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Winston Branch

Born, 1947 in Castries, St Lucia

Born in the Caribbean in 1947, the painter Winston Branch achieved notable levels of success and exposure during the 1970s. He schooled at Slade School of Fine Art in London in the late 1960s, graduating in 1970. Several years later, he was a recipient of a prestigious DAAD Fellowship, from which came one of Branch’s most substantial catalogues. Further recognition was to come, in 1979, when the Arts Council bought one of Branch’s paintings for its collection. (i) Branch had a number of other paintings acquired for public collections, including West Indian, 1973, oil on canvas, 105 x 90.2 cm, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Art Collections; Yellow Sky, 1970, paint on canvas, 154 x 154 cm, UCL Art Museum; Ju-Ju Bird, 1976, Colour silkscreen print, V&A Collection; and Ju Ju Bird No.2, 1974, oil on canvas, 183 x 152.5 cm, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum Collection, Coventry.

Though Branch has yet to be the subject of substantial critical attention, a very useful and substantial feature on the artist appeared in the magazine BWIA Caribbean Beat, November/December 1995. In it, the writer reflected that, “after a very brief stint as a portrait painter in his early days, his work is now purely abstract. Art critic Carlos Diaz Sosa describes his paintings as “abstract canvases in cool, cloudy colours that have a quality which allow the viewer to explore the depths of the mind. Branch also uses paint like a symbol, a purely aesthetic language, an illustration of spirit.” (ii)

Branch’s paintings were often strange, and strangely compelling works, which critics sometimes struggled to describe. During the 1970s his paintings were frequently rendered in the form of a triptych. The central rectangular panels, the most painterly of the three, were invariably flanked on either side by more frugal, but no less dramatic panels. The flanking panels – similarly rectangular but slightly narrower in width often contained seemingly abstract marks, determinedly made, against an imposing background of black that worked well, in its endeavours to counterbalance the central panels of these triptych paintings. These black backgrounds effectively create an impression of organic, natural forms – plant life and such – dramatically depicted against the night sky. In 1978, Branch was the subject of a feature in Black Art an international quarterlyy. (iii) A work of Branch’s adorned the cover of the magazine, in addition to which two page-wide reproductions of Branch’s paintings were included in the appreciation. Several substantial photographs of the artist at work in his studio also embellished the text. The writer, David Simolke, offered the view that, “A momentary glance gives a viewer the feeling that little compositional variation exists in Winston Branch’s series of monumental works. Each painting is dominated by tripart modular units.” (iv)

Branch’s DAAD exhibition catalogue of 1977 contained valuable notes about the biography of this enigmatic artist.

“Winston Branch is at a very important stage in his work and his life as an artist, as he is now at the age of thirty, so we have to look at how he has arrived. Winston Branch comes from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. For him it is a very emotional situation as it is thirty years since Wilfredo (sic) Lam, another artist from the Caribbean who made an impact in the European art scene. Unlike Wilfredo (sic) Lam, he comes from the British section of the Caribbean and the centre for his total development was the United Kingdom. He arrived in the late fifties, where at this time the environment was taken over by “rock and roll” and the beginning of a new British art since the war, which was later to envelope him. Winston Branch was to meet a very distinguished British artist, Robert Medley, who saw his work and advised him to go to the Slade School of Fine Art University College London where he would meet and have first-hand information from the makers of British culture.” (v)

Whilst Branch is frequently associated with non-figurative painting, his work, West Indian, stands s a marked exception. Against a background that was perhaps reminiscent of elements of colour field painting, Branch had painted a portrait of a Caribbean man, casually dressed, wearing a distinctive pink coloured bobble hat on his head. The gentleman in question seemed very much at home amongst the assortment of colours and shapes and it appeared, within the painting, as though he were leaving one room, the walls of which were colourfully decorated, and entering another, even more flamboyantly decorated space. The bobble atop of the West Indian’s hat appeared to be centred by the lintel under which he was emerging. Though the figure was in some respects frugally presented, being rendered in Branch’s own painterly manner, here was nonetheless, an enormous sense of persona about the character, and his workaday, yet stylish appearance casually but absolutely, evoked the spirit, dress sense, visual culture and sensibilities of the early 1970s.

Like a number of Black British artists, such as Frank Bowling and F N Souza, Branch made his home in the US, a country perhaps more receptive to what artists such as these had to offer. Early in his post-college career, in 1973, he undertook a residency at the famous, historically Black centre of learning that is Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Out of that came an exhibition titled The Recent Paintings of Winston Branch, shown at the university’s Carl Van Vechten Gallery, October 14 - November 9, 1973. The exhibition was the culmination of a residency by Branch.

From the Foreword to the catalogue The Recent Paintings of Winston Branch, written by David C. Driskell, Chairman, Department of Art:

“Winston Branch went to London from his native St. Lucia to live 14 years ago. Since that time he has pursued major courses of study in the fine arts at institutions such as the Slade School of Fine Arts, University College, London and the British Academy in Rome, where he was the recipient of the Prix de Rome, distinguishing himself as one of Great Britain’s most promising young painters…. That he has been able to forge ahead as a black painter whose artistic merit in the European cultural community is now becoming internationally known speaks loudly of his dedication to the craft of painting and the talent which he has demonstrated in his work.”

(i) First Light ‘For Polly’, 1979, Acrylic on canvas, 87.5 x 364 cm

(ii) Caroline Popovic, The Precarious Life of Art, ART BEAT, 78-83, BWIA Caribbean Beat, No. 16, November/December 1995, page 83.

(iii) David Simolke, Winston Branch: A Study in Contrast, Black Art an international quarterly, Volume 2 Number 2 Winter, 1978: 4 - 8

(iv) David Simolke, Winston Branch: A Study in Contrast, Black Art an international quarterly, Volume 2 Number 2 Winter, 1978: 5

(v) Jules Walter Esq, Introduction, Winston Branch: Bilder 1976/77, DAAD, exhibition catalogue (unpaginated)

His website is www.winstonbranch.com

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Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1977

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Book relating to a publication, 2013

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Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

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Article relating to an individual, 1995

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Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1977

Related exhibitions

Related venues + view all 6

»  The Bronx Museum of the Arts

United States of America

»  Caribbean Cultural Center

United States of America

»  Carl Van Vechten Gallery, Fisk University

Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America

»  Hochschule der Künste (Berlin)

Berlin, Germany

»  Studio Museum in Harlem

New York, United States of America