Review: Di-Andre Caprice Davies and Leasho Johnson, Jamaican Pulse at Bluecoat

Di-Andre C. Davies, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner V2, courtesy the artist
Di-Andre C. Davies, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner V2, courtesy the artist

Jamaican Pulse
Di-Andre Caprice Davies & Leasho Johnson
, Residency
Bluecoat,
 Monday 27th June – Sunday 10th July

Artist’s Talk 28th June.

Words by Julia Johnson, Messy Lines

For a small island, Jamaica has had a huge impact on many aspects of British culture. Music, food, fashion – it’s become such a familiar part of our cultural landscape that we just take it for granted.  But when it comes to Jamaican visual art, our understanding is more limited. Most of what we are familiar with as Jamaican visual culture comes from album covers or postcards. Why don’t we know about what’s going on in the studios, or on the streets?

The Jamaican Pulse project is setting out to change this. Currently holding a major exhibition at the RWA in Bristol, the project has brought the young Jamaican artists Di-Andre Caprice Davies and Leasho Johnson to Liverpool for a two-week residency. On Tuesday 28th June the artists, alongside Jamaican Pulse curators Kat Anderson and Graeme Mortimer Evelyn, gave a talk at Bluecoat to give an insight into their creative world.

There is, of course, a strong and tragic link between the history of Jamaica and that of the British trading ports of Liverpool and BristolAs artists experimenting with abstraction, both Davies and Johnson discussed the reactions to their work from an establishment which, perhaps still rooted in the Empire’s conservative values, is used to representational and figurative art.

Sometimes the reactions were bewildered, like when Davies described the National Gallery of Jamaica’s issues with using a framed iPad to display one of her mesmerising .gif artworks. Johnson, meanwhile, described having a street mural denounced as “promoting sexiness” and ordered to be taken down after one day. This seemed to have more to do with the fact that his work is strongly influenced by Jamaican dancehall culture, seen as a lower-class activity, than the work itself, which was more “explicit” than sensual. Johnson’s other works showed the same interest in this juxtaposition between popular culture and traditional expectations.  Artists have already been exploring this in Europe for well over a century, but the question is still a relevant one which clearly still needs to be explored.

Her choice of words reminded me that as visitors, our experiences of a country often have nothing to do with the everyday life of a place – a process which in Jamaica has been going on for centuries really, even since the 1494 arrival of the Spanish. It was Davies’ more abstract .gif’s, rather than the food commission, which in their almost psychedelic colours and patterns gave a more defined attitude towards life and art.

As the curators, Anderson and Evelyn talked about the growth and influence of the artist-led scene and style in Jamaica. During their time in Liverpool Davies and Johnson are working with the Granby Workshop, Royal Standard and Crown Building Studio, all places based on this same philosophy.  Their stay will culminate in an open studio at The Bluecoat on 9th and 10th July. It should be fascinating to see how Liverpool, with its openness to cultural and artistic diversity, is perceived through their eyes.