December 31, 1920
Albert Huie was born in Falmouth, Trelawny, on the north coast of Jamaica. In 1936, he moved to Kingston, Jamaica's capital, where he decided to pursue a career as an artist. It was an occupational path very few black Jamaicans followed at that time. Young Huie's talents were cultivated by a group of contemporaries who were interested in creating and supporting Jamaica's national art and culture. The Jamaica Arts Society awarded him a scholarship to study watercolor painting at Armenian artist Koren der Harootian's school in Kingston in 1938. Huie subsequently received informal training, including an introduction to linocutting, from a group of artists who gathered at sculptor Edna Manley's residence. In 1944 he left Jamaica to attend art school at the Ontario College of Art and University College of Toronto in Canada. The recipient of a British Council Scholarship three years later, he trained in painting and graphic techniques at Camberwell School of Arts, London. Exhibitions he encountered in London, especially the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate in 1948, would also inform his work. Huie returned to Jamaica in 1948, where he worked as an artist and art educator at Clarendon College, Wolmers' Boys' School, and Excelsior High School.
The British colony of Jamaica underwent fundamental sociopolitical changes in the late 1930s and 1940s that informed Huie's art, including worker riots, anticolonial protests, union formation, and universal suffrage. Starting in the 1930s, the African diasporic movements of Ethiopianism, Rastafarianism, and Garveyism challenged colonial and imperial power, politically, socially, and culturally, on the island. Although each of these movements was very different, they were united in their critique of colonialism and promotion of the long denigrated African aspects of Jamaican society. Marcus Garvey, in particular, inspired Huie to see black people and their communities as beautiful and representable as the subjects of art. At a time when popular cultural forms caricatured blacks, he used portraiture and oil painting to present a respectable image of black subjects. Moreover, by creating portraits in a post-impressionist style, which frequently concentrated squarely on the face of his sitters, he forced viewers to confront the subjectivity and humanity of his models. Huie also sensitively rendered his sitters' skin color, paying close attention to the reflection and radiation of light on black skin. He made black skin, something long devalued in colonial Jamaica, the very focus of his art. Frequently the subject of praise, his representations of blacks also sparked controversy. Huie scandalized many viewers who attended the annual All-Island exhibition with his frank portrayal of a black female nude in 1960.
Starting in the 1940s Huie also began to represent black Jamaican religious and secular expressions in the form of linocuts, using a silhouetted style that recalls the work of French artist Henri Matisse. Inspired by the new interest in black Jamaican culture, he published images on a range of subjects, from the African-Jamaican religion Pocomania to the jitterbug dance, in the cultural nationalist magazine Public Opinion. The periodical issued prints of his work, making them accessible and affordable to a wide audience.
Huie also made a name for himself as a landscape painter. Like his interest in seeing artistic value in black subjects and cultural expressions, Huie was equally devoted to representing the specific color and light of different parts of Jamaica's landscape with accuracy and sensitivity, recording how landscapes changed in appearance at different parts of the day and during different local seasons. Trained in Canada by J. E. H. McDonald and Frank Carmichael, two founding members of the Group of Seven, a "national school" devoted to art inspired by and reflective of Canada, Huie sought to reapply their lessons to his island home. He used the qualities derived from keen observation of Jamaica's unique geography to create his landscape paintings.
Since the late 1930s, Huie has worked prolifically as an artist, exhibiting locally and internationally, winning acclaim at home and abroad. As early as 1939, he won the Bronze Prize for the painting Counting Lesson at the New York World's Fair. He was also nationally recognized with a Musgrave Silver Medal in 1958, Gold Musgrave Medal of the Institute of Jamaica in 1974, the Order of Distinction in 1975, and with a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1979.
Burke, Shirley Maynier. "Strength and Subtle Shades." Jamaica Journal 21, no. 3 (August–October 1988): 30–38.
Lucie-Smith, Edward. Albert Huie. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2001.
Thompson, Krista. "Visualizing Blackness in Modern Jamaican Art 1922–1938." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 16 (September 2004): 1–31.
krista a. thompson (2005)