There is something heroic about Barrington Watson's commitment to the painting of Jamaica and it's people. He paints for posterity. In the vein of French salon painters such as Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) or Alexandre Cabanel (1823 - 1889), he documents the culture's history; it's myths and fantasies. Although he might balk at constantly being described as a painter steeped in the European academic tradition, he has no qualms about being described as a figurative painter. He is steadfast in his efforts to paint figuratively and to accurately depict what he calls the Caribbean's temperate influences, its light, its colour, tropical feel and vagaries of the Caribbean's flesh tones. Of course, he relishes working with oils, since no other medium could so obviously suggest his respect for tradition. In a similar manner, each major work is supported by series of preliminary charcoal drawings and watercolours demonstrating his deft draftsmanship and his commitment to this historically validated process of painting.
Of all these concerns, the pursuit of Caribbean light has been his most compelling challenge. In recognition that the quality of light in the Caribbean cannot be conveyed in the manner of Dutch Masters, since his return from his studies at the Royal Academy in London and similar institutions throughout Europe in the early 1960's, he has explored the peculiar quality of Caribbean light using numerous hybrid techniques combined with a sensitivity to be expected from a "son of soil". His handling of pigment is deft and light. He builds his surfaces gently applying colour in swathes which allow a shimmering build-up of tonalities. Sometimes his techniques are more deliberate and controlled as he creates devices to focus on the subject of the painting.
Women, whether staunchly matriarchal or seductively pubescent, are often the subject of his work. His penchant for merely draping their bodies in sheer garments, demonstrates his accomplishment in rendering the female form while at the same time charging them with erotic overtones. In this sense his female paintings can be likened to those of the 19th century impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919); worldly, robust and engaging.
Yet to view Watson's work purely within a European art historical tradition would be to recount only a portion of his concerns. His work represents a fusion of cultural interests both European and Caribbean. Viewed from a Caribbean perspective, his need to visualise images of cultural and historical significance in his work might parallel the story telling and oral traditions of the West African griot whose narratives are so crucial to continuity within black culture.
Watson's commitment to social concerns was evidenced as early as the 1960's when as a young man returning from Europe he placed himself at the centre of an artistic movement which promoted art as a social vehicle for change. One of three artists active in the Contemporary Artist Association; his colleges were Eugene Hyde and Karl Parboosingh; he alone remained wholly committed to representational painting, never abandoning figuration for modernist abstraction which was at the time, alien to the Jamaican "man in the street". This popularity garnered further patronage from corporate companies and banks establishing art collections during the 1970's and 80's.
Today Watson is the only surviving member of that sixties triumvirate and operates the Contemporary Art Centre which he established in the early eighties. He is considered a master of the Caribbean genre scene, however now, he is all the more able to embu them with significance and to execute the grand historical themes he has always aspired to. He is creating a visual repository for future generations.