Brent Malone’s “Metamorphosis” (1979), part of the NAGB’s National Collection, is on view in the R. Brent Malone Reincarnation exhibition. The work was donated to the National Collection by Jean Cookson.
In “Metamorphosis”, a Junkanooer looks out from behind the mask of his costume – a butterfly. The connection between the insect and the name of the artwork can easily be made, but the work is also deeply personal. It references Malone’s re-discovered identity as a Bahamian together with his return to making art and ‘reincarnation’ as an artist.
Malone completed his studies at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design in London in 1964. While in Europe, his focus had been strongly influenced by European greats like Picasso and Van Gogh. In 1964, he returned to The Bahamas; soon thereafter he began to experiment with realigning himself and his work with his Bahamianness. In the late 60s, he started out with studying the human form, substituting locals in their everyday environments with the live models he’d worked with at university. By the late 70s, his work had made significant, and rather patriotic, developments with “Independence Mermaid” (1977) and “Metamorphosis”.
Malone created the work as a part of his Reincarnation body of works (also the name of the current exhibition), after a period of depression, during which he stopped painting completely. Before he began “Metamorphosis”, Malone had experienced the death of his father, dissolution of his marriage and closure of his business.
Malone was aided on his way to his newfound place of serenity. Before making “Metamorphosis”, he was inspired by musician Tony “The Obeah Man” McKay’s “Reincarnation” album, which was produced in 1972. The album contained iconic songs like “Brown Girl” and “Exuma’s Reincarnation”.
The country, too, had experienced a shift – The Bahamas became independent only six years earlier and was under the leadership of the first black prime minister.
Remembered fondly as the “Father of Bahamian Art”, Malone is known for being the first person to paint Junkanoo seriously. His Junkanoo works, which fill the NAGB’s ‘ballroom’, manage to capture the raw and visceral response the festival is known for evoking in its participants and spectators. In “Metamorphosis” the Junkanooer’s gaze is intentional and focused. This captured concentration is a commonality found in many of Malone’s festive works.
“Metamorphosis” and other Malone works can be viewed in R. Brent Malone: Reincarnation, which is on display at the NAGB until April 3.