Selections from the National Collection: Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds

National Gallery West is pleased to present its latest exhibition Selections from the National Collection: Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, which will be on view until mid October 2017. The exhibition is the first in a series of exhibitions that feature aspects of the National Gallery of Jamaica’s collections, while the permanent galleries in Kingston are being refurbished.

The Jamaican artist and charismatic Revivalist Bishop Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds was born in 1911 in Byndloss, a rural St. Catherine community some thirty miles from Kingston. At age sixteen he received his first vision and started traveling the countryside preaching. In the early 1930s he made his way to Kingston and settled in Trench Town where he established his Zion Revival church, the St. Michael Tabernacle. He later relocated to the Olympic Gardens community in western Kingston.

In Trench Town in the mid-forties he began translating his visions and his imaginative transcriptions of biblical events into paintings. Most of these early works, it is said, were lost when they were confiscated by the police as evidence of Obeah practice. By 1950, he had begun to carve, first in stone and then in wood. His unique artistic talents were discovered and supported by several influential patrons, such as the later Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who conducted ethnographic research on Revivalism, and the hotelier John Pringle, who served as Jamaica’s first Director of Tourism and who was committed to asserting the cultural identity of Jamaica in the tourism industry. While he encountered significant prejudice during his early years, Kapo’s stature in the Jamaican art world rose rapidly in the 1960s and by the time of his death in 1989 he was recognized as one of the most significant Jamaican artists of the twentieth century, and a key exponent of the so-called Intuitive, or self-taught genre.

Many of Kapo’s paintings and sculptures depict his cultural milieu, including portraits of those around him and scenes from daily life. He was also a fine landscape painter and he was fond of depicting the environment of his childhood, the hills and valleys of St. Catherine’s interior. Other works are more spiritual in nature and were clearly inspired by his visions and practices as a Zion Revivalist leader. Some of his works have erotic overtones and joyfully celebrate the nude human body and sexuality.

This exhibition consists of important paintings and sculptures from the National Gallery of Jamaica collections, selected from the main collection and three special collections, namely the Larry Wirth Collection, the John Pringle Collection and the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection. The Larry Wirth Collection was a major acquisition in 1982, when the collection of Kapo paintings and sculptures of the American hotelier Larry Wirth was acquired in its entirety by the Jamaican government. The other two collections were major donations to the National Gallery: the John Pringle Collection is a specialized collection of Kapo’s paintings which was received in 2011, and the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection is a comprehensive collection of historical and modern Jamaican art which was received in 1999. Aaron Matalon served as the National Gallery’s Chairman for many years and was a major benefactor of the arts in Jamaica.

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