Water Lane mural dedicated to late reggae pioneer

By Richard Johnson,

This article is part of a series presented by the Jamaica Observer highlighting the 10 murals which form an installation of public art along Water Lane in downtown Kingston. The initiative is part of the Paint the City project being curated by local arts advocacy group Kingston Creative.

When reggae music pioneer Toots Hibbert died on September 11 this year, it became clear to Kingston Creative, the non-profit arts organisation operating in the nation’s capital, that the life and legacy of this Jamaican had to be celebrated.

A major chunk of the mandate of Kingston Creative is the development of a vibrant art district and creative hub in the heart of the city. As part of the efforts to stem urban decay and breathe life into the city centre, Kingston Creative has sought to transform Water Lane, one of the main arteries, with the use of wall murals.

With Toots’s passing a decision was taken to dedicate one of these murals to the late artiste.

Enter artiste Joshua Solas.

The graduate of Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the United States, earned the commission to create the mural dedicated to the artiste known for iconic songs such as Monkey Man, 54-46, Pomps and Pride and Country Road.

“Kingston Creative called for a mural asking for a design dedicated to Toots. The brief noted that he was a patron of the arts and what was being done to create this space in downtown Kingston. Based on my love for roots reggae music and his pioneering work, I wanted to put out something that captures his energy and at the same time will live up to the legacy of the man,” Solas told the Jamaica Observer.

Simply titled Toots, the mural is executed in a bright yellow, something Solas noted is a feature of his work. He explained that the colour yellow exudes feelings of happiness, joy and light, which he thought was critical for a piece of public art. He wants people to be drawn to the work and just smile as they walk by.

“In my art practice I seek to blur the lines between text and image and this was a great opportunity to do that. The technique used is called wheat pasting. A mixture of flour, rubbing alcohol and wood glue is used to apply newspaper clippings featuring Toots. This is between layers of paint. A sealant is applied after. It is very durable and will stand up to the elements. I hope that every time persons look at this mural they see something new… a song, a lyric, something news. There are articles dating back to 1969.”

“When we were doing the work some people were asking about his relevance to the film The Harder They Come. He is very much a part of the film and the soundtrack. So this is something that persons will learn or be reminded of from the mural,” Solas explained.

The rains in September and October threatened the project, but the artist and his team which included Anna-Lisa Guthrie, Jamie Grandison, David Francis and David Goss were determined to persevere.

“It was an interesting time. I work with Anna-Lisa all the time and have worked with Jamie before, but it was the first time I was working with the two Davids. I enjoy working with creative minds and persons with vision and that is what I felt with this time. Due to the rains, what should have been a 10-day project took near a month to complete. There were days when due to water damage we had to scrape the walls and start over. It was very time-consuming, but we had to pull together.”

A visual artist by trade, Solas plies his trade by painting and drawing as well as graphic design, photography and serving as creative director on projects.

What does he want people who view Toots to walk away with?

“I hope I have created a vibrant, approachable, positive image. So I hope it makes you stop and think. It may not be massively topical, but being public art it should start a conversation, just like any other good piece of art,” he shared.

Jamaica Observer

Main Photo: Lead artist Joshua Solas stands alongside his mural Toots, located in Water Lane , downtown Kingston.

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