David Pottinger was one of Jamaica’s pioneer painters. His interest in art dated back to the days when volunteer art classes were held at the Institute of Jamaica for the sake of developing artists with a Jamaican vision. In the seventy-odd years that he painted his commitment to the painting of genre scenes and nationalist vision has never faltered.
Essentially self-taught, David ‘Jack’ Pottinger began his career as a sign painter. From the outset, he was a man of the streets dedicating his painting to the vagaries of life in Kingston. He captured the city in all its moods, as has been described in the citation to mark his gold medal laureate status: “If Huie is the landscapist of the Nationalist Movement par excellence, then Pottinger can be defined as his urban counterpart. A self-portrait or two, a handful of landscapes usually drawn from the outskirts of Kingston, a few still-lifes, and fewer still religious paintings aside, Pottinger’s life-work has been devoted to a single prescribed subject, but a subject of myriad possibilities; the streets and lanes, the sidewalks, buildings and backyards of Old Kingston and the parade of walking, jostling, cart-pushing, higglering, swaying-to-the-spirit neighbours that move, squat, lounge, hawk, haggle on the byways and the the old city where he was born and continues to make his home. This prescribed subject, and consistency and quality of his vision are principal characteristics of his art”.
Stylistically Pottinger was equally consistent and his oeuvre was characterised by very clear distinguishable phases. His early works were marked by realism and naturalistic representation of light. But by the 1960s they were distinguished by the darker tones of his palette and a melancholy contemplation of the realities of life in the poorer areas of Kingston. In later decades, his work would shift once again to a more vibrant use of colour and energetic brushwork, only to return to a sombre mood in later life. Throughout these different phases, his mannered depiction of the people of Kingston remained the same; attenuated faceless figures, dark and Giacometti-like, stand tall alongside their oppressive, urban surroundings. All this has made Pottinger one of Jamaica’s national treasures, and his art is sought out by many who remember Kingston with a sense of nostalgia. His works have become a record of a lifestyle that is all too quickly passing.