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Judy Ann MacMillan is a Jamaican artist, best known for her finely observed portraits and landscapes of Jamaica. She was trained at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee, Scotland. She has exhibited in Jamaica and the USA and in 2012 exhibited at the Jonathan Clark Fine Art Gallery in Fulham, London. Judy Ann lives in an enchanting 18th century house on a hill in St. Ann, Jamaica with magnificent views to the sea where she runs an artist retreat. She has recently published her autobiography “Born Ya”.

1. How long have you lived at Rockfield?

I bought Rockfield in 1981 and did a great deal of my painting there. It was difficult to do anything else there in the early years as it was pretty remote and without even a telephone for the first fifteen years. But it was ideally suited for staying focussed on painting as there were very few distractions. I was spoiled by that uninterrupted solitude which allowed to build a rhythm that went from day to day. My painting thrived on it.

2. What is the history behind your house?

Rockfield is a very small plantation house on a cattle and pimento property. It was built in the 1700s and some of the foundations go back to that time but it had always been a family home. It started as a modest mountain cabin which was purchased by the Cotter family and added to over the years as their family grew. Nine children were born there. When I asked Miss Dorothy Cotter who had grown up there to give me some of the history of the place I left with a blank sheet of paper as nothing of great moment had happened there. But the weddings and family gatherings have continued during my occupation.

3. What is your favourite room in the house?

I am an early riser so I like the morning room which faces east and is mostly doors and windows on three sides to the garden.

4. Describe the view from your studio?

There is a very small room used for portraits and finishing landscapes that I call the studio. I can see the garden and the barbecues behind the house from there. Beyond the barbecues the pastures stretch back to low hills in the distance. It is possible to paint out of doors year round in Jamaica so the entire house was my studio. Unsheltered, at an elevation of sixteen hundred feet there were panoramic sea views from the front and mountain views from the back. The feeling of being on an island was enhanced by the constant breezes.

5. Were either of your parents creative?

Both parents were very creative. My mother loved the decorative arts and my father adored the entertainment business.

6. If we didn’t know what you did for a living, would it be obvious if we came to your house?

Yes. There is always an unfinished painting on the easel in the studio and a strong scent of oil paint and turpentine in the air.

7. Your favourite trees, plants in your garden?

I love my royal palms, the poinciana trees , the lilies in May, the wild vanda orchids. In the backyard moringa, ackee, and otaheite apple trees that I planted are my favourites.

8. A landscape you love?

The mountains behind Kingston are a favourite subject and of course coastal views and pastoral views in St Ann.

9. Who or what inspires you?

The paintings of the Old Masters have inspired me from youth and they still inspire me.

10. What are you painting at the moment?

have been lying fallow as I have never been very good at combining painting with other things and I have just moved into a new house that I built in Kingston. For about a year building and moving into the house has taken all my energy.

11. Your most loved possession?

The raw, undeveloped land that I have managed to buy around Rockfield gives me the most satisfaction.

12. Your house has the most beautiful veranda looking out to the garden, perfect for entertaining. Which living or dead artists would you invite to your dinner party?

I have invited Julio Larraz, the contemporary Cuban expatriate artist to a dinner party but he hasn’t come yet. I would have liked to have Lucien Freud as well but Edward Lucie- Smith would have to be there to speak to him because I would be much too awed. Although I have read that it was an intrepid soul who would try to meet his eyes across a room, which indicates that he was probably very shy as well, and Botero. I’m sure Botero would be fun.

13. And what would you serve?

Jamaica’s rural food cooked out on the barbeques

13. What should no Jamaican home be without?

An open veranda or terrace.

14. What’s the best advice you have been given?

Advice on painting water comes from Albert Huie…”you must ignore the water. Paint everything else and its refection as well as you can. Ignore the water until the very last day, then quickly add some touches of light and do not touch it again.”

Advice on writing a book comes from Edward Lucie-Smith “Write separate beads and then string the beads.”

Advice on negotiation from my father “Never close the door completely leave it open a crack so that your opponent can come back”

15. What are some of your favourite pieces from Jenny Mein Designs?

Jenny Mein Designs specialises in bone china tableware and textiles inspired by memories of the fruit and flowers in her beautiful childhood family garden in Jamaica? I especially love the Jamaican ackee design and treasure the coffee mug you gave me.

Jenny Mein in conversation with Judy Ann MacMillan
February 2021

House & Garden magazine
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