Header image – Washer Women by Barrington Watson 1966 via Wikiart
Today’s post comes from Plain Jane
When I think of the people who have had a lasting impact on my life, most of them are folks who were, or are, a steady presence in my everyday existence.
On several occasions, however, my life was impacted in a major way by a chance meeting, a short interlude. I have written about two of them, briefly, before on this blog: Bob Dean and Barry Watson. Both Bob and Barry had a far greater influence on my life than the short time we spent together would seem to justify, and for very different reasons.
I met Barry at a small cafe in Basel my roommate, Annette, and I often visited. I don’t recall the details of why or how Barry and I started talking, but we did. By the time Annette and I left that evening, I had learned that he was a painter who had been studying a couple of years in London and Amsterdam, and that he was on his way to Madrid for a few months before returning to his native Kingston, Jamaica. As Annette and I were getting ready to leave, Barry asked if I’d be interested in meeting him the following afternoon; he wanted to visit the Basel Art Museum and show me some of his favorite works. I said why not, and agreed to meet him on a bridge close to where I lived and worked, and not far from the museum.
I had never before had a conversation with a black person, so I was both fascinated and a little aloof; I think Barry sensed it. Our first afternoon at the museum was spent looking at the remarkable Klee collection for which that museum is renowned. Barry had a high regard for Klee’s work and enthused about its merits to this complete novice. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had never before set foot in an art museum, and had not had prior exposure to modern art; I was mesmerized.
Afterward we had a bite to eat and talked for hours. When Barry walked me home that evening he asked me if I would like to see some of his paintings. Promptly on high alert, I responded “not tonight, maybe some other time.” “OK,” he said,” how about tomorrow afternoon?” And so our next rendezvous was set.
When I met Barry the following day, he greeted me with a bear hug and a huge grin. “You thought you were really clever last night when I asked if you wanted to see some of my paintings, didn’t you?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he continued, “I was really the clever one; I had the slides of my paintings in my pocket the whole time, and could have shown them to you anywhere. But I wanted to see you again, so I didn’t tell you. You thought I was trying to lure you to my room, didn’t you?” He was right, I admitted it, and we both had a good laugh. After that I relaxed. I realized that we were kindred spirits who enjoyed each others company, and that I could learn a great deal from him in the few days he had left in Basel.
Barry and I met two more times, and on both occasions spent hours at the art museum. He introduced me to Picasso, Miro, Chagall, and the museums impressive collection of works of the Holbein family.
As a parting gift, Barry sketched a portrait of me in pen and ink. He signed it: Barry. He didn’t sign his last name because he planned on becoming famous, he said. He didn’t want me to sell this keepsake, but to keep it as a reminder of the time we had spent together.
When we parted, we made no attempt to stay in touch.
Seven years later, as a freshman at SIU, I came to know several students from Kingston, Jamaica. I asked them if they had heard of a painter named Barry Watson. To my surprise, they said they had. He had become a quite prominent figure in the Jamaican art world. They told me he had become the director of the Kingston Art Museum. This was in 1968, before the internet made access to all kinds of information possible, so I had no way of verifying whether or not this information was accurate.
Fast forward to sometime last year when a blog on the Trail Baboon jogged my memory, I decided to see if I could find out what had become of Barry. I was astonished to discover that he had, indeed, become quite the celebrity in Jamaican art circles, although he had not been director of the Kingston Art Museum. I sent him a message asking whether he remembered our encounter so many years ago. He did, and must have shared our story with his family. I was saddened when on Wednesday morning I received the message that Barry had passed away the previous evening at 10 PM. He had just turned 85. The volume of his work is impressive, and the quality of his work is remarkable; check it out.
Thanks, Barry, for introducing me to art, and R.I.P. old friend.
Here’s a link to an obituary for Barrington Watson:
And one that shows some of his work:
When or how has a chance encounter impacted your life?