Artists around the world are held to high regard for a range of reasons; some may have a distinct style or approach, some may represent a movement or culture and others are simply so unique that they can’t be replicated. Whatever the reason may be, a good artist is someone whose work is identified as theirs by vision alone; that is, the viewer can look at it and know it’s done by that person.
For those interested in Caribbean art, there is one artist who falls under this category of unique creatives: J MacDonald Henry. Originally hailing rom Kingston, Jamaica, J Macdonald Henry is regarded highly for her work with pencil and charcoal sketching, and since her birth in 1960, has produced a range of portrait sketch series that have seen her garner significant popularity around the world.
One reason why J Macdonald Henry’s work stands out internationally is that her charcoal portraits have acted as symbols of goodwill and positivity; the detail within the faces of those that Henry draws depicts significant raw emotion, and this is a vital facet of any high-quality artist — that they can adequately reflect the moods and personalities of the people they draw.
J Macdonald Henry’s life story is an interesting one, littered with a plethora of milestones and accolades that make her the revered artist that she is to this day. At the age of thirteen, she won a scholarship in Washington DC, before winning a further scholarship to the Carnegie Institute of Technology at age sixteen. After two years of tenure at this institute, Henry won a ‘Professional Promise’ scholarship. She then graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Design, before embarking on a post-graduate ceramics course at The University of Houston, Texas.
This curriculum vitae fueled a fruitful career for Henry, whose Caribbean Art began to become refined and personal. One theme that reverberates throughout her work is the betterment of humanity, and this can first be observed with her work at a conference on ‘Healthy Lifestyles and Stress Reduction’ in Jamaica in 1982. This interest stemmed from Henry’s intrigue into the effect of colour and sound on the human psyche.
One of J Macdonald Henry’s most famous works is her ‘Faces of Jamaica’ series, which depicts the community of Jamaica, her hometown. These charcoal works came in a range of forms, depicting figures such as babies, parents and famously ‘Woman of Colour with child’. What makes this series of Caribbean Art so outstanding is the fact that it so incisively portrayed the lives of those that she drew. The sheer beauty that Henry managed to convey in these charcoal drawings is a rare skill, and the fact that so many of the characters drawn are depicted as happy shows that J Macdonald Henry was an artist who always sought to extract the positive aspects of the lives of her subjects.
J Macdonald Henry’s work stands out due to its detail; when looking at her ‘Faces of Jamaica’ series amongst other works, the minutiae of the subjects’ facial features are clear to see, and this represents an artist who, more than anything, sought to show the world the beauty of her own people through exemplary Caribbean Art.