John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night 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. This exhibition will include more than 30 paintings alongside a 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 exemplify his unique iconography.

IMG: John Dunkley. Panama Scenery, n.d. Mixed media on plywood, 24 x 30 inches. The Michael Campbell Collection. Photo: Randall Richards

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. Dunkley’s body of work spans little more than a decade, from the mid-1930s to his death in 1947, and only approximately 50 paintings and less than 20 sculptures are known to exist today. Neither Day nor Night is a unique opportunity to see a major grouping of the artist’s works.

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. He is also thought to have concurrently worked as an assistant to a studio photographer active in the region, possibly retouching and coloring photographs.

IMG: John Dunkley. Diamond Wedding, 1940. Mixed media on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. National Gallery of Jamaica. © John Dunkley Estate. Image courtesy of National Gallery of Jamaica. Photo: Franz Marzouca

Dunkley returned to Jamaica in the early 1930s, opening a barbershop near downtown Kingston’s busy port, and creating paintings and wood and stone carvings in his spare time. 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 are not only a testament of a singular artistic vision, but provide insight into the broader economic and social factors that defined this era in Jamaica and the Caribbean.  

Exhibition Information

May 26, 2017–January 21, 2018

John Dunkley: Neither Day nor Night is organized by PAMM Associate Curator Diana Nawi with Nicole Smythe-Johnson, independent curator. David Boxer serves as curatorial advisor on this exhibition. The catalogue for this exhibition is supported by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.

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