October 13 - November 23, 2016
Ras Dizzy (1932- 2008) and Leonard Daley (1930- 2006) are two of the most important painters to emerge from the second generation of self-taught Jamaican artists born from 1930 to 1949, including Albert Zion, Evadney Cruickshank, Kingsley Thomas, Albert Artwell, and others.
Rastafarianism began to change Jamaican culture in 1930. Many artists were not actually Rastas, but they adopted many of the philosophical outlooks and the cultural resistance of the Rasta movement, similar to the way the counter-culture of the sixties affected lifestyles world-wide without everyone necessarily becoming hippies.
Jamaicans growing up in this time were enveloped in post-slavery and post-colonial issues and religions, such as Revival and Kumina (a Kongo-based religion begun in Jamaica by post-slavery indentured servants). Many Jamaicans emigrated to Panama and England to work, and and those who returned found less than desirable economic conditions. Despite outlawing Obeah (Jamaican hoodoo), the colonial powers in Jamaica were not as successful as the white Americans in suppressing African and pan-African spiritual impulses. Rastafarianism incorporated many Kumina customs in its tenets and lifestyles.
Neither Dizzy not Daley were anything but freewheeling in their spiritual outlooks. Dizzy was a poet before he became an itinerant artist. He wandered the island with his paintings under his arm to display and sell to people. Daley was a maverick philosopher, a cantankerous riddler who covered the walls of his house with what I call his ‘dub’ paintings. He was continually painting and repainting them at will so that they became a restless journal of his reasonings and questioning of social life. Dub is a form of reggae and post-reggae music in which the lyrics are removed and cut up to create a soundscape where rhythm becomes the narrative and the meaning is ambiguous and constantly changing. Daley is a master of powerful visual ambiguity in his thickly painted layers, not unlike work from some of the North American artists like William Hawkins and Thornton Dial.
Ras Dizzy is closer to a classic art brut artist but he never sacrifices his canny insights on both real and fantastical worlds. He works from his culture. He references a prophetic location called Sheffield as his visual home ground. There life is filled with deep color; reinvented palm trees, mysterious market women, cowboys, fantastical boats, extremely detailed horse races, Rastafarians, etc. But Sheffield is not always peaceful. Demonic beings he calls monopolys also live there. Each Dizzy painting is a rich pool of subtle and not so subtle color that resolves into meditative abstractions.
They were both obsessed with music from early American jazz to mento, reggae and dancehall. Their work is amuletic also, like much African American vernacular art. It serves as a marker of survival and a visual form of oral culture. The work of Ras Dizzy and Leonard Daley holds its magic close to its chest, but reveals great depth to those who open themselves to it.