Portland artists hope to rise from the ashes | Arts & Hobbies

A spark is enough, they say, to ignite his imagination. The analogy of lighting a spark is true for everyone, especially those in the creative field who need that inspiration to produce work.

Unfortunately, a spark is also what it took to bring the Portland Art Gallery – located in Port Antonio in the old train station building – to the ground and turn it to ashes.

“It really was a sad day,” said Mark Bell, one of the artists who are part of the Portland Art Gallery. “What was even sadder is that we couldn’t salvage anything because the fire was burning.”

Bell was one of the first people to reach the scene, but could do nothing but watch the flames destroy the station building and its gallery.

It’s a devastating loss for all the artists – eight who created there every day, eight others whose works were for sale at the gallery and four interns who were learning the nuances of fine art. For these Portland artists, the gallery not only provided a space to create and a source of collective sustenance, but it was also a place they could call home.

“This [Portland Art Gallery] is a collective effort by artists to serve our community, create quality works of art, develop the talent of young artists, help school children with projects and train future artists to earn a living, said Bell.

Artists in residence include Mark Bell, Hopeton Cargill, Zack Ireland, Scion Darby, Clive Passley, O’Neil Lewis, Cornel Skirvin and Winston Hill.

Cargill laid the foundation for the gallery in 2014, other artists joined, and they never looked back.

“Over the years, we’ve integrated into the wider community,” Bell said.

The Portland Art Gallery offers a Youth Development in the Arts Internship Program. Artists also often help students with their art projects, Bell said, with College of Agriculture, Science and Education students getting help.

“We also helped high school students who wanted to go to Edna [Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts] and train them.


Almost all of their student services were offered free or at minimal cost.

“We give freely because we have been freely given,” Bell said.

The Portland Art Gallery’s core group of artists – Hopeton Cargill, Mark Bell and Zack Ireland – have distinctive styles that they bring to the table. Bell uses acrylic on canvas as a medium to reflect the simplicity of life in rural Jamaica – from breadfruit roasting to hurricane lanterns, he has captured them all. Cargill primarily paints landscapes and seascapes, using oil on canvas as a medium. Ireland is a graphic artist.

Collectively, these Portland artists have left their mark not only on their parish, but on the entire island. They were instrumental in creating murals in Portland, Kingston, Montego Bay and other key locations. The West Palm Avenue mural in Portland, which is across from their gallery, was painted in 2020 by their artists. It’s a compendium of the whole parish of Portland – showcasing natural beauty, food, history and culture.

Bell said the gallery space was also one of the catalysts that kept Portland Station historic, alive and relevant.


The physical structure could have been reduced to ashes in the fire, but that did not dampen the spirit and the hope of the artists.

Speaking of hope and divine messages, a painting Bell made last year, “Big Catch,” has been rescued from the ashes.

“It’s a miracle the paint is intact,” Bell said. “The whole wall where the painting was on burned down and this painting was pulled out of the ashes.”

Largely unscathed, the front is faded, but on the back of the canvas is a mirror image of the painting. A work of god indeed – showing that in every setback there is hope.

“We [the artists] support each other and hold their heads up high,” Bell said. “Nothing stops here, it was an unfortunate accident, but we have to be together, keep the strength and the faith.

“The life of the gallery is in our hands and in our brushes,” he said.

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Twitter: @amitabhs

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Art supplies – canvas, oil paint, acrylic paint, brushes, vinyl cutter and a laptop

Two 40ft shipping containers


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Corina C. Butler