Meeting Jamaica's Painters
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
In 2018, I travelled to Jamaica to start an evolving documentary photography project called Hand-painted Jamaica which aims to capture the visual language of the streets by photographing graffiti, signs and street art. Central to this work was the ambition to find the painters and work with them to build up a picture of who the contemporary artists are right now in Jamaica? What do they paint? How do they paint? How did they learn their craft? What can we learn from this art form and what can their work tell us about life on the island?
On the first phase of the project, I met around 14 artists mostly self-taught who paint commercial signs and community artwork including street murals. Sign-writing remains a dominant means of sign production in Jamaica, although there are signs of it declining with the increased use of printed and plastic signs.
There has been no work done to map and record the work of sign and mural painters across the island so this project is charting new ground to create over time a comprehensive picture of artists working in Jamaica. Bringing the stories of the individuals and their work into one place.
After the first trip, I had an exhibition in the UK called Big Tings A Gwaan Down Di Street and shared photographs and examples of the artists work. I was conscious that the artists after meeting me wouldn't be able to come to the exhibition and see how the work was used. So I have made it an integral part of the project the need to go back maintaining dialogue, sharing and collaboration.
It's vital to go back and to keep sharing the work with the artists.I was able to go back to Jamaica in June and invested in making a small square zine as I felt this provide a unique way to share the work with the artists and how much it has been valued. The zine went down a storm, in fact, I ran out so lesson learnt is to perhaps print in Jamaica or ship out to have a large quality of zines to share with the artists and the community.
It was an amazing experience to go back and photographed several artists with their work in the zine.
Bug Art is sign-painter based in Savannah La Mar in the parish of Westmoreland near Negril. Bug is a self taught sign-painter and his work can be seen across the parish painted on walls and sign-boards. His unique style of Dancehall signs is growing in popularity and helping him to develop a client base outside Jamaica. Check out his work on Instagram @bug_art_sav
Gapa is sign-painter who I met at his sign-studio and home in the parish of Handover. His sign shop was important to photograph to provide a document to the types of sign studios found in Jamaica. I managed to get a ride out there and surprised him showing up with a copy of the zine. It was really moving to return and to have the chance to show him the photograph I took.
Jah Calo is an artist based in Bluefields in the parish of Westmoreland who I managed to visit at his studio last January. I was blown away on the first visit with his work which covers the surface of every inch of the studio and his home. It was a pleasure to come back and see him again sharing some of the many photographs I took.
I was invited to give a talk at the Jamaican Arts Odyssey at Great Huts in Portland during the visit in June and was able to invite along the artist Katapul who I had photographed on the last trip. His beautiful mural for Di Atlantic bar provided a beautiful example of how Jamaican commercial signs are fusing together with street art styles to create huge painted wall advertisements.
Katpaul is sign and mural artist based in the parish of Portland, he is also a reggae artist.
Get hold of a copy of the Hand-painted Jamaica zine here