Jamaican afternoon

Dear Artist, In the afternoon, the smell of ganja drifted down the beach, giving a mild creative abandon to my normally controlled painting activities. I’d been aware of a few dreadlocked, Haile Selassie-type characters down there — now they were being joined by large, laughing women and a few rag-tag children who ran noisily and furiously in and out of the surf. Like a scene out of a movie, the crowd now moved toward me, their shoulder-born reggae growing in volume as they approached.

acrylic painting, 15 x 11 inches
by Errol Allen

“Wot you doin’ mon?” said a nicotine-stained voice behind me. It belonged to the skinniest, tallest Jamaican guy I’d ever seen. “You got all those nice colours there, you oughtta use them, mon.” The Rastafarian religion claims only about 100,000 Jamaicans, but its influence permeates the culture. There’s spiritual healing when all else fails and a sense of community like no other. It doesn’t seem to matter whose kids are whose, or even whose lady is whose — a moving, bumping, singing family of mankind is exuding love and the unabashed celebration of life. Intellectual examination is out of the question. Bob Marley is the prophet. The short pause by the tall gentlemen was meant as encouragement. Indigenous Jamaican paintings, for the most part, are laced with a laid-back, colourful and carefree energy. Influenced from many shores — from cubism to primitivism, as well as Black Africa — it’s less about technique than magic. Like the loud but faded shirts of some of these Rastas, Jamaican art often tells stories.

oil painting, 36 x 30 inches
by Fiona Godfrey

Intuition drives a great deal of Jamaican art. Extroverted groups and daily life scenes are loaded with gossip and frivolity. Albert Artwell (b. 1942) is an example of the Jamaican Intuitive School — in his case the reworking of biblical material laced with Jamaican humour and comment. A Crucifixion scene, for example, shows a range of goofy onlookers including colonial figures and a British officer. Clear and fresh colours, flatly painted, mark his and many other Jamaican paintings. The shops around here are full of similar work. It’s been my observation that art can be an island, especially when it comes from an island. Best regards, Robert PS: “Life is one big road with lots of signs, So when you riding through the ruts, don’t you complicate your minds: Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy! Don’t bury your thoughts; put your vision to reality, yeah!” (from Wake up and Live by Bob Marley) Esoterica: Today is Bob Marley’s birthday and the beach people are partying hard. Some go swimming with their clothes on, then set up a clothesline right on the beach. It’s straight out of Milton Messam (b. 1944), known around these parts by the nickname “Artist.” He’s a taxi driver and chef who became a celebrated painter after taking a correspondence course in commercial art. The skinny guy comes back. “Come and join in, mon. You’re taking things too serious.” I figure I may as well, though it’s part of my culture not to let these acrylics dry up.   Jamaican Art

acrylic painting
24 x 30 inches
by Albert Artwell


acrylic painting
24 x 30 inches
by Albert Artwell


oil painting
16 x 22 inches
by Milton Messam


oil painting
16 x 22 inches
by Milton Messam


acrylic painting
14 x 18 inches
by Tony Bag


acrylic painting
14 x 18 inches
by Tony Bag


22 x 30 inches
by Uta Sodtke


22 x 30 inches
by Uta Sodtke


acrylic painting
18 x 25 inches
by Deloris Anglin


acrylic painting
16 x 22 inches
by Deloris Anglin


acrylic painting
21 x 32 inches
by Nelton Fisher


acrylic painting
21 x 28 inches
by Nelton Fisher

          Haile Selassie-type characters? by Linda Thoman, GA, USA  

wood sculpture
by Linda Thoman

I take exception to your comment about Haile Selassie. The last emperor of Ethiopia was one of the most distinguished and intelligent rulers of the 20th century. He was not a dread-locked ganja-smoking Rastafarian. The one time he did visit Jamaica to meet the Rastafarians who worshiped him, he wouldn’t even get off the plane once he saw them. If the League of Nations had listened to him in the late ’20s and early ’30s, World War II might not have happened.   There is 1 comment for Haile Selassie-type characters? by Linda Thoman
From: caroline — Feb 13, 2012

there is a lot more to rastafarianism than a few lines can convey. and they certainly don’t look like Haile Selassie. he is revered by rastas because they believe he is directly descended from Solomon and he is therefore a deity of sorts. it is a confusing philosophy with contradictions just like the bible. when i visited Jamaica in 1985 i spoke to many Jamaicans who saw the rastas like people in North America saw us as hippies, unwashed and useless pot smokers. i met wonderful rastafarians who were very spiritually motivated in their lives, vegetarian and peace loving. i also heard horrific stories of Haile Selassie’s treatment of his people in Ethopia. heard that he was a fierce dictator. And yet Bob Marley quoted a speech of his in one of his songs that was very enlightened ,the song “War” all about recognizing that if one race didn’t hold itself as superior ,there could be peace. so as i say i find it all very confusing. ;0)

  You visit Jamaica, mon? by John Powell, Jamaica  

“Time passes “
oil painting
by John Powell

Hello Robert, Nice to hear from you, mon; I never know you visited Jamaica? Next time you visit please let me come visit you by your hotel? NB. I told you that I’ll be layed off my teaching job come September so, I go full time painting and travel and would like to visit you in Canada?       There is 1 comment for You visit Jamaica, mon? by John Powell
From: caroline — Feb 13, 2012

great painting!

  Seeing in retrospect by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA  

“Patio, Hotel Villa del Sol”
watercolor painting
by Brenda Behr

Sounds like a terrific time you’re having. I’ve never known anyone who came back from Jamaica without a pretty big smile on their face. This may further go to prove that less really is more. I hear the people in Jamaica are very poor, but joyful. It was also only upon my return from the island that I noticed the colors of the watercolors I’d done on the trip were all very citrus and tropical. The paintings contrast greatly to the red clay tinge of my North Carolina landscapes. Sometimes, we see things much more clearly in retrospect.   Caribbean magic by Frederick Winston, Havelock, ON, Canada  

“Bajan Washerwoman”
original painting
by Frederick Winston

One year my wife gave me a Christmas gift of a little box of watercolour paints. She then signed me up for a class while on vacation in Barbados. Three sessions into the class, the kind teacher drew me aside and asked me, “Can you see yourself, as an artist, painting and selling your works, and being in a gallery? I can.” She gave me the best gift I had ever been given on a Caribbean vacation; the gift of a beautiful vision. I realized her vision. Within a few years and next week, I will greet one of my students who will be arriving from Canada. Call it Caribbean magic if you will.   Jamaican stereotype by Phillippa Lack, Cheyenne, WY, USA  

“Fiery Skies near Cody, Wyoming”
original painting
by Phillippa Lack

As a Jamaican, sadly far from home due to corrupt politics and being on a ‘hit’ list for my family to be eradicated, I need to take issue somewhat of your impression of us Jamaicans. We are not all Rastas. Indeed my brother is a believer, with no dreadlocks, but sadly, that is the only impression outside folks have of us. I am constantly asked why I don’t look like Bob Marley (his father was English, by the way), and have to explain that there are Jamaicans of all shades, mostly outside their beloved country. We are a creative, happy and intelligent folk, who don’t take most things too seriously, as the man said… I know more world geography than the average American I come across. Because we are from a small island, we were taught, back in the day, about other places and peoples. Sadly, the island culture has been focused on reggae and ganja. Jamaica has become a place for spring break, with awful photos of drunken women who have abandoned their clothing and are behaving in a way they never would at home. Please don’t get me wrong: I have an extremely broad mind, but the stereotype of Jamaica saddens me greatly. There is 1 comment for Jamaican stereotype by Phillippa Lack
From: Anonymous — Feb 14, 2012

My daughter and son-in-law chose to honeymoon in Jamaica. One a photographer, the other a filmmaker, they love to snorkle, and are “foodies,” and all those interests were entertained. Yes, sterotypes are shallow, but the rich fabric of Jamaican culture enthused them so much they vowed to come back when work allows. These two weren’t content to stay at the hotel pool but ventured into many villages by motorbike. It takes more than a superficial look to experience travel.

  Memories of Jamaica by Sue Gow, South Africa   I was born in Jamaica and left when I was 13 so this letter was very atmospheric for me. Both parents were born there, too, and apparently on my grandmother’s side they were one of the first families to come and farm there, etc, etc. — colonials all. And in those days the Rasta Man was used as a kind of bogey man for small children — be careful … or … We came to South Africa in ’58 and I haven’t been back and short of a lottery win am not likely to, but would love to re-visit the Blue Mountains and Irish town where I spent many a holiday with an aunt. It would sort of close a circle for me. I recently went to a Literary Festival here where the Jamaican poet Kei Miller now teaching in Glasgow was present — wonderful to hear his voice and his poetry was poetry. I paint and sculpt and write (but not as much as I would like) and have been mentored by Dorian who helped me publish a book of poetry and I have written about my childhood memories of that small island. Certain smells and tastes like frangipani and lantana and mango take me back there and I am eating roasted breadfruit and soursop and star apple fruit salad, sailing in Kingston Harbour and swimming in the clear water of the river at Ocho Rios. Delicious. The Same Earth by Kei Miller… There is 1 comment for Memories of Jamaica by Sue Gow
From: Susan Holland — Feb 13, 2012

Really wonderful writing, Kei Miller! I wonder what happened to those panties??? I’ll have to get the book! Your story grabbed me immediately and didn’t quit until the sample ended…. :) Huzzah!

  Grief after loss by Nancy McGrath, Wynantskill, NY, USA   This past September I lost my greatest fan, my brother Glenn. He was only 54 years old, which was way too young and he was a beloved member of his community. I won’t list all of his accomplishments but his art lay in helping others; policeman, fireman, ambulance worker, town council, etc. When I say I lost my greatest fan, I am not exaggerating. Glenn was always the voice with the cudos and encouragement, sometimes the only voice, and the first one to yell when he thought I didn’t get enough money for a piece. All of this brings me to the point that I have not picked up a paintbrush since his passing. Intellectually I don’t think it’s because of his passing but emotionally I am not working. I would just like to hear from others who have gone through this process. How did you cope? There are 3 comments for Grief after loss by Nancy McGrath
From: Susan Holland — Feb 13, 2012

You cope slowly, taking as long as it takes. Then you will know when to begin. Your brother will speak to you about your painting. As my father’s voice talks to me even now 35 years after he died. “You can do it, Shortie,” (because that was what he called me all my life)”because that’s the kind of person you are.” And also the expressions on his face as I looked to see his opinion. No words necessary. I can see it very often. Know that he knows you miss him. He’ll start talking to you when you can start listening without pain. Bless you.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 14, 2012

Your letter resonated with me and made me try to identify more clearly the exact point at which I really stopped painting. I have done other stuff since, but from my heart. I hope I can work through it. How lucky you had this true supporter in your life…I’ll bet vicariously your work supported him, too. S.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 14, 2012

I meant to say”…but not from my heart.”

  A modern day mystic by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA  

pencil drawing
by Jeanne Long

You bring to mind with your entertaining and colorful description, another Jamaican artist, complete with Rastafarian-influenced dreadlocks: a modern day mystic with the memorable moniker Mooji, who swiftly transcended Marley mania to become a world teacher who gathers his followers first through YouTube and then through his amazing gift for painlessly penetrating his listeners with his clear, transformative observations. His message calls forth a type of awakening with the absence of ordinary religious trappings. When one first sees Mooji (an affectionate nickname for Tony Moo), one wants to smile, and then when one hears his message spoken in his soft Jamaican accent, one’s spirit begins to soar! Surprisingly, it’s Marley’s message, “Don’t worry about a thing,” but now made complete with a clear recipe for how to bring that about! There is 1 comment for A modern day mystic by Jeanne Long
From: Caroline Jobe — Feb 13, 2012
  Request for airport advice by Louise Francke, NC, USA  

oil painting, 16 x 16 inches
by Louise Francke

Spring and summer are quickly approaching and with that come domestic and international trips. Was wondering if you could give advice as to what art materials wouldn’t be investigated or confiscated in carry-on luggage. I remember having to go retrieve my son’s oil paints from the airport authorities. He could fly them out of NYC but couldn’t return with them! We are planning a trip abroad with only carry-on luggage. So whatever supplies we are taking need to be small and minimal. Thinking of taking one 5″x 7″ journal with suitable paper on which to write, draw and watercolor. I have a small Cottman travel box into which I’ve substituted my Schmincke 1/2 pan watercolors, a Japanese ink brush pen for sketches on the run, a couple of pencils and the new water-fillable brushes. Plan to fill them once we are there. It would however be helpful for future, more extended trips to know where one can find the art supply limitations online. TSA covers all forbidden objects but no mention is made about art materials. Knowing you travel often, perhaps you have picked up some do’s and don’ts for those of us with wander lust and wanting to bring home a little more than digital photos. RG Letter: The flying artists, November 9, 2007 RG Letter: Packing for a trip, September 9, 2005 RG Letter: Travel tips, March 12, 2002 RG in Ireland: Just a reminder, June 16, 2009 RG Letter: Yoho park, July 19, 2002 RG Letter: Thinking ahead, July 31, 2009   Ten years in Jamaica by Olgateresa Gonzalez Baigas, Taos, NM, USA  

“Call of Night”
original painting
by Olgateresa Gonzalez Baigas

For ten years I lived in Jamaica and have now moved to Taos. Jamaica has many sides, but the smell, the society, and the sea is a wonderful experience. You have shown some beautiful artwork that gives one the sense of color, business and activity of the island. I have spent so much time painting there… the salt of my sweat dripping on my oils or wetting my paper drawings… My home is now for sale in beautiful Negril — if you know anyone who loves it enough to move there. See it on my site.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Jamaican afternoon

From: Paula Timpson — Feb 10, 2012

Art is Life as silence prevails~ seems rain falls when the surprise is needed, children run and play, wild with freedom a dragonfly glitters, translucent wings are angels breath~

From: Dorothy Englander — Feb 10, 2012

Robert, can you please describe how you travel with painting materials, and what equipment you take? I think some of this info might be on your site. I’d like to know how you manage baggage restrictions, what to check, etc. Your Jamaican piece put me in vicarious beach mode for a few moments. Can you recommend some painter-friendly winter respites? Is Jamaica a safe place for a single woman traveler?

From: Lisa Schulte — Feb 10, 2012

This is my most favorite letter of yours to date. I am biased of course as I grew up in the Caribbean. Born in Guyana in the 50’s my family moved to Barbados. I have now been snow bound in Northern Michigan for eighteen years but love it here. I do enjoy receiving your letters. Thank you. Irie man.

From: Rich Mason — Feb 10, 2012

You have done it again Robert… Woken up my memory. Many trips to the Caribbean with stops at that island with emerald green peaks rising out of the ocean. Afternoon downpours hitting tin roofs and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met…I’ve got to paint some of this.

From: Miracle Morillo — Feb 10, 2012

Robert..Your a poet and you already know it. I so look forward to reading your twice weekly emails. I am a self taught Artist who goes where you are when I read your experiences and travels joyfuly shared in creative ways. You lift us up and I am thankful.

From: G A (Winslow) Wunderlicht — Feb 11, 2012

A great deal of important art was made under the european and north american work ethic by people who chose to perfect techniques. This does not rule out the more natural approaches to art such as you see in some of the Carribean countries. It looks to me like Mr genn thinks all types and genres of art are of equal value because of the effects they have on their perpetrators, however goofy.

From: Nick Nelson — Feb 11, 2012

Bob Marley’s birthday was actually Feb 6

From: Gavin Logan — Feb 11, 2012

The artist who travels, as I do, is able to see the indiginous directions of countries and tribes. Islands like Manhattan are particularly incestuos. As you can see, there is more to Robert’s letters than immediately meets the eye.

From: Fred Kazan — Feb 11, 2012

Jamaican culture may be spiritual and magical, but it is also the most humanistic of cultures. That is, life breaks down to human relationships and the ability to get along with one another. In underprivileged societies, cooperation is valuable and social interaction takes on special meaning. Jamaicans love to get together and chew the fat. A very high percentage of Jamaican paintings are loaded with people.

From: Alan Soffer — Feb 11, 2012
From: Susan Underwood — Feb 11, 2012

I was delighted to hit “current clickback” and find that one of your favorite Jamaican painters is Milton Massam. We have one of his paintings which we purchased in 2000, when vacationing with our family at Round Hill, a heavenly Jamaican resort. The painting has given us great pleasure ever since!

From: Sally Field — Feb 11, 2012

I hope the party was a lot of fun! Everyone needs that small away from work once in a while.

From: Dorise Ford — Feb 11, 2012

Swimming on the beach and hanging my clothes on a line to dry isn’t an option today. It is 49 degrees. raining and windy here on the North California coast amidst the towering Redwoods that surround the house. However the smell of ganja in this part of the Emerald Triangle is never far away. It is part and parcel of an aging population who find that option better then the expensive drugs prescribed for what ails one. I can visualize the colors of your Jamaican beach goers and think I might just celebrate Marley’s birthday by putting paint and ink to paper today, cheer up the gloomy day. Have fun in the sun. You are a Canadian who has migrated south for the winter. I know a lot of them. Love our Canadian neighbors.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Feb 11, 2012

People, I believe, are naturally curious and finding someone painting alone in the beach is a great attraction. To see what is being painted aroused even more curiosity. This carefree and laid back way of life is shared by most cultures living in warm climates and especially on the islands. Their art also reflects the color of their habitat. The lush vegetation and flora, exotic fruits their colors are so vivid and brilliant that it is hard not to recreate them in their paintings. As far as their art telling a story I think that their story is shared by people who experienced life during the colonial times. There must have been confusion in those times where on one hand religion teaches love and salvation when their experience tells another.

From: Judith Seelig — Feb 11, 2012

Good timing on your Jamaican post— I’m heading there on Tuesday, this year with open acrylics. Where were/are you? I’ll look forward to seeing your island work when you return. Sounds like a great spot. If you get to Kingston, the National Gallery is outstanding.

From: Lynda Sellar — Feb 11, 2012

But the question is: Did you use any of those nice colours you had there?

From: Patti Collins — Feb 11, 2012

Oh, just the joy I needed Robert, in reading your “Jamaica man letter.” Brings me back to a holiday a few years ago. I had recently learned to play “dominoes” (the coloured ones; the more grown-up game of keeping score) and wanted to play. As my husband and I walked through Kingston we saw the Jamaican sidewalk players and the male domino dens – I wanted to play! Me a novice, a city-player to their no-work expert play! We went into a domino den, just a few steps down, off the curb, a bit like an old pool-hall really, full of men and smoke playing their game. We spotted the champion he was the one to play with, the one to learn by. I had my game, free smiles and a communal round of beer bought by my spectator husband. Fun for all and a lasting memory.

From: Dora Gourley — Feb 11, 2012

Loved this description of the Jamaican people and their culture. My sister lived and painted in Jamaica during the 70’s. She painted a wonderful piece of women in the street each with the different baskets or containers of items on their heads. The black skin of the women against the colorful things on their heads in their different containers was striking. I would have loved to have had that piece of her artwork.

From: Gail Shepley — Feb 11, 2012

Thanks Robert, Bob Marley is my cat’s name…:)

From: Lana Hart — Feb 13, 2012

I just got back from Mexico – I appreciate your letter on your Jamaican experience. The Mexican people love colour in their art and their music. I loved strolling through the markets with strains of upbeat music filtering through the breezes as I devoured the colour. Home now and to paint what I experienced!!!

From: Jill Brooks — Feb 13, 2012

It may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, that Celine Dion “est la plus grosse star en Jamaique. Aucun autre artiste dans le monde n’est plus populaire,,,,,Celine Dion etait accueillie comme une princess par ses fans au pays de Bob Marley.” Who knew? Apparently the participation of Celine in the Festival of Jazz & Blues held there in January was a historic moment for her many Caribbean admirers. Apparently folks know the words to all of her songs and like to sing along with her. No one can say exactly why they love her so much, but she touches their hearts. I’m not sure what insight this musical conundrum offers the visual artist but perhaps it is simply that sometimes what might appear to be the most unlikely of pairings can often work the best?

From: Joan McCall — Feb 13, 2012

Just love your stuff from your stories of cultures and observations to your life philosophy. Please keep it up. It is uplifting and fun. Must go paint one!.

From: Susan Varo — Feb 13, 2012

I really like this one a lot and it is written in such a wonderful way. So beautifully written whereas I can visualize a landscape similar that that of a Gauguin painting. Elmhurst, NY

From: Bruno Bolivar — Feb 13, 2012

The information given in this forum is so highly valuable to artists. First in the daily enthusiastic evidence that being a fully realized artist is possible, but also from the further input from such a wide variety of painters who both confirm and refute Robert’s point of view. The whole effect is to be mind-enlarging and confidence building. Bravo to you all!

From: Gil Stephen — Feb 13, 2012

Do not, under any circumstances, go to Jamaica to get your hair cut and dyed. It may be cheaper there but there are other things to do.

From: Nancy McGrath — Feb 14, 2012

Thank you for these letters – it’s so nice to not work in a complete vacuum. Also, thanks to all who responded to me regarding my brother’s death. It helps!

From: g a gordon — Feb 14, 2012

i like to go out of the way to towns and villages in jamaca-Lucy-Brownstown and do watercolor sketches to capture local color-sadly did not make it this year – but how wonderful it is to look at my paintings and be transported back to that wonderful place.

     Featured Workshop: Bjorn Runquist
021412_robert-genn Bjorn Runquist workshops located at Rock Gardens Inn   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Old Barrie Road

acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches by Marlene Bulas, Orillia, ON, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.