized as one of his masterworks, The Counting Lesson. A pivotal turning-point in Jamaican art, the portrait (now on permanent loan to the Jamaican National Gallery) depicted an adolescent Jamaican girl wearing a blue polka-dot dress, her hair tied back with a red-bow and her finger poised in midair, perhaps to stress her mental calculations. Prior to the execution of The Counting Lesson, the image of black women in Jamaican art was primarily that of the “market woman,” a stereotype first introduced on postcards, photographs, and advertisements as part of efforts to promote Jamaica as a winter tourist resort. Though situated in the foreground, the women were portrayed as embodying what many observers believe were primitive, childlike, and backward characteristics, often appearing barefoot. The compositional structure of The Counting Lesson, however, stands in stark contrast to, and indeed challenges, the historical preconceptions and limitations of Jamaican (and for that matter colonial) art forms. As Bahamian art historian Krista Thompson has written, The Counting Lesson provides "a representational mirror of black Jamaica, allowing black viewers to attribute to themselves the signs of distinction, prestige, and selfhood formerly reserved for the white colonial elite.” No longer were black people merely part of the scenery, or used to propagate stereotypical images, but were now the central focus of the painting. (During the same time-period, Huie completed the lesser known, though perhaps even more stridently nationalistic semi-abstract painting First of April March, which includes a toppled object in the lower left foreground, perhaps a prescient signifier of the Jamaican people’s upcoming triumph over colonialism.) The highly eventful year of 1938 also witnessed the first annual All-Island Exhibition (the so-called St. Georges Hall Show), in which Huie participated, earning the Award of Merit for his submissions; in no small measure, the exhibition proved to be of consequential import to Huie’s career, “catapulting (him) onto the art scene,” according to Edna Manley. Thereafter, he began to attract attention from prominent local patrons, including Mrs. Cecil Lindo, who at first bought a painting, then awarded him a scholarship to study with Armenian painter-sculptor Koren der Harootian, who worked and resided in Jamaica during this period and had a strong influence over the local art scene. (Harootian would go on to an award-winning career of his own, mostly in the U.S., with his watercolors being favorably compared to those of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, though he was known chiefly for his sculptures.) After Harootian left the island, his classes were briefly taken over by Lorna Nichols, an Englishwoman who had studied at the world-renowned Slade School of Art in London. In 1939, Huie submitted The Counting Lesson for exhibition at the I.B.M. Gallery of Science and Art at the New York World’s Fair. He was the youngest artist to have a painting accepted for exhibition, and The Counting Lesson, after being selected as one of the ten best paintings in the display, was purchased by Thomas Watson, the President of I.B.M. (Later that same year the painting was shown at the famous San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, where it was also awarded a prize.) Huie’s reputation on the island began to grow, to the point where he was now able to augment his income as a painter of china by taking on commissions for portraits. One of these patrons noted how beautifully composed the landscape background was which Huie had added to the portrait, and this led Huie to his initial pursuit of what would become his greatest love as an artist: the study of the lush Jamaican landscape and its portrayal on canvas. His first landscape was executed at “Drumblair,” the property owned by the Manleys. It was here, in Edna Manley’s studio, that Huie also would learn the art of printmaking, which would become a secondary but nevertheless important component of his oeuvre, and which gave him the opportunity to explore subjects pertaining to Jamaican culture and religion, using a “silhouetted” style that has been compared to the work of Matisse. In 1939, Huie produced another of his early masterworks, The Vendor, a portrait of a hard-working Jamaican woman in a state of momentary pensive reflection, one hand pressed against her table, as if for support; the image would later be reproduced on a Jamaican postage stamp. Shortly thereafter, in 1940, Huie accepted a position as Edna Manley’s teaching assistant for the classes in art she was organizing at the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Centre; Manley had already formed such a high opinion of Huie that she allowed him to paint her portrait, which, titled The Portrait of Edna Manley (1940)now resides in the collection of the National Gallery. Additionally, one of his greatest figurative compositions was completed during this time period; unveiled in 1943, Noon is an immortal tribute to the workers of Jamaica, who so impressed Huie with their strength and their courageous decision to take a stand against the inequities of colonialism (which he personally witnessed in 1938). The setting of the painting is the Gore Cigarette Factory, located in Manley Gully, an area of land which bordered the Manley property of Drumblair (and which was close to Huie’s artist’s studio on Grants Pen Road). In the scene Huie offers the viewer a pride-filled documentation of his fellow citizens as they take a well-earned break from their labors in the shade of a patch of trees. Petrine Archer-Straw, in her aforementioned lecture, noted that “the young artist in not yet twenty-three and, unexposed to art styles and techniques, he captures the scene in earnest. His realism is superseded only by the expressionism generated within his generous forms and use of color. Trees, sky, mountains, and the human figures integrated into the landscape all are documented with a discerning eye . . . The color rings true - (the) lush green of the trees, the blue-tinged mountains, the arid red earth.” Ultimately, her overarching appraisal is that Noon “is a work which embodies the unfolding narrative of Jamaican painting and communicates the spirit of 1938, the raising of the black man’s consciousness and a greater participation of the black man in arts. Noon is a truly Jamaican depiction by an artist who has had a life-long passion for his country and people. Despite the many different influences that Jamaican artists would experience, Noon represents the essence of Jamaican painting before the artistic diaspora.” (The painting now hangs at the National Gallery of Jamaica.) The year 1943 also marked another early touchstone in Huie’s rapidly evolving career, with his work being designated for display in a solo exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica, his first major solo exhibition and the first solo show given there to any living Jamaican artist. In 1944, with the aid of a British Council scholarship, Huie departed Jamaica for Toronto, Canada, to effectuate a more thorough and professional education in art. 

Huie’s program of study in Canada took place primarily at the Ontario College of Art, though he also took courses at the University College of Toronto, where he studied Aesthetics under the guidance of a noted scholar in this area, Reid McCallum. At the Ontario College of Art, his principal instructors were J.E.H. McDonald (1873-1932) and Frank Carmichael (1890-1945), two of the founding members in 1920 of the famed “Group of Seven,” the first organized grouping of Modernists to appear on the Canadian art scene. Their chief concern was the development of a national and independent Canadian artistic image through the painting of the northern Canadian landscape. Later, Huie was to apply his lessons learned in Toronto to the very different landscape of Jamaica (much like the effort of the Group of Seven was directed toward finding ways of making pictorial sense out of a landscape very different from that of Europe), representing the specific color and light of the various parts of Jamaica’s landscape with accuracy and sensitivity, and recording how changes in light altered the appearance of landscapes at different times of the day and during different local seasons. Huie’s progress in Toronto was such that he was offered a chance to acquire Canadian citizenship, but he increasingly had his sights set on England; in 1947, he learned that the government of Jamaica was sponsoring a joint exhibition of his work at Foyle’s Gallery in London. The show garnered a great deal of publicity and was the subject of an article in the January 1948 issue of The Studio, which at that time was the leading British journal for contemporary art. On the strength of his work, Huie was able to obtain another British Council scholarship, which enabled him to matriculate at the Leicester College of Art in England. Upon his arrival, Huie found Leicester too provincial, and he contacted the man who had been so consequential early in his career, Delves Molesworth, formerly the Secretary of the Institute of Jamaica and now a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Through Molesworth’s influence, Huie was able to obtain a transfer to the Camberwell School of Art, also in London. There he studied under Victor Pasmore (1908-1998) and Claude Rogers (1907-1979), both of whom had been founder-members of the “Euston Road School” of the late 1930s, which placed great emphasis on naturalism and realism, in contrast to the various schools of avant-garde art then prevalent. Out of all his instructors, it was Victor Pasmore (ironically a future pioneer in abstract art) who left the greatest impression on Huie, who recollected later that “he (Pasmore) was a very shy man, but was also very generous. He did not stint his time and would stay with the students after school hours, holding long, personal discussions. I learned a lot from him.” It was here in London (and in Toronto as well) that Huie grasped the import of the keen, painstaking necessity of observation as applied to Jamaica’s unique geography to create his landscapes. Perhaps even more influential than his instructors themselves, however, were the exhibitions Huie witnessed in London, chief among them being the historically significant Van Gogh exhibition held at the Tate Gallery in 1948, which cast its colorful, post-impressionist spell over the creations of so many artists in the subsequent period, including those of Huie (in particular, his floral still-life pieces).

While he had enjoyed London to the full, by late 1948 Huie was feeling homesick for Jamaica, and he returned home at Christmastime of that year. In 1949 he married Phyllis Chambers, with whom he bore four children and to whom he remained married until his dying day in 2010. Deciding he wanted to give something back to his beloved homeland, Huie joined forces in 1950 with Edna Manley and others to form what was then called the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts - an organization which was later to become the Jamaica School of Art (and is now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, one of the premier centers for artistic instruction on the island). He became one of the Founding Lecturers in Painting at the school, and also took teaching positions at Clarendon College, Wolmers’ Boys’ School, and Excelsior High School. Since no artist in those days could earn a living strictly from the sales of paintings, Huie, in addition to teaching, took on work as an illustrator, a designer of theatrical stage-sets and book-jackets, and a creator and purveyor of Christmas cards. (Later in life Huie was to comment: “I have a strong sense of reality. That is how I have managed to survive.") In 1951 examples of his work were selected for inclusion in the Princess Margaret Collection, and in 1954 he was presented with the International Award at the Spanish Biennial Exhibition held in Havana, Cuba, for his painting Dorothy. Another of his classic works that now hang at the National Gallery of Jamaica was composed in 1955: Crop Time is a panoramic, multi-figure depiction of the sugar-cane harvest in front of a large, modern sugar factory, and is considered by many art historians to have an epic, monumental quality (though it is a relatively small painting) that brings to mind Diego Rivera’s multi-figure murals on Mexican history. Of the painting, David Boxer has written: “Huie has subjected reality to an abstracting principle which imparts complex cross-rhythms as he compresses into a single composition the myriad activities of growing sugar cane . . . all enacted against the almost cubist backdrop of the sugar factory. This painting ranks as the finest portrayal yet, of an activity which has been central to Jamaican life for centuries.” For many Jamaicans, the dynamic quality of the painted scene represented a pillar of the national hopes for economic and social progress, and marked a continuation of Huie’s tradition of conveying on canvas the powerful, inexhaustible spirit of the Jamaican worker. Huie’s efforts resulted in his receiving his first solo exhibition at a commercial venue, which took place - to broad critical acclaim - in 1955 at the Hill’s Galleries in Kingston. Additionally, in recognition of the “outstanding merit” of Huie’s body of work to that point, he was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Medal in 1958, upon receipt of which Kingston’s primary newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, called him “perhaps Jamaica’s most beloved artist,” who invariably “struggled through the overlay which craftsmanship sometimes imposes upon inspiration, reaching forth always to a perfection which will perhaps always elude him but which never fails to leave a stamp of real virtue upon his work. As one critic said, Mr. Huie is truly one of those rare artists in a small community: the artist who lives by his work. . . . We share the view of those who think that his most recent character study may well be the finest piece of work of its kind ever done by a Jamaican.” An exhibition of Huie’s work at Jamaica’s Arts and Crafts Society in July 1960 brought this review from Ignacy Eker, one of the Gleaner’s art critics: “Albert Huie portrays the calm and serene aspects of nature, which he approaches objectively, and not in accordance with the dictates of fashion. His compositions are carefully balanced, their planes and lines creating a harmonious rhythm. He can also capture the nuances of the quickly changing light, as it flashes and dies away in the evening, or else as it gradually suffuses the sky early in the morning. Mellow colors applied in small particles produce vibrant textures of great beauty.” Of Early Morning, one of the landscapes on exhibit (and indicative of many of his efforts in this genre), Eker noted that it “observes a fleeting moment in nature, which has crystallized as if by magic.” (Daily Gleaner, July 24,1960) Edward Lucie-Smith, in his monograph of the artist, offered a summary of Huie's mature stylings in this area, stating: "The landscape is generally created through innumerable little flicks of the brush. These correspond to the way in which the tropical light sparkles on the objects it touches. In most of these landscapes one is aware not only of the presence of trees but of water. Very many of his Jamaican views include glimpses of the sea in all its shifting colors. Another important factor is Huie's use of the sky. His painting of this is never inert, and he is extremely adept in rendering the changeable quality of Jamaican weather, not merely the clouds which hit the mountains and become tropical storms, but the mists which rise from distant sea-horizons." At Christmastime 1960, Huie produced a boldly stylized and daring woodcut reimagining of the Nativity Scene, taking an economical approach which, according to the Gleaner, emphasized “the humbleness of the rural setting and the drama of light and darkness (inherent in the medium) . . . the Mother bends over the sleeping Child with tenderness, adjusting the coverlet; the halo around the Child’s head and the Star of Bethlehem, sending forth brilliant rays of light, charge the scene with powerful meaning.” (Sunday Gleaner, December 25,1960) In 1961, following ideas first promulgated in the frescoes of Dominico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494), Huie applied his talent to the area of murals, creating an intricate composition of this form for the Commodity Service Company of Kingston, the review of which in the July 23,1961, edition of the Gleaner observed: “The first thing one notices is its color, earthy and raked with brilliant flashes achieving an effect of warmth, so characteristic of the Jamaican scene. Next, one’s vision is assailed by a complex structure, each section a distinct narrative yet fused and integrated to form a pattern as rich and involved as a Persian carpet . . . every now and then a window opens, and one is led into the picture space, a perspective which can be “read” in depth . . . attesting the artist’s virtuosity.” That same year Huie received top honors in the Painting Category at the annual All-Island exhibition for his composition Thursday Night, though upcoming problems in the Jamaican economy were heralded when it was learned that the painting’s buyer, an Englishman, had secretly shipped the painting out of the country following a rumor that the then Minister of Culture intended to prohibit the removal of works of art from the island without prior ministerial approval. This controversy came in the wake of one that had flared up at the previous year’s All-Island Exhibition, when Huie had exhibited a painting of a sensually beautiful female nude; titled Miss Mahogany, the painting drew the ire of a local conservative clergyman, though it is generally considered to be one of the finest examples of Huie’s work in this genre, an area in which Huie has been applauded for his unique stylistic approach, through which he sensitively renders his sitters’ skin color, paying close attention to the reflection and radiation of light upon dark skin while applying very short, “broken-brush” strokes in the Impressionist tradition to achieve a sculptured effect, thereby emphasizing the beauty and humanity of his subjects. Moreover, Huie, by exhibiting Miss Mahogany (and others of a similar ilk) in this kind of forum, knowingly engendered, in the powerful quietude of his own artistic voice, a public debate about the puritanical aspects of Jamaican culture, seemingly implying, as Edward Lucie-Smith has suggested, that “the island could be a better place if it finally shook off the (backward-looking) constraints imposed by society.”

In 1962 Jamaica finally achieved independence, but the 1960s and 1970s were years marked by economic difficulty for the new, struggling nation. In 1967 Phyllis Huie decided to leave Jamaica and work in the United States. Despite her husband’s success, life in Jamaica was fraught with hardship, and she felt the need to help support a family that consisted of four children in addition to she and her husband; in 1969 - following his being awarded the “Jamaica Certificate and Badge of Honor” a year earlier - Huie temporarily followed his wife to the States, spending a year as artist-in-residence at Spellman College, Atlanta, the nations’s first, and thereby oldest, private, liberal arts historically black college for women. In 1973, in honor of his outstanding service to his country, Huie became the first artist to be endowed with membership in the Order of Distinction, one of Jamaica’s highest national honors. (In 1992 he was promoted to Commander of the Order of Distinction.) The announcement of the award was commemorated with a special exhibition of Huie’s work at Kingston’s Bolivar Gallery, with the showcase being opened by then Prime Minister Michael Manley (the son of Norman and Edna Manley), who recalled the “absolute pleasure” he felt upon viewing his first Huie painting, and declared that “one is among greatness when attending an exhibition by Albert Huie.” Furthermore, Manley stated, “Huie is a superb craftsman . . . whose achievement is difficult to surpass,” and that Huie brought “the magic of the Jamaican landscape - indeed the whole Jamaican scene - to Jamaica’s view.” (Daily Gleaner, October 16, 1973)

The early 1970s ushered in the beginning of the Jamaican experiment with “democratic socialism,” with its accompanying political and social upheavals. Particularly affected were members of the professional middle-class, who supplied the backbone of Huie’s patronage. (The bulk of Huie’s work remains in Jamaican hands, testimony to the reverence in which he is held by his countrymen.) When the government clamped down on all transfers of money abroad, Huie decided that he too would have to leave - this time on a more permanent basis -  if he was to continue to help with his children’s education. He decided to settle in Toronto, where he had built up a good following going back to his student days. (In 1975 an important show of his work was held at the University of Toronto Art Gallery.) But he continued to visit the island and paint in all genres: nudes, landscapes, and still-life works of flowers all bursting with the generational shift in outlook. Women with scarves tied around their heads emerged (including the classic Nude with Bananas), along with landscapes and seascapes using the calm yet lush hues of the Caribbean. By now Huie was recognized both locally and internationally as a key figure in Jamaican and African Diaspora art, and despite having moved his residence abroad, remained on good terms with the Jamaican cultural authorities: In 1974 he was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Gold Musgrave Medal, with the Institute hailing him for “unquestioned eminence as a leading painter in the modern Jamaican art movement, and for the production of a body of work of excellence and distinctiveness, which has earned him, in Jamaica and internationally, the status of a Jamaican master.” (Daily Gleaner, January 10, 1975) The most comprehensive display to date of his artistry occurred in 1979, when the National Gallery of Jamaica mounted a major retrospective of his work, Huie in Jamaican Collections, a show that was opened with a speech by Edna Manley. The following year Huie received the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary Award for his outstanding work in the development of Jamaican art, and was the beneficiary of a showcase at the popular Debose Gallery in Houston, Texas, the first time a Jamaican had his work represented there. Reviewing a 1984 exhibition of Huie’s paintings that was held at Harmony Hall in Ocho Rios, Jamaica (a show opened by the American Ambassador to Jamaica, William Hewitt), the prominent Jamaican art historian Andrew Hope expressed his opinion that, although the show was a relatively small one, “every Huie show is an important event, for he is regarded by many as our leading painter. I am one of them.” Assessing two of the landscapes on view (River Bathers and Scenes From Port Henderson), Hope wrote: “He brings with the aid of a light and airy technique his most subtle and telling color harmonies: the delicious dusty pinks of bathers, set off by luminous greens of foliage, and a range of perfectly modulated grays in the beach scene which, although small, suggests a whole universe.” Of the painting Downtown Uptown, a visual commentary lamenting the social ills scarring parts of Kingston, Hope said “even here Huie is unable to depict ugliness, for everything touched by his brush is metamorphosed into beauty.”

Huie spent the final decades of his life residing principally at his family’s home in Baltimore, Maryland, though he continued to visit Jamaica, holding a joint exhibit with fellow artist Judy MacMillan in 1994 at the State Theatre Gallery in Kingston. (The entire exhibition sold out.) Further awards awaited, perhaps the most prestigious of which being the receipt, that same year, of the George William Gordon Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts. (George William Gordon was a martyred Jamaican National Hero whose efforts in leading a 19th century slave rebellion resulted in a death sentence handed down by the colonial authorities.) For their presentation of the Award, the Jamaica Mutual Life Assurance Society composed the following citation: “Of Huie it can truly be said that he revealed to Jamaicans for the first time the nobility of their natural heritage, the beauty both of their people and of their land. For Albert Huie is, within the limits set by himself and intensively defined and redefined through the years, a Jamaican master in the only sense that this can be understood. . . through a body of work stamped with a personality recognizably his, an equally unmistakable interpretation of our country’s life and character may be perceived. . . . It is in his landscapes that his genius has noticeably flowered. . . . In his landscapes, using his particular Jamaican heritage of light, Albert Huie has created paintings that can take their place among the best of the International School of Landscape Art which had its genesis in the 19th and early 20th century Impressionists. But although Huie learnt from French Impressionism techniques to render light, his style is wholly his own. . . . Albert Huie's style is the substance of his encounter with his beloved land - Jamaica. His canvasses resonate with the blues and greens of a tropical world, a world which, but for his special agency, we might not have come to know: a world of light-filled masses, of a taunting sensuousness and infinite plasticity; a world of electric stillness that summons from artist and audience alike renewed awareness of a national soul and new definitions from which to understand a true nationalism. For creating a Jamaican genre of landscape painting, for giving us art of uncompromising technical excellence imbued with a passionate and unique Jamaican sensibility, for creating for us a reference point of the imagination through which to experience our world, The Society is proud to present the George William Gordon Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts to Albert Huie, master painter.

Despite a record-breaking snowstorm, which had hit the mid-Atlantic region of the United States the day before, Jamaicans in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Virginia, as well as members of the artistic community in these areas, turned out in numbers to attend Albert Huie’s funeral on Monday, February 8, 2010. (He had passed away eight days earlier.) Huie, who the year before had been honored by the Jamaican Embassy on Jamaican National Heroes Day for his contributions to the Jamaican community in and around Washington, D.C., was eulogized by the Jamaican Ambassador to the United States, Anthony Johnson, who said of him: “Mr. Huie is a man whose name will not be forgotten as long as mankind appreciates the beautiful, the graceful and fecundity of God’s nature.” Ambassador Johnson pointed out that Huie was able to look beyond the obvious, could see through mere flesh and stone, and, in his mind’s eye, create the essential essence of God’s creation. “He saw beauty where others saw dirt,” the Ambassador added. “He saw strength where others could only see hardship. He saw vitality where others could only discern brute force.” The Ambassador also noted that Huie, using his artistic gifts, became a key voice for the generation which ushered in independence, explaining that “Jamaica and the Caribbean are fortunate to have nurtured a man of such rare genius, whose works now hang in hundreds of museums and private collections across the globe. These works eloquently express the message of the Jamaican nation - an impatience with the legacy of poverty and under-development, striving for a better tomorrow, but surrendering nothing of our natural beauty, our tropical rhythm and our Caribbean spontaneity - the essence of our native Jamaican spirit.” Ambassador Johnson also read a tribute to Huie written by the Minister of Youth, Sports, and Culture, the Hon. Olivia Grange, who stated that Jamaica, and indeed the world, had lost a great artist who not only painted beautiful pieces, but used the strokes of his brush to help transform a nation’s image of itself. Minister Grange said that Huie’s artistic vision was indeed revolutionary and resulted in magnificent images, in paint and in print form, that continue to inspire pride. “It was Huie who taught us how to look at and represent ourselves with pride and sensitivity. His portraits of Jamaicans of all ages and social backgrounds, his majestic, sun-infused landscapes, and his depictions of the reaping of crops, market vending and washing by the river all celebrated the beauty and poetry of our land and its people.” Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, paused during an official visit to Beijing, China, to issue a statement honoring Huie’s memory. In it, Golding extolled Huie as one of Jamaica’s greatest Impressionist painters, whose use of light and color rendered so many of his works as masterpieces. “His love and study of nature enabled him to capture the beauty of Jamaica’s landscape in countless depictions,” Golding said. “His amazing portraits continue to be sought after by art collectors and curators. Jamaica owes much to this gifted artist whose work will forever remain a part of our artistic treasures.” Nearly a year later, in late December 2010, the National Gallery of Jamaica staged a special exhibition in Huie’s honor, consisting of works of art from the Gallery’s National Collection and demonstrating, in The Gallery’s words, “Huie’s unparalleled ability to capture, in print and in paint, the beauty of the Jamaican environment and the spirit of its people - an artistic legacy we cherish and honor.”

Over the course of Albert Huie’s career he participated in over twenty-five major exhibitions in Jamaica, England, the United States, Canada, and Cuba, at a time when he was among a small group of artists of African descent breaking the color barrier and paving the way for a long list of younger artists who followed in their indispensable wake. His work, much of it still held by early collectors for whom “a Huie” is something akin to a treasured family heirloom, can be found in many internationally prestigious public and private collections. Perhaps a touch of insight into the character of this private man is revealed in a short “letter to the editor” he wrote to the Daily Gleaner on March 25, 1959: “Dear Sir,” it began, “I am grateful for all the kind things you have said of me in today’s issue. It’s very rare, particularly in my line, that one enjoys such recognition in one’s lifetime. I am constrained to say how lucky I am. To realize I am not alone in this sad world is to be poised with confidence for the future.” Following his death, the Gleaner, in an editorial lauding his career, answered “The Father of Jamaican Painting” with a message of their own: “To Albert Huie, we owe a debt of gratitude for his capacity to see the light in us, despite the ever-present threat of darkness.” 

Written October 2016 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, ITunes, and Barnes & Noble.

 

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