Arrivants: Francis Griffith

f. griffith - king solomon's palace
Francis Griffith –  A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace), c1965
Egypt (c1960)
Oil on paper
67.5 x 69 cm

A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace) (c1966)
Oil on paper
108.5 x 107

Text Painting (1963)
Oil on paper
66 x 81.5 cm

The Barbados National Art Gallery Committee collection 

Francis Griffith was born in St. Michael, Barbados in 1916, and was based there. He died in 2001. He had been painting for two decades by the time his work was first seen by the Barbadian public.  In 1987, he submitted two paintings to the 3rd Annual Art Collection Foundation (ACF) Exhibition and Competition and won a purchase award for The Bridge We Travel.  The following year he received a second ACF Purchase Award for The Weekend.

f. griffith - text painting
Francis Griffith – Text Painting

Griffith’s first endeavours in painting began in the 1960s.  As a seaman travelling throughout the world, first with the British Merchant Marines and later aboard commercial cargo ships, he recorded his experiences.  His visits to Egypt and Ethiopia influenced him most profoundly. It was in Egypt that he adopted his artist name, ‘Son et Luimere’ (sic), which he signed to his early works related to his experiences in the Middle East and East Africa. Translated from the French as ‘sound and light (‘Son et Lumiere’ is the correct spelling), Griffith nevertheless interpreted his modified version as ‘Son of the Light.’ Griffith returned to Barbados in 1966 and worked at the newly constructed Hilton Hotel in the engineering department. He continued to paint more narrative depictions of picnics, dances, village scenes etc. which he signed ‘F. Griffith.’ These works, unlike the earlier mystical paintings, he exhibited and made available for sale.

About the work – A History of Time (King Solomon’s Palace)

One of his earliest works, but also his largest and most ambitious painting,  A History of Time holds a unique place within Francis Griffith’s oeuvre. This work was painted shortly after his return to a newly independent Barbados, following an absence of more than two decades. During that time he worked as a seaman traveling to over 75 countries. This painting records a banquet for the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. It is an intricate and complex composition in which biblical events converge with images of the World War II Allies represented at the top of the painting. Rows of banquet halls flank a mandala stage in the center with multiple representations of the Kind and Queen. Griffith described it as “A vision of unseen things that you would never believe possible.”

f. griffith - egypt
Francis Griffith – Egypt (c1968)
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Arrivants: Conversations in/with the Cunard Gallery

 

The Arrivants exhibition, as a whole, intervenes into the historically charged environment of the 19th century military prison in which the Barbados Museum and Historical Society is located and the broader environs of the historic Garrison Savannah area. The parts of the exhibition that are mounted in and around what is known as the Cunard Gallery in the Museum intervene more actively, and politically, within the particular context and significance of that gallery.

The Cunard Gallery is named after Sir Edward Cunard, Bt., a member of the Cunard shipping line dynasty and a donor to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. He was one of several wealthy individuals who built villas on the Barbados West Coast in the mid twentieth century. Encouraged by the Museum’s Director, lawyer and art enthusiast Neville Connell, Sir Edward started collecting colonial Caribbean prints, which would have been deemed appropriate to the environment of such plantation-style luxury dwellings. Upon his death in 1962, he bequeathed the Museum a significant collection of 65 West Indian prints, by the likes of Agostino Brunias, Isaac Mendes Belisario and Lieutenant J.M. Carter, which are the core of the collection that is now on view in the Cunard Gallery. While these prints, and other historical paintings and artefacts that are also displayed in the Cunard Gallery, represent the Caribbean seen through the eyes and the world view of the planter and colonial administration classes, they are an important and multi-layered visual archive of life in the Caribbean during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most of the artists who are represented in that collection were themselves migrants who travelled between Europe and the Caribbean, often under the patronage of high-ranking colonial officials, and Belisario is the only one who appears to have been born in the Caribbean, so they add another layer to the Arrivants narratives.

The interventions we have made in the Cunard Gallery, using the work of the modern and contemporary artists Ewan Atkinson, Karl Broodhagen, Ras Ishi Butcher, Paul Dash, Francis Griffith, Hew Locke, Lynn Parotti, Keith Piper, Sheena Rose, and Golde White, talk back to, and argue with, a selection of what is normally on view in this gallery. Most of these works are pre-existing, and were selected because of their relevance to the Arrivants exhibition and the specific themes that arise in the Cunard Gallery, but Ewan Atkinson’s work was specially commissioned, as a response to the historical maps that are normally on view in the Gallery. The interventions and juxtapositions question and subvert the colonial perspectives represented in the historical works, while commenting on the social and cultural contradictions of postcolonial Caribbean life. Some interventions are subtle and, in Ewan Atkinson’s board game, even use a visual language that mimics and spoofs the colonial representations, but other juxtapositions are more pointed, such as the “across-the-room argument” between Ras Ishi’s 400 Years (1994), which lambasts the legacies of colonialism and slavery, and the anonymous panoramic painting from the mid eighteenth century, The Governor Going to Church, which celebrates those very same things.

On the outer wall of the Cunard Gallery, Leasho Johnson’s mural, Land of Wood and Water (2018), the third incarnation of what started as a guerrilla street intervention, provides an even more provocative response to the genteel, sanitized imagery that prevails in colonial Caribbean art, with its floating bodies/islands and raucous sexualization of the male and female figures. The work speaks to the histories of the Caribbean as well as to contemporary issues of objectification and agency in tourism and dance hall culture. Cosmo Whyte’s installation In the Belly of the Whale (2018), in the adjoining prison cell, evokes similar issues in a more veiled and poetic manner, and invites visitors quite literally to “take a peek” at the histories and contemporary realities of the Caribbean through the prison cell door hatch.

[Note: other installation shots will be added when these become available]