NELTON FISHER AND THE MYSTICS - JAMAICA TOURIST ISSUE 11
The island of Jamaica is home to an abundance of talent within the musical, performing or visual arts. The versatility and innovative talents among the local population is evident when strolling through craft markets and art galleries. Keep your eyes open, and you will meet some of the realm’s most unique characters in your very midst. Among these gifted personalities is painter and individualist Nelton Fisher.

A visual artist who today is able to make a living from his art, Fisher’s journey began in humble surroundings and led him along a rocky path which continues to be bumpy to this day. Born in Albert Town in 1965, Nelton grew up with his grandparents in the parish of Trelawny. The separation of his parents early in his young life permanently scarred the artist and even now, his eyes get watery and his voice full of emotion when he talks about his childhood.

Perhaps because Fisher never benefited from the stability of a family unit or financial security, the artist believes that the order, routine and guidance of a functional family is the most important factor in the proper upbringing of a child. However, Fisher is also convinced that the testing circumstances, in which he grew up, made him who he is today. He explains; “I was a very shy child, and I am still not at all eloquent. There is no way I could speak in front of a crowd of people.” And it is evident that Fisher is still an introvert. He marveled during our interview; “I’ve never heard myself talking so much, how come I am doing this?”

Fisher’s career started at the age of 13, when he attended the Anchovy Secondary School. There, he met the recognized Jamaican painter Errol Allen through his artistic classmate Phillip Higgins. Another self taught local artist, Allen quickly recognized Nelton’s potential. Recalls Fisher: “I was never good in math. When I got frustrated, I made ducks out of 2s and a line below it would become the water of the pond.” He adds: “I began to see things with the eye of an artist and turned calculations and formulas into scenes.”

Determined to get him painting, Allen took the young Nelton under his wing and began to nurture his talent. Thus, the boy who had to send himself to school by selling tie-dye t-shirts, was taken into the circle of artists. Remembers Fisher: “People called us ‘the mystics’ back in those days.” He explains that at that time, the average Jamaican was not very interested in art. “People did not understand why we were painting and how we looked at things in a different way.” But yet, they were recognized as the specialists in the unfathomable field of the arts, and so, they were labeled “The Mystics”.

Looking at the dreadlocked Fisher, one would quickly stamp him as a Rastafari, but even though he believes Haile Selassie to be divine, the artist is still in search of what he calls ‘reality’. Explains Fisher: “I always feel the need for prayer and was an active deacon in the ‘Church of God 7th Day’.”

The Fisher family has always produced talented musicians, including Nelton. With a grandfather who was a singer and a father who plays the bass at Burchell Baptist Church, Fisher’s three grown children have all inherited the gift of music. Says the artist; “My children are blessed with great musical talent.” Nelton’s son Sanoy, who appeared in the local talent competition ‘Rising Star’, currently works with musician Beres Hammond in Kingston while his daughter Anisia is a singer at Coral Cliff in Montego Bay. His other daughter Tashara has put music on the back burner in exchange for a steady job.

Although Nelton masters all mediums, he does not specialize in a particular one. Describes Fisher; “I started out with crayons, which I like to use very much, but acrylic paint is my favorite.” His art is full of surprises and emotion, as seen in one of his masterpieces, the self-portrait ‘I Cry’. The canvas portrays his face on a black background and exhibits so much pain that it almost hurts the beholder. Once a part-time art teacher at Maud Mcleod Secondary School, Fisher’s style can be dubbed ‘semi-abstract’. He explains; “I work from the back to the front. I start applying paint and, sooner or later, I have an epiphany as to what I am painting.”

Some of Nelton’s work was recently exhibited at the Ritz-Carlton in Montego Bay, and the modest artist’s pieces are somewhat of an insider secret among art lovers such as Michele Rollins and local families like the Delissers and Delgados. In 2003, the Chinese Ambassador and former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson were presented with some of his pieces as gifts. Nelton’s hope and aim for the future is to bring art closer to the ‘regular’ people. He says; “Art is always appreciated by the upper class who usually knows, understands, appreciates and is able to afford art. There is value in bringing art closer to the man on the street.” Continues the artist; “Art changes the way people see things, even their attitude.”

A man with a great heart, Fisher seems to look at people’s experiences from all different angles. Let us all hope that his dream of having a home with a gallery, art and music studios will soon become a reality.

Nelton Fisher’s art is available at Saba Art Gallery on Fort Street in Montego Bay (tel: 940-1011), the Gallery of West Indian Art in Catherine Hall Montego Bay (tel: 952 – 4547, galleryofwestindianart.com) and at Bohios at Fairview Shopping Centre in Montego Bay (tel: 979-8767). You can also contact Nelton Fisher directly by calling 868-6654.
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