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John Dunkley

Born, 1886 - 1896 (probably 1891) in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Jamaica. Died, 1947

Important Jamaican intuitive artist John Dunkley (b. Jamaica, 1891-1947) left a relatively small number of paintings (apparently fewer than 50) spanning little more than a decade, mostly imagined landscapes full of hidden symbolism, others depictions of street scenes or activities he observed or copied in his paintings, all esonating with Dunkley’s trademark surrealist renderings of vegetation and humanity. After a memorial exhibition in 1947 and a joint Dunkley/ (Henry) Daley exhibition in 1960 - both at the Institute of Jamaica - Dunkley was virtually a forgotten artist, but is now a well-regarded figure in the history of Jamaican art. This exhibition was an important part of Dunkley’s posthumous embrace as an important figure. The catalogue’s preface was written by the Gallery’s Director David Boxer, embellished by a variety of texts by individuals such as Sir Philip Sherlock, Cassie Fraser Dunkley, Edna and Norman Manley.

From David Boxer’s Preface to the catalogue of exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Dunkley held at National Gallery of Jamaica, December 9 1976 - February 19 1977: “I could say that these are paintings which would have been a special delight to the Surrealists had they known of them, but we are not all amateur freudians searching for the dark secrets that spawn the unique creativity of an artist like Dunkley. And to speak at length of his obvious phallic consciousness and his obvious preoccupation with that linkage of eroticism and death, that basic instinctual dualism, the Eros/Thantos conflict which Freud defined (“the ultimate explanation of the human neurosis”) may perhaps be a barrier to those who would delight instead in the delicacy of the paintings’ tapestry-like surfaces and in the highly sophisticated spatial organization of the works.”

The following Chronology appeared in the catalogue for John Dunkley, National Gallery of Jamaica, 9 December 1976 - 19 February 1977:

1891 Born in Sav-la-Mar on December 11th.

Journeys to Panama where he begins painting. Resides in Panama for several years.

Also journeys to Costa Rica and as a sailor to England, Scotland and various parts of North and South America.

1930(?) Returns to Jamaica and sets up business as a barber.

1938 Carving of a cReindeer (destroyed) wins a prize at the St. George’s Exhibition in Kingston.

1939 Honorary Award (bronze nedal) at the Exhibition of the Gallery of science and art, New York World’s Fair for his “notable contribution to the art of the world”.

1945 Three works [Back of Nature (sic), the Spider’s Web (Jerboa) and Pastures] shown at the Institute of Jamaica’s Survey of West Indian Painting; later in Canada.

1946 Four paintings including Banana Plantation exhibited in London.

1947 February 17 Dunkley dies

1948 Memorial exhibition, Institute of Jamaica.

1951 Represented in First Caribbean exhibition - San Juan, Puerto Rico (by Jerboa)

1960 Retrospective Dunkley and Daley, Institute of Jamaica.

1969 Represented in the exhibition Art in Jamaica Since the Thirties (sic) - Spellman (sic) College in Atlanta by Diamond Wedding.

1971 Represented in the exhibition Three Decades of Jamaican Painting at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London by Jerboa and Back to Nature.

John Dunkley’s work, Banana Plantation, c. 1945, was reproduced and discussed in Art in the Caribbean: an introduction, by Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves, in collaboration with Christopher Cozier, New Beacon Books, 2011.

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Book relating to a publication, 1998

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Related exhibitions

»  John Dunkley

Solo show at National Gallery of Jamaica. 1976 - 1977

Related venues

»  Commonwealth Institute

London, United Kingdom

»  National Gallery of Jamaica

Kingston, Jamaica

»  Spelman College

Atlanta, United States of America

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom