This exhibition presents the work of John Dunkley (b. 1891, Savanna-la-Mar, Jamaica; d. 1947, Kingston), widely considered to be one of Jamaica’s most important historical artists. John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night will include paintings from the 1930s and ‘40s alongside a smaller selection of carved-wood and stone sculptures. Dunkley’s paintings are defined by their distinctive dark palette, detailed imagery—often landscapes––and psychologically suggestive underpinnings. His intimate sculptures reflect more figurative elements—people and animals—and offer insights into his unique iconography. Although his work is well represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, as well as in international private collections, Dunkley has not been the focus of a solo exhibition since the 1970s, and never before outside Jamaica. This exhibition represents a unique opportunity to bring together a substantial grouping of his work and to create an international context for its study.
Dunkley was born in rural northwestern Jamaica, and as a young man traveled to Panama and Costa Rica to work, eventually settling for a time in Chiriquí, a province in western Panama. There he worked as a barber and began to create his first small paintings. Concurrently, he also worked as an assistant to a studio photographer active in the region, possibly retouching and coloring photographs. Dunkley returned to Jamaica in the mid-to-late 1920s, continuing to work as a barber in a shop near downtown Kingston’s busy port, and to make paintings and wood carvings. His oeuvre spans little more than a decade, and only approximately 50 paintings are known to exist today, alongside a small number of sculptures. Dunkley was working at a pivotal time in Jamaica’s history, and like figures such as Marcus Garvey, he is part of a generation of West Indian men who traveled abroad to work, both in the region and internationally, and returned home to contribute to the formation of an independent Jamaica. His life and work provide insight into the broader economic and social factors, as well as the popular culture, that defined this era in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, the exhibition catalog, John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night, offers a generously illustrated overview of his powerful work. Reproducing the intricate details and somber palette that characterize John Dunkley’s paintings, this book thoughtfully situates the artist’s oeuvre within its historical context. Working in a period that laid the foundation for Jamaica’s nationalist movement, Dunkley was a part of a generation of West Indian men who traveled abroad to work and returned home to contribute to the formation of an independent nation, Marcus Garvey being the most critical of such figures. Essays from David Boxer, the leading authority on Dunkley, and Olive Senior, a historian of West Indian culture, focus on the social importance of Dunkley’s paintings and sculptures. Paying tribute to an extraordinary artist, this book showcases his vivid and mysterious work.