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» BREAKING NEWS, GUEST RUNDOWNS » LONDON EXHIBITION SHOWCASES THE WORK OF THE LATE DANCEHALL ILLUSTRATOR WILFRED LIMONIOUS!

LONDON EXHIBITION SHOWCASES THE WORK OF THE LATE DANCEHALL ILLUSTRATOR WILFRED LIMONIOUS!

HIS ARTWORK graced countless album covers and his newspaper cartoons entertained audiences throughout Jamaica. Yet the work of illustrator Wilfred Limonious has never really been celebrated – until now.

Currently running at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange, In Fine Style is the first solo retrospective of the late Jamaican artist, bringing together a diverse selection of the works he produced between the early ‘70s and mid-‘90s.

As one of Jamaica’s most prolific illustrators and designers, Limonious began his career producing comic strips for the daily newspaper, The Star, with cartoon characters such as Amos and Chicken becoming particularly popular.


LEGACY LIVES ON: A portrait of the late Wilfred Limonious

He went on to make a name for himself in the Jamaican music industry, illustrating hundreds of LP jackets and record centres for renowned reggae labels including Jammy’s, Power House and Studio One, before his death in 1999 at the age of 50.

Regarded as the father of ‘dancehall art’, Limonious is celebrated in reggae circles old and new, but his work is little-known in the wider art world.

Determined to make the artist’s work more widely known, British DJ, designer and cultural historian Al ‘Fingers’ Newman teamed up with Canadian musician and Limonious enthusiast Christopher Bateman to produce a book about the artist. The pair then decided to curate an exhibition to showcase Limonious’ work – and so In Fine Style was born.

Here, Newman tells The Voice about the challenges of bringing Limonious’ art to life and why his work is still important today.


CELEBRATING LIMONIOUS: Co-curator Al ‘Fingers’ Newman [PHOTO © Lindsay Lohden]

What made you decide to create this exhibition?
I know of Limonious through his work in reggae and dancehall music; designing LP covers mainly. As a DJ and designer myself, I’ve always been very interested in album cover artwork and Limonious has always been one of my favourite cover designers. So documenting and celebrating his work is something I’ve always wanted to do.

Was it hard to locate his work and bring it together?
Very! Trying to understand what his body of work includes was quite a challenge. Chris has a great blog dedicated to Limonious, but apart from that there’s very little out there documenting his life. So we spoke to people who knew him best – his family, friends and those who worked with him. We conducted many interviews to try and understand his life and work, and who Wilfred Limonious really was.

What did you learn about him?
He grew up in Albert Town, Trelawny and moved to Kingston in his late teens to study graphic design at the Jamaica School of Art. While there, he began submitting single-frame comics to The Star newspaper’s Laugh With Us section, where his first single-frame comics were published in 1970. The following year he got his first three-panel strip in The Star, called Amos. After that was a comic called Chicken, also for The Star. That was in the early ‘80s and is probably what he’s best known for in Jamaica. During the mid- to late 1970s he worked in-house for JAMAL, Jamaica’s national literacy programme, then, around 1983, he began working in music.

Tell us about his work in the music industry.
He did hundreds of covers and if you’re into records and you collect vinyl, you might recognise his work, even if you don’t know his name. One of his most well-known covers is probably the one for the compilation album, Stalag 17-18 and 19. It’s set in a prison yard and the inmates are all dancing with the female prison officers. He did covers for Frankie Paul, Cocoa Tea, Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Yellowman, Leroy Smart, I-Roy, Super Cat – anyone who was anyone in ‘80s Jamaican music. He did a lot of compilations and riddim albums from that time and also a lot of the label graphics.


EXHIBITION: In Fine Style is currently at Bristol’s Colston Hall until Mar 6

How do you describe dancehall art?
It’s essentially art that has come from dancehall music. So it’s colourful, brash, humorous, at times controversial – everything that dancehall embodies. A lot of Limonious’ illustrations on the album covers were scenes from dancehalls. He took the everyday goings on of Jamaican culture, added his own humour, and put it down on album covers. He started working in the music scene when dancehall was taking hold and taking over from the roots reggae of the ‘70s. So his work was reflective of that scene and he created a style that is still influential today.

Do you think that Limonious’ association with dancehall is what caused him to be overlooked in more ‘high brow’ art circles?
Yes, I do. Even in Jamaica, where people are surrounded by dancehall culture, his type of work is considered in many circles as almost throwaway. His art isn’t really documented in mainstream press or in galleries and we felt it was important to try and change that – to change the way in which this type of art is appreciated and preserved.

The exhibition is currently in Bristol. Why should people come to see it?
Well firstly, It’s a good exhibition! It’s colourful, it’s fun and it’s informative. The captions are detailed; we’ve tried to give a lot of information about his life and his work, so people can learn a lot about him. There’s also a part of the exhibition featuring modern day work that has been inspired by Limonious, so you see how his art is relevant today.

For example, [production duo] Major Lazer’s animated Jamaican superhero character is directly inspired by the work of Limonious. That’s something they admit freely because they love his work. That’s the thing; so many people love his work, but it doesn’t get recognised by the mainstream because it’s not out there to be celebrated on a larger scale. Hopefully this exhibition and others like it will start to change that.

In Fine Style is presented by One Love Books. It continues at The Glass Room, Colston Hall, Bristol Street, Bristol BS1 5AR until March 6, 2016. For more information, visit onelovebooks.com

[Photos courtesy of One Love Books

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