Jamaica has a well-developed culture of self-taught, popular artist, who paint, sculpt and work in other media to propagate political or religious views, to advertise or to create expressions of a more personal nature. Their work draws from various traditions, but especially Jamaica’s African heritage, and continues to be part of the cultural and visual dialogues that shape art in Jamaica today. Many of these artists have never made it onto the art-historical record and have remained anonymous or known only in their immediate communities. A few have however received national and international recognition, starting with John Dunkley and David Miller Senior and Junior who were first given exposure by the Institute of Jamaica in the 1930s and 40s, as part of the talent-scouting efforts of the emerging nationalist movement of that period. Others gained recognition in the post-independence period, such as the Revival leader Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who came to public attention in the 1960s, mainly through the efforts of Edward Seaga and John Pringle.
The main effort at providing recognition for the self-taught, popular artists however came from the National Gallery of Jamaica whose then Director/Curator, David Boxer, in the late 1970s coined the term “Intuitive” as an alternative to previously used terms such as “naïve” and “primitive”. The concept was first articulated in the The Intuitive Eye exhibition, which was held in 1979, and David Boxer wrote in the exhibition catalogue:
These artists paint, or sculpt, intuitively. They are not guided by fashion. Their vision is pure and sincere, untarnished by art theories and philosophies, principles and movements…Their visions, (and many are true visionaries) as released through paint or wood, are unmediated expressions of the world around them – and the worlds within. Some of them … reveal as well a capacity for reaching into the depths of the subconscious to rekindle century old traditions, and to pluck out images as elemental and vital as those of their African fathers.
The National Gallery has held two further survey exhibitions of Intuitive art: Fifteen Intuitives in 1987 and Intuitives III in 2006, and the genre has also been featured in many other exhibitions, locally and internationally. The National Gallery’s promotion of the Intuitives was however not universally applauded: some felt that it came at the expense of the formally trained “professional artists,” while others were concerned that it did not address the problematic assumptions about black artists that were more obvious in older terms such as “naïve” or “primitive.” Irrespective, the National Gallery’s efforts helped to recognize and promote the work of several important artists who have significantly enriched the field of Jamaican art.
Works by Dunkley and the Millers can be seen in the gallery adjoining the A.D. Scott Collection and a comprehensive overview of Kapo’s work can be seen in its own gallery. The National Gallery also regularly displays works by Everald Brown, William “Woody” Joseph, Sidney McLaren, Albert Artwell, Gaston Tabois, Allan “Zion” Johnson, and Doc Williamson.