The sea is gentle today as it splashes against the centuries old converted Georgian wharf which was once the Harbour Masters quarters. It is a fresh warm day. Overcast by Jamaican standards, but then again those standards are high. After all this is the island in the sun that Harry Belafonte sang about so fondly. On the day of our visit the ominous clouds held back. This was a good sign.
When we arrived, Mr. James was working on a new creation. It had been a long time since I last saw him, too long. Joe James, his gracious wife, Joy and son Michael gave us a warm welcome.
Those of us who are artistically challenged, like myself, would just lounge in the ambiance of the tranquility that is Rio Bueno Bay, Trelawny. This setting is grist for the mill for one of Jamaica’s most accomplished artists.
Mr. James is a remarkable host, with a voice that a radio announcer would envy. His eyes seem to hold you captive as you listen to stories of his life’s journey which he is happy to share. The story about being kidnapped by county rugby players, who saw his playing potential, in 1960’s England, is enjoyable. The even better story is of his impromptu audience with the Queen of England, who was visiting Jamaica at the time. So shocked were his family aboard that they called from England to say that they had just seen him on the telly.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and his vision is poured into his paintings. The gallery is bursting. Viewing the pieces is a journey through the life and times of not only the man, but the people and a country.
As a young man, Mr. James, was part of the Great migration from the West Indies to the England. Eight years after the Windrush brought the first wave of immigrants to Southampton, England. Mr. James arrived with his brother to take up his scholarship to the prestigious Saint Martin’s School of Art, London. On his return to Jamaica he established himself as an accomplished artist and entrepreneur opening the Gallery Joe James, Lobster Bowl Restaurant, and Hotel Rio Bueno.
Come to Rio Bueno,Trelawny for the serenity, the 22 room hotel, owned by Joe James is quiet in a sublime way. The forced seclusion was brought about by the new highway bypassing the old one, the life blood of local entrepreneurs. However, it is also an opportunity to leave behind your beds on the beach in Negril, the parties of Ocho Rios and the craziness of Kingston. This complex retains the ambiance that allows not only artists, but sun seekers to thrive far from the “madding crowds ignoble strife.” Inquire about art classes here, as this is a place where your creative juices will flow.
Gallery Joe James is a canvas that beckons your exploration. The visual art here, explores the beauty of the island, colonialism, the birthing pains of a nation and the return of a native son. The wall to wall art works embody the passion of remembrance.
The sea is ever present, in his work and life, and he has weathered the storms of its sometimes caprious nature. From floods by the sea in Suffolk, England to life by the Bay of Rio Bueno, Jamaica.
In 2016, the Gallery will celebrate 50yrs in Trelawny. Mr. James invites everyone to visit. Tell him Judith sent you.
Disclosure: I am related to this wonderful artist, and count myself lucky to be able to share his life and his work with my wonderful audience.