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Making Their Mark with 'Dirty Crayons'

Dirty Crayons: Victory Run now on at Cafe What's On, Kingston

The second installment of Dirty Crayons titled ‘Victory Run’, filled Cafe What's On, Kingston, to capacity and then some on Saturday night (January, 12) showcasing art by five of the region’s up and coming visual artists Keegan Simon, Leasho Johnson, Jehan Jackson, Taj Francis and Kemar Swaby. The exhibition presents an intriguing fusion of Caribbean popular culture, fashion and pop art combining a childlike playfulness with daring and social consciousness.

The intriguing name was the brain child of painter Leasho Johnson. “I'd been looking at a lot of exhibitions in say Canada and New York and I realized that they have a lot of unorthodox exhibitions,” Johnson explained. “So I thought, if we're having an unorthodox exhibition why not have an unorthodox name,” he said. “We're adults now and our crayons have matured.”

As Kemar Swaby points out, the name combined the paradox they were looking for and makes them stand out. “It's innocence, but it's also edgy,” he said.

The inaugural Dirty Crayons exhibition was staged at Redbones the Blues Cafe in 2011 and the move to Cafe What’s On has provided them with a larger space. Peter Couch of Cafe What’s On, expressed pleasure at hosting them, noting that although the space generally exhibited art, it was their first launch event.
(l-r) Keegan Simon, Kemar Swaby, Leasho Johnson and Taj Francis
“It's really for us to showcase our work and our style,” said Keegan Simon. He noted that the Dirty Crayons exhibition was inspired to create a space to showcase outstanding talent.  “It's taking the one percent of good artists and putting them in one place,” he said.

O’Neil Lawrence, National Gallery of Jamaica, who curated the first Dirty Crayons exhibition notes the value the growing incursion of young artists on the art landscape.

“Jamaican art is going through another renaissance,” Lawrence said. “The young artists are creating their own spaces and their own opportunities.” The result has been a burgeoning visual arts landscape often pulling on non-traditional art crowds. Indeed, the audience at Dirty Crayons were generally youthful.

Simon is one of the founding members of the show, along with Swaby and Johnson and points out that they hope to create an annual exhibition and increase the number of artists who participate. He also noted that as the 2013 exhibition is at the beginning of the year, they might have another by end of year.  

“We wanted to create that avenue where we're the ones in control of what we're doing,” Simon said. Jehan Jackson (l) repositions her live model installation

Swaby agreed with Simon’s position and also pointed out the importance of their coming together. “It’s almost like we had to do it as a group,” he said. “If you don’t stick together as a group you won’t make it.”

Johnson pointed out that the enthusiastic cements and augments their individual successes, and agrees with the value of their creating their own space.

“Our coming and doing this together like this, and not saying curated by the NGJ says we're breaking new ground,” he said.

Jehan Jackson is the sole female of the group and one of the two newcomers. Jackson, who it describes herself as a trained a textile designer and an amateur fashion designer was enthused about the crowd’s response. “It’s been overwhelming,” she said. “Even though I'm kina used to it, because of the whole live model thing which, always Dirty Crayonsdraws a crowd.”

Victory Run is her first major exhibition since leaving The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and she is currently working on a fashion line which she hopes to debut at Caribbean Fashion Week.

Taj Francis, the other newcomer to the group, is also included in Jamaica National Biennial currently running at the National Gallery of Jamaica. Even so he welcomed the additional exposure of Dirty Crayons. “It’s good to be a part of something that's new. It's good to be a apart of of something fresh,” he said. He also explained that he hoped to do a solo exhibition later in the year and possibly another with Simon.

“I am amazed,” said Taj Francis speaking to the fantastic turn out which still saw people arriving after 8pm although the exhibition had opened just after 6pm.  “I'm glad because I'm seeing people who you don't normally see in the art world,” he continued.

Francis explained that the overwhelming support is a great development. “In the past artists were kina revered and were almost like rockstars,” he says with a smile. “I think visual artists deserve some level of fame. That's what I like about this its not just the art it’s also the people and the personalties,”

Trying to squeeze through the rooms of the cafe, one does get the impression that fledgling rockstars are coming into being.