Seeing Red with the Stanleys


Margaret and Michael Stanley are artists. Inspired by the brilliance of their tropical surroundings, they have never been afraid of color. And their new joint exhibition at Kingston‘s Grosvenor Gallery positively glows. This is the Stanleys’ first joint exhibition in Jamaica for twenty years, and the works complement each other beautifully.

The exhibition glows. A peek inside the Grosvenor Gallery's front door. (My photo)
The exhibition glows. A peek inside the Grosvenor Gallery’s front door. (My photo)

The Stanleys settled in Jamaica from south London in the late 1980s with their young daughter. We have known them since our London days together; in fact Margaret held her first exhibition at the then Creative Arts Centre in 1983. Since 1988, the British/Jamaican couple have contributed greatly to Kingston’s vigorous arts scene. Mike paints and Margaret is a textile artist. They have also been dedicated and energetic teachers at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and the University of Technology‘s Caribbean School of Architecture; Margaret joining what was then the Jamaica School of Art’s fledgling Textile Department on her return to her native Jamaica. They have exhibited in London and Jamaica.

Admiring Michael Stanley's work. (My photo)
Admiring Michael Stanley’s work. (My photo)

“Red…and Other Colours” – which opened last weekend and will close on March 9 – is a richly emotional feast for the senses. There is nothing neutral here. Margaret notes that red is a particularly “compelling” color. It’s not a color you can ignore. Often, you can’t refuse it, either. Margaret’s “Put on Your Red Dress, Baby” is a perfect example of this – voluptuous, warm and with a delicious tulle frill at the bottom. No dancehall queen could resist putting this one on.

Margaret Stanley's flamboyand "Red Dress." (My photo)
Margaret Stanley’s flamboyand “Red Dress.” (My photo)
Red is a favorite color in the Jamaican dancehall.
Red is a favorite color in the Jamaican dancehall.

Margaret’s work often reflects different periods and stages in her life; and she is certainly in celebratory mood now, embracing the “passion” of living. Her husband (whose early influences include the American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock) indulges in some red, too. His two paintings “Le Rouge” and “Le Noir” were inspired by the 1830 novel by Stendhal, where the colors referred to the contrasting uniforms of the army and the church, respectively.

Mike’s paintings, spanning his work over the past three years, are celebrations too. He pays tribute to two lives: that of his teacher, mentor and friend, artist John Hoyland, a leading British abstract artist. Hoyland was by all accounts “quite a character,” as we British would say; and always aware of his working-class Yorkshire origins, despite long sojourns in London and New York.

The other life Mike had in mind during the past three years was the sadly shortened life of talented British singer Amy Winehouse, who actually died in the same month and year as Mr. Hoyland (July, 2011) at the age of 27. Amy’s exuberance and eccentric persona is reflected in Mike’s textured and vibrant paintings. You can almost hear that husky contralto.

Fellow artist and former Vice Principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts Hope Brooks introduces the Stanleys' exhibition on the verandah of the Grosvenor Gallery. At right is gallery owner and art collector Douglas Reid. (My photo)
Fellow artist and former Vice Principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts Hope Brooks introduces the Stanleys’ exhibition on the verandah of the Grosvenor Gallery. At right is gallery owner and art collector Douglas Reid. (My photo)

Fellow artist and former Vice Principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts Hope Brooks opened the exhibition on February 23, commenting on the challenges of the artist’s life. Of course, this has always been the case – I recall the image of the starving artist in his attic in mid-winter, from my childhood in England. I actually thought artists did, literally, starve. In the tropics, it is and mostly has been the same. But as Ms. Brooks noted, why is Jamaica not “cashing in” on its astonishingly rich culture? Politicians pay lip service to “Brand Jamaica” (how am I wearying of that phrase) – but that is it. “Just talk,” Ms. Brooks exclaimed. 

We are not just talking about the performing arts and sports (we all know about reggae and Usain Bolt) but also of course the visual arts, which are flourishing despite the economic recession in which Jamaica is sinking. Just look at the National Biennial at the National Gallery of Jamaica (which also closes on March 9, by the way) if you want any further proof of the diversity of the Jamaican artistic expression. And where are the museums?

"Pimk aur anari" by Mike Stanley. Mike will give you the translation. (My photo)
“Pimk aur anari” by Mike Stanley. Mike will give you the translation. (My photo)

“I am not talking about using government funds to develop culture. Money for culture is out there. It is called ‘off-budget funding,’ but it requires certain structures to be put in place and the necessary capacity building at the government level to access it,” Ms. Brooks suggested. She has a point.

In any case, let’s not have any more words on the creativity of Jamaicans. Perhaps we could just make it happen. In this respect, the efforts of Michael Thompson, an overseas-based Jamaican who is seeking to build a Reggae Hall of Fame on Kingston’s waterfront are to be applauded, said Ms. Brooks. Mr. Thompson was also the inspiration behind last year’s hugely successful International Reggae Poster Competition. One wishes him every success.

I will leave you with words from the artists: Says Michael: “The language of painting, as I have come to practice it from my background, is how I dialogue with art from the present and past, and with subjects from my life both public and private.” Margaret adds: “At this point in my life I want to keep my passion and move onward and upward. The work was made in this spirit.” And Hope Brooks observes that the Stanleys like all artists do what they do because they love it, and art- making without that love and commitment, discipline and self- motivation would not be possible. But artists need support and the lack of public attention for the arts sends a negative message. Artists deserve better…”

Indeed, they do.

For further information on Margaret and Mike’s work, you may contact them at mstanleys@gmail.com. The Grosvenor Gallery, an old house nestled comfortably  off a busy thoroughfare in Manor Park, Kingston 8, is well worth a visit. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and if you are in the neighborhood tomorrow (Saturday March 2) you can drop by and meet the artists from around 10:30 a.m.

Please support Jamaican art wherever and whenever you can! It will enrich your life…

Related articles:

Amy Winehouse...in red. (Photo: People magazine website)
Amy Winehouse…in red. (Photo: People magazine website)

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/a-burst-of-biennial-magic/ A burst of biennial magic: petchary.wordpress.com

British abstract artist John Hoyland. (Photo: Gary Calton/Guardian UK)
British abstract artist John Hoyland. (Photo: Gary Calton/Guardian UK)

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/the-global-spirit-of-reggae-music/ The global spirit of reggae music: petchary.wordpress.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/aug/01/john-hoyland-obituary John Hoyland obituary: guardian.co.uk

Michael Stanley with his painting "Le Rouge" (My photo)
Michael Stanley with his painting “Le Rouge” (My photo)

http://www.amywinehouse.com Amy Winehouse home page

Margaret Stanley's "Bad Red" includes images of blood, rage and violence. (My photo)
Margaret Stanley’s “Bad Red” includes images of blood, rage and violence. (My photo)
Margaret Stanley (in blue) with "Put on Your Red Dress, Baby." (My photo)
Margaret Stanley (in blue) with “Put on Your Red Dress, Baby.” (My photo)

12 thoughts on “Seeing Red with the Stanleys

    1. Oh, he was your teacher… He is semi-retired now. But yes, he is a cool person, we have known him for about 30 years now! We knew the Stanleys when we were all living in London – they came to Jamaica a few months earlier than us, in 1987/8. Yes, they both love color, actually…

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  1. Thanks so much, Emma. Crushed to have missed this but you’ve eased the pain and made us feel part of it. Affectionately, Del

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    1. Thank you, Dina! Yes, they love to experiment with color. We are inspired by it here in the tropics, I guess! You have a great weekend too – WARM wishes from Emma. (and send us some rain, please!)

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