This afternoon i had the honor of spending time with my favorite Jamaican ceramic artist ,Gene Pearson! What a fantastic two hours of chatting and learning more on his history, passion and his culture! It’s always such a pleasure hanging out with this humble and extremely generous soul.
Gene was born in rural Jamaica, where his love of the land inspired him to create works of art from the earth itself. Born to a farmer father who also made home made bread and a mother who operated a “handle basket” shop, Gene was the ninth of 10 children . A dropout from the school system, which he found to be colonial, racist and classist he says. Gene decided early on that the only way out was to become an artist, and what a fantastic artist he is! Artist, he felt were considered special so he joined the Jamaica school of art in 1960.
Faced with a variety of choices for specialization, Gene decided on pottery because the materials a pottery student was required to invest in were far cheaper than those required by painting or design students.
Gene Pearson is considered one of Jamaica’s finest ceramists, he is best known for the strikingly beautiful heads he creates out of clay. Sometimes he throws them on a potter’s wheel; sometimes he molds them by hand. Several times the size of the average human head, these sculptures are usually female in form, large serene presences, often dreadlocked, with tresses curling like snakes around the elongated necks. The exquisitely chiseled features are african, though they may vary in colour and texture; sometimes they’re black and polished, sometimes the colour of earth, and sometimes crackled gray or white with a raku finish.
The creator of these magnificent faces is highly regarded not only in Jamaica, but as far as the west coast of the united states. In Jamaica his work is everywhere and no self – regarding art collector would overlook it. Though he is best known for his sculpted heads, Gene has also produced ceramic murals and wall tiles, large floor urns and sculptured light fixtures.
The subject of a BBC documentary in 1989, Genes work has also appeared in films such as Trapper John, in publications and leading corporate and private collections internationally, including those of celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Diahann Carroll, Arnold Schwarzegger, Roxy Rocker of the Jeffersons fame, author Alice Walker, Madge Sinclair, Tyne Daley and many others. His work also appears on the Jamaican $1.40 stamp released on April 26, 1993, depicting “Jamaica ceramics” from the Hardingham Collection.
Because his work expresses and capture’s the soul of Jamaica, Genes work has been presented by our Prime Minister’s and others to various foreign dignitaries, Heads of States and celebrities, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Fidel Castro, President Lopez Portillo of Mexico, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, David Rockefeller and more.
Story goes that after Madge Sinclair’s death a few years ago in Hollywood, her valuable collection of Jamaican art ended up in a Los Angeles pawn shop where they lingered for months, unknown and unappreciated. Despite rock bottom prices, no one wanted to buy the Edna Manleys or other works by distinguished Jamaican artists. The Pearson that Sinclair had collected over the years, how ever were snapped up in a short order – Go figure .
Here in Jamaica , Gene lives on a spacious property where i met with him today, in red hills St Andrew. It’s a large black gate mounted with a carved metal image of the sun’s face that guards the entrance to his studio and home. You have to call in advance and make an appointment to see him and his work. He leads you through a landscape beautiful and lush with lots of his work to get up to his studio. The path way is filled with earth like faces , which didn’t meet his high standards and have become left out in the open, flawed and weather – beaten but still totally beautiful in every way! All i have to say is, no wonder people all over the world admire his art …