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Perspectives

Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Ronald Moody's Sculptural Repatriation

[ Artwork in Focus )

As around the world we mark Black History Month 2021, Pallant House Gallery celebrates the arrival of two works by Ronald Moody which join the Pallant House Gallery collection. Moody was one of the most important Caribbean-born sculptors and the first recorded Black British artist, having arrived from Jamaica in 1923.

Artist, archivist and researcher, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski tells us more about life and work of Ronald Moody (1900-1984).

 

This summer, Pallant House Gallery acquired two works by Jamaican sculptor and philosopher Ronald Moody (1900 – 1984), The Warrior (1974) and a powerful portrait bust of the sculptor’s brother Dr Harold Moody (1946) which was kindly gifted to the Gallery by the Ronald Moody Trust. The Warrior, acquired at an auction at Christies, had been part of the collection of one of Jamaica’s leading art collectors and businessmen, the late Wallace Ransford Campbell’s (1940 – 2020). The Wallace Campbell Collection was reputed to be the largest private art collection in Jamaica, an estimated holding of over 1,500 works, representing a wide range of Jamaican and Caribbean artists, including Alvin Marriot, Kapo, Edna Manley and Wilfredo Lam. Campbell was a generous lender and is remembered and recognised for his outstanding contribution, patronage and promotion of the arts.[1]

 

The auction was heralded historic, giving the eminent 20th century Modernist sculptor who lived, worked and exhibited in London, Europe and the US from the 1920s, the attention he deserved. Moody, born in Kingston, Jamaica, migrated to Britain aged 23, to reluctantly study to become a dentist at the Royal Dental Hospital, King’s College[2], London. His brother Harold Moody, a medical doctor already living in Peckham, London, was a prominent anti-racist campaigner who founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931, an organisation which campaigned against racism and organised community events bringing together different communities[3].

Moody decided to become a sculptor and began experimenting with plasticine and plaster left over from his dental work. After a fateful visit to the British Museum in 1928 – he turned left instead of right and chanced upon Egyptian sculpture and it was at this moment he resolved to become a sculptor.[4] He continued with his dentistry, whilst sculpting and through trial, error and perseverance, he became more adept and confident.

 

Throughout his career, Moody explored a variety of materials, including concrete, fiberglass, bronze and copper, but was known for his exquisite work with wood. The Warrior is made from wood sent to him by his nephew, Harold Moody Jnr[5] a British athlete, who won a silver medal in shot put in the 1948 Olympics and who had emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950s. Due to the tireless, forensic efforts of Cynthia Moody (Moody’s niece) [6], Ronald C. Moody’s Papers (TGA 956) are held by Tate Archive. Within the files of family correspondence, an airmail letter dated 18th March 1966, from Harold Jnr. to his uncle, he refers to sending two samples of New Zealand wood and states he’s sure that one was Kauri due to its very light honey colour.[7]  Ancient Kauri is the oldest known workable wood in the world, native to New Zealand and considered sacred by the indigenous Mauri.[8]  

Artist Errol Lloyd describes Moody as a sensitive man who brought a great sense of dignity and worth to his work, which expressed the artist’s own inner vision of a world in which man achieved harmony with himself and nature.[9] A philosophy evident in The Warrior which depicts a figure attentively listening with a stethoscope that is in the form of a bomb. It speaks to Moody’s concerns with mankind’s ascendancy and potential for self-destruction and spiritual evolution[10]. In this moment the artwork can be re-read through a lens that encourages humanity to consider conjunctures throughout time and temporality that have led humanity to this moment in the Anthropocene[11].   It also marks a return to the material, form and techniques visible in his past wood works of the 1930s[12]The Warrior was exhibited in the 1986 contemporary art exhibition Caribbean Expressions in Britain held at Leicestershire Museums & Art Gallery, which explored the theme of Caribbean artists working in Britain from the 1930s; in which artworks were selected by Pogus Caesar, Bill Ming and Aubrey Williams and included artists such as Simone Alexander, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Denzil Forrester and Errol Lloyd. That same year, it became part of Wallace R. Campbell’s collection. In 2000, the National Gallery of Jamaica held A Tribute to Ronald Moody, consisting of twelve of his artworks held within Jamaican collections, covering a range of his work from 1936 – to his last artwork made in 1980[13].  Moody was recognised both in Jamaica and in the UK and was awarded the Musgrove Gold Medal in 1977, Jamaica’s most prestigious cultural award. In 1980, he received the Jamaica Institute Centenary Medal and in 1981 the Minority Arts Advisory Service (M.A.A.S.) Award, London, for an outstanding contribution to sculpture.  He was known for his portraits and became a member of the Society of Portrait Sculptors from 1952 and elected on to the council in 1959.[14]

 

The new acquisition firmly positions Moody within the narratives of Modern British art and marks Pallant House Gallery’s ongoing commitment to diversifying its earlier 20th century collection.  It also affirms the growing appreciation for Moody’s importance as an artist, and secures another Moody artwork for public view, and permanent collections that include Tate, Government Art Collection, National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Wales, Cardiff[15] and The National Gallery of Jamaica[16].

 

Works cited

[1] National Gallery of Jamaica. ‘In Memoriam, Wallace Campbell, J.P., C.D. (1940 – 2020)’. National Gallery of Jamaica Blog, 7 May 2020, https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/in-memoriam-wallace-campbell-j-p-c-d-1940-2020/.

[2] Roberts, Luke. 4 Dec, 2019. Ronald Moody: Between Concrete and Wood    https://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/english/2019/12/04/ronald-moody-between-concrete-and-wood/ Accessed 29th June 2021.

[3] Romain, Gemma. ‘Ronald Moody: Archival Explorations of a Black Jamaican Artist in Interwar London’. Media Diversified, 5 Apr. 2015, https://mediadiversified.org/2015/04/05/ronald-moody-archival-explorations-of-a-black-jamaican-artist-in-interwar-london/.

[4] Moody, Cynthia. ‘Ronald Moody: A Way of Life’. Caribbean Beat Magazine, 2 Nov. 2000, https://www.caribbean-beat.com/issue-46/a-way-of-life.

[5] Harold Ernest Arundel Moody (1 November 1915 – 12 September 1986) was a British shot putter. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harold_Moody_(athlete)&oldid=987874549 Accessed 10 July 2021.

[6] Archer, Petrine.  Ronald Moody (1900-1984) | Petrine Archer [.Com]. https://petrinearcher.com/ronald-moody-1900-1984.   Accessed 5 July. 2021.

[7] Moody Jnr., Harold. Tate Archive and Public Records Catalogue. Letter from Harold Moody Jr. 18 Mar. 1966. 956/1/1, http://archive.tate.org.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqServer=tdc-calm&dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=Show.tcl&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqPos=0&dsqSearch=%28RefNo%3D%27956%2F1%2F1%2F9%27%29.

[8] Evans, Kate. ‘Swamp Sentinels: What We Can Learn from New Zealand’s Ancient Kauri Trees | Natural World | Earth Touch News’. Earth Touch News Network, 1 Mar. 2021, https://www.earthtouchnews.com/natural-world/natural-world/swamp-sentinels-what-we-can-learn-from-new-zealands-ancient-kauri-trees.

[9] Lloyd, Errol. Ronald Moody Obituary 1984

[10] Moody, Cynthia. Ronald Moody sculpture catalogue: volume 2 Iniva/Stuart Hall Library https://library.iniva.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=5852&query_desc=kw%2Cwrdl%3A%20Cynthia%20Moody

[11] The Anthropocene Epoch is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/anthropocene/ Accessed 10 July 2021.

[12] Ronald Moody Sculpture Catalogue: Volume 2. Iniva/Stuart Hall Library https://library.iniva.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=5852&query_desc=kw%2Cwrdl%3A%20Cynthia%20Moody

[13] Moody, Cynthia. A Tribute to Ronald Moody. National Gallery of Jamaica, 2000. https://library.iniva.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=15402&query_desc=kw%2Cwrdl%3A%20Cynthia%20Moody

[14] Moody, Cynthia. ‘Ronald Moody: A Way of Life’. Caribbean Beat Magazine, 2 Nov. 2000, https://www.caribbean-beat.com/issue-46/a-way-of-life.

[15] Moody, Ronald, 1900–1984 | Art UK. https://artuk.org/discover/artists/moody-ronald-19001984.  Accessed 31 Jul. 2021.

[16] Ronald Moody’s Tacet (1937), part of National Gallery of Jamaica’s permanent collection https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/in-retrospect-40-years-of-the-ngj-introduction/ronald-moody-tacet-1937-for-web/ Accessed 31 Jul. 2021