Street Art Museum Amsterdam
Cunningham starts working within the memorial mural tradition, appearing in certain Kingston neighbourhoods in the 1980’s, in which painters memorialise deceased family members, public figures, community members murdered by police, as well as celebrated pop and sports icons. Using airbrush, Cunningham stands out amongst his peers for his unique methodology and his unparalleled execution of portraits distinguished by a vivid, jumping-off-the-wall three dimensionality and seamless blending of colour.
Cunningham is now respected as one of the foremost muralists in Kingston. Since the early 2000’s, his practice has grown to include fashion design, advertising, custom car and motorcycle painting, interior painting and tattoo design. His work has become widely collected and respected both locally and internationally, bringing Cunningham to hold his first solo exhibition Anything with Nothing (2014) at the National Gallery of Jamaica and participating in events at the University of Leicester (UK) and the Sandberg Instituut (NL). More recently, he was included in Volkskunde Museum Leiden’s exhibition Most Wanted: the Popular Culture of Illegality (2019), curated by Rivke Jaffe and Martijn Oosterbaan.
Good / Legible
The portrait stands out for its good use of the black and white palette and chiaroscuro, offering an overall work close to photorealism with great attention to detail. Although realistic, the work exudes a certain expressive freedom typical of the muralist tradition which in this case enhances Cunningham's particular style.
“My main tools and techniques for working outside are an airbrush, air compressor, paints, and my technique is to draw my murals on a big brown paper then use a punch wheel stencil knife to bore holes on the paper, then tape it on the wall, board, metal, t-shirt or whatever I am working on for that day then use the airbrush to spray paint through the holes.”
Bob Marley is an unmistakable and celebrated symbol of Jamaica. When Cleaver Cunningham airbrushed an impromptu black-and-white Bob Marley on SAMA’s east exterior wall in 2018, it was the artist’s way of connecting his first work outside of Jamaica to his Jamaican heritage, while making a sentimental reference to his portrait of Bob Marley that launched his career as a street artist decades ago.