He is considered as one of the island’s top emerging artists with his work currently showcasing in Norway, preceded by other artistic stunts in Germany, Spain and future plans on the agenda in the UK and Belgium. In his native country, he has had notable influence in the Jamaican street art scene via projects such as the highly popular Paint Jamaica initiative or the pioneering New Jamaica movement. Having just returned from Norway, we had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
“Many Jamaicans are artists at heart”
You grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. How different would your art have turned out if you emerged from some other place, say… Madagascar?
Well, I don’t know too much about Madagascar, but I think I was a part of a certain ethos that qualifies being “skilled” as something that could only happen if you go to school in another country or leave this island entirely. I’ve come to realize that this way of thinking is perhaps true in terms of resources, but wrong in terms of inspiration. I’m lucky to be in a place where so many people are creative. I can honestly see how complacent it would be for someone like me to be in the “job world” in a first world country.
Maybe you feel more like a creative professional, but the level of resourcefulness in my city alone is enough inspiration on how to pull some interesting things off- which still amazes me until today. I’d rather be resourceful in this time and learn skills along the way, but resourcefulness is something you really have to make into a habit it’s not a cultural right, but a practice. Many Jamaicans are artists at heart.
What do you see as the role of the artist in society?
In my opinion, the role of the artist is to maintain a form of sanity for society. Even more so in a time where so many inorganic “necessary” inventions have flooded our markets and our homes. Whereas art mostly comes through the vessel of people from a very real, organic place.
“In my opinion, the role of the artist is to maintain a form of sanity for society”
There’s one mural that many Kingstonians are familiar with. It’s the big one in the busy section of Crossroads with lyrics from the popular reggae/roots artist Chronixx “There’s no peace inna war, they don’t know what they’re fighting for”. You just recently found out that it was painted over. What are your thoughts around this?
It is sad to see it go, but at the same time that’s the nature of street art. Many people do it knowing that it may or may no longer be there. I think this case illustrates the slight disparity that exists between artists in Jamaica and the overall private and public institutions of Jamaica. We’ve never had a close relationship outside of the “bourgeois” or “proper” art commerce. That is to say artists put in their work through recognized institutions to be acquired by prestigious collectors. I don’t have a problem with this relationship- but I do believe that it can be more.
“Jamaican art is a symbolic gesture in the modern world we live in today”
You’ve been going back and forth between Jamaica & Europe exhibiting your work- and more recently coming straight from Norway. What has the reaction been to Jamaican art abroad?
THEY LOVE IT! They also don’t expect it. Sadly enough, tourism has planted this image of the Rasta man in the hammock, the small patch of island with two palm trees growing out or the overly intoxicating, sexual male and female figure gyrating to reggae tunes. The truth however is that projects like Paint Jamaica or The Sankofa Sessions have yielded a safe space for a free form of newer creativity from Jamaica, and it was a pleasure to be one of the individuals that was tasked to showing that to other people. To these projects, the response I always received was not only how beautiful the artwork was but also how meaningful it was. I came to realize myself that Jamaican art is way more than just the portrayal of this great country. Jamaican art is a symbolic gesture in the modern world we live in today. We sit in between the modern world of advertising and the ancient world of African retention. I used to think Jamaicans were underrepresented in prestigious galleries because the art was not sophisticated enough- or at least that’s what I was taught. But the truth is, just like aboriginal art, it is a portrayal of your experiences, your ancestral memories, your dreams, your inspirations and your society. I think Jamaican artists are very good at doing this- whether they know it or not.
“The ultimate dream is to see a creative hub in a huge space in the heart of the city of Kingston”
What’s the ultimate dream project you’d love to undertake one day?
I’ve always wanted to create or be part of a large artist run space in Jamaica that would be called “The Jam Makers Building”, where we as Jamaican artists finally get together start to apply weird, crazy ideas. The ultimate dream is to see a creative hub in a huge space in the heart of the city of Kingston, and that would eventual reach all corners of the island.
Well, this is coming to an end… do you have any last words?
My last words are for the artists of Jamaica: we live in a beautiful country and don’t let anybody tell you anything about this country that will limit the scope or the love or the creativity that you see within in. Talking from someone who has been around somewhat pessimistic people: you have something to bring to the table that is unique, necessary and that is wonderful. You can be very proud of the Patois you speak, how you lean when you walk, how you dip your fingers in a drink to mix the ice cubes, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise because this is the source of your creative power.
Explore more of Matthew McCarthy’s work: Facebook @eyedealist / Instagram @eye.dealist