Exceptional artist of our time

Ceramist Gene Pearson remembered

Observer senior reporter

Friday, March 16, 2018

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Tributes have begun to come in saluting the life and legacy of renowned sculptor and ceramist Gene Pearson who died in a Corporate Area hospital on Thursday.

The 73-year old who is famous for his sculptures of heads died following a brief illness. His death comes two days after that of his ex-wife Jacquelyne Hussey-Pearson, who died on Tuesday. Both have a 14-year-old son.

Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange was among those who offered condolences to Pearson's family and paid homage to the man and his work.

“Gene Pearson added much value to Jamaica's arts scene. We could always identify a Gene Pearson piece by its clarity, implicity and commitment to the cultural expression of African identity. He was known globally for his busts, vases and wall hangings of iconic women's heads with closed eyes and serene faces... inspired mainly by African art and our own Rastafari culture. He was exceptional and his passing represents a great loss,” Grange noted.

Born in Wood Hall, St Catherine, the same community which, he boasted also spawned former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Pearson moved to city Kingston in the early 1960s and was one of the first students of master potter Cecil Baugh at what would become the School of Art, where he too subsequently taught.

Carol Hamilton, vice-principal at the School of Art, Edna Manley College, remembered Pearson from her days as a student. She noted that he was one of those teachers whose demeanour made it so comfortable for students to go to him for advice.

“He was such a stalwart. His quiet, soft-spoken nature made him so easy to talk to as a teacher. Then he was a superb ceramist. He broke the boundaries which existed at the time he started. Despite being the protégé of Cecil Baugh, he was determined to create his own identity in his work. This must have been difficult at a time when the arts was seen as just a hobby. But he showed that with consistency, persistence, one can become accomplished... this he certainly was,” she noted.

That commitment to his work also was a trait saluted by sculptor Basil Watson.

For Watson, it was Pearson and Christopher Gonzalez who ignited his own love affair with clay and sculpture.

“He was such an inspirational teacher and as a person, I can't say enough good things about this exceptional artist of our time. I would classify him as one of our greats. He was prolific and exemplified what it means to be a true artist. With all his international recognition he maintained his generosity of spirit. Young artistes can learn from Gene's dedication, strong work ethic, and his commitment to working and producing at the highest level.”

In his tribute, acting executive director of the National Gallery of Jamaica Dr Jonathan Greenland referred to Pearson as an important artist who emerged during the post-Independence period in Jamaica.

“He was famous for creating these sculptural heads in bronze and ceramics of serene, beautiful African women — the treatment of the hairstyles is particularly striking. These works were important for manifesting a new self-image for Jamaicans; they are emboldening and encouraged Jamaicans to see African features as beautiful and African culture as part of their shared visual aesthetic language.”

For his friend film-maker Lennie Little-White, Pearson was a very private and spiritual human being whose work spoke volumes.

“My relationship with Gene started from when he was a student at the School of Art. From then he had this passion of trying to create his own mark, his own style. Even though he spent a lot of his time on the West Coast of the United States, he always saw Jamaica as his primary crucible for his work... his primary source of inspiration. He drew a lot from his African retentions not in a conscious way, but rather in a subliminal way; that is why I think all of his work has this very spiritual quality. The ones that I have collected — I have four pieces — are women and even though sometimes they became androgynous, you always knew the Nubian knots were part of his signature and style. I find that what he will be best remembered for was that he created a product and a style that nobody has duplicated yet. Of course, there will be people who will try to duplicate, but he was a uniquely creative person and I know how much he was committed to Jamaica.”

In 2015, Pearson was invested with the Order of Distinction — Commander class for his contribution to the development of the fine arts in Jamaica. This was an upgrade to the Officer class designation he had received some years prior. He was also the recipient of the Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica.

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