Published  21/07/2012

Obituary: Gloria Escoffery

Obituary: Gloria Escoffery

The Jamaican painter, teacher, poet and art critic died in May, aged 78. She had been a major element in the Jamaican art movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Her work combined regional mythology, satire and social comment, with an individual symbolism of a figurative vein. Escoffery sprang from the developing Jamaican middle class, yet felt rooted in Jamaican rural society and folk culture. Her father, a doctor, descended from white Haitians who had left Haiti at the time of the oppressive revolution, and she numbered Jewish and English Jamaicans among her ancestors. This enabled her to stand apart as a thinker and critic from conventions, and yet be constructively productive in advancing regional self-imagery. She was the scholar from Jamaica to McGill University, Canada, in l942, and on her return was befriended by the Manley family, leaders of the People’s National Party in pre-independence Kingston. She was made literary editor of their weekly journal, Public Opinion. From 1950 to 1952 she was a student at the Slade School of Art in London (at which Lucian Freud was then teaching). On returning she became one of Jamaica’s national realist group of painters. Gradually her work took on new influences and became more experimental. Her work was included in the watershed exhibition mounted in the Smithsonian Institution, Jamaican Art 1922—82. Later on, she completed a major series of five panels, which drew upon her Middle Eastern roots. She maintained all her life an active involvement in the teaching fraternity, yet without ever losing her close affiliation to the rural Jamaica she knew and understood. Her own memorial she saw as the fulfilment of the Brown’s Town cultural centre, centred around her own library of 1000 at books in the grounds of her house. She also published two collections of poetry, well received in her homeland and beyond.

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