Ambassador Courtnay Rattray’s essay


I am extremely pleased to introduce Mr. Bryan McFarlane at his much anticipated and highly exciting second solo exhibition in Beijing. This exhibition represents a showing of important works influenced by Bryan’s sojourn in China and it is a great honour for it to be staged at The Sunshine International Museum.

The exhibition is a wonderful testament to Bryan’s ability to meld his intellectual interests, as Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA with his talent as a skilled and acclaimed artist of international renown. He is a person of deep sensitivity who I have come to know and admire, and whose work has emerged from the contemporary, post-colonial artistic milieu that is reflective of modern independent Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.  Bryan has enjoyed a distinguished career and has exhibited and lectured at over 35 universities and museums throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Inasmuch as visual art reflects both form and content, Bryan has managed to transpose his deep knowledge and interest in the socio-political development of the Caribbean into an assemblage of paintings that represent the true content and character of the Caribbean people. His method can be described as ‘modernist abstraction’, although he also draws inspiration from the figurative traditions of some of Jamaica’s most celebrated contemporary artists.  In this regard, one can discern in Bryan’s work an eclectic mixture of stylistic influences, from the expressionist Ralph Campbell (1921–1985), through to the abstract and conceptual Osmond Watson and the figurative style of Barrington Watson.

Bryan’s paintings provide subtle hints and contain gentle nuances of Ralph Campbell, who had a penchant for depicting the ethereal, bucolic landscapes of rural Jamaica, which he juxtaposed with his scenes of the everyday life of ordinary Jamaicans. However, one can also discern facets of the late Osmond Watson, whose harder edged styling reflects the classical cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, which Watson used to such good effect in portraying the uncompromising dignity and strength of the proud peoples of the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora.

McFarlane draws successfully from these disparate influences, which represent to a large extent the history of modern Jamaica. One can detect the tell-tale, sub-textual elements of Osmond Watson’s focus on the folkloric and spiritual mysticism of Jamaica’s traditional African culture, which is merged with Barrington Watson’s representational painting technique that reflects a visual narrative of post colonial Jamaica.

Bryan McFarlane is a wanderer at heart, who is always on a quest of discovery. We are indeed fortunate that his wonder-lust has brought him to China, where his intellectual curiosity and creative energy has been stimulated by being present at such an important juncture in history. He is as fascinated as I am sure we all are, by the nexus between a thousands year old civilization and a rapidly urbanizing society. The intersection of these two great forces is creating new challenges for China, which serve as a significant theme that is explored in Bryan’s new work. He is interested in the impact that can be evinced from the forceful interaction of ancient and modern China. As such, he uses his canvass to portray his admiration and regard for the dynamism and cultural strength of the Chinese people, while simultaneously highlighting his concern for the impact that its rapid modernization is having on its natural environment, traditional social structures and the physical resources of this vast and populous country.

Bryan offers his own explanation of the impetus and inspiration that underpins his latest project:

“While the country of my birth offers an excellent setting for a sustained examination of Chinese culture, I feel being on the mainland has created powerful inspiration and implications for my work. My work in China thus far has been one of the most productive periods of my creative life. The world is changing drastically and China plays a major role. We are at the end of an extended period of western cultural imperialism – a period when both western aggrandizement and Soviet ideological straight jackets have run their course. The vitality of the ascending order is emerging from the new cultures of the developing world, both in their own nations and in the great cities of the decaying old order. As prevailing critical models fade and new and more dynamic ones appear, scholarship and criticism must embrace truly global artistic production, defined by its relationship to new centers of artistic fervor and brilliance. In this setting, Chinese prowess will be a major force in redefining the contemporary art scene.”

It is a great pleasure and signal honour for me to be associated with this exhibition of the latest work of Bryan McFarlane, one of Jamaica’s premier artists. I am extremely optimistic about the prospects for continued future artistic cooperation between Jamaica and China and look forward to the possibility of having Chinese artists exhibiting in Jamaica, as endeavours of this nature are an important means of enhancing cross cultural exchanges between our peoples.

I wish Bryan continued success and feel certain that this exhibition will be well received by the people of China and all who have an opportunity to view it.

E. Courtenay Rattray

Ambassador of Jamaica to the

People’s Republic of China