Errol Lloyd was born in Lucea, Hanover, in 1943, and was one of four brothers who were all educated at Munro College.
In his time at time at Munro, he was already an outstanding artist, and in fact got the prize for art in his final exams in sixth form, when he wisely prepared himself for his cosmopolitan life as an artist by also studying history, literature, and world affairs. He did well academically, and this came after obtaining eight passes in fifth form.
Young Lloyd also distinguished himself as quite the athlete. He made the class one finals at Champs in the 100 and 220 yards sprint double and was a star member of a gymnastics team which performed for Munro’s centennial in 1956. That team later performed for Premier Norman Manley at Denbigh in Clarendon and later for a more national audience at Sabina Park in Kingston. He is described by one old boy who remembers him as a brilliant gymnast, perhaps one who could get us Olympic medals in today’s environment.
His biggest claim to sporting fame, though, seems to be football. His artistic abilities might have one guessing that he was a midfield maestro, but he was in fact a star striker, who led the line in the team that won the DaCosta Cup in 1961. He also made the all-schools Jamaican team which played in a tournament in Haiti. A 1960’s magazine colourfully compared him to his football opponents as being like a Rolls Royce in a used car lot.
He was also involved in drama, playing the part of Malcolm in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in a production which later played at Hampton and then to a wider audience in Mandeville.
It seems he was always the cultural rebel, as he also took part in a Louise Bennett sketch, at a time when patois was still not exactly acceptable in polite Jamaican society.
He was however a responsible rebel, and his leadership qualities made him head of Coke House and then Head Prefect.
After leaving Munro he travelled to Britain in 1963 at age twenty, with the strange intention to study law at the Council of Legal Education, but never got around to completing his legal studies until 1974. This wasn’t because he wasn’t bright or because he ran out of money, but because legal studies wisely took a back seat as he indulged his true calling, an avid interest in art.
By 1967 he became one of the founding members of the Caribbean Artists Movement, and successfully participated in their art exhibition at the University of Kent with a sculpted bust of Trinidadian writer and activist CLR James.
Lloyd managed this although he had no formal training in art since Munro, and was beyond that completely self-taught. He notes that he was lucky to have met older artists like sculptor Ron Moody, who was one of his role models. Perhaps the lack of formal training is the reason he never specialized too much, and became not only a sculptor, but a painter and acclaimed book illustrator. In fact, his artistic talents seemed to know no bounds, as he also became a writer, a playwright, and a musician, in addition to being an art critic, arts administrator, and artist advocate.
While still studying his craft as a young artist, he began to receive commissions to make bronze busts, and his famous Caribbean subjects have included former Jamaican Prime Minister and National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante, Grenada-born British politician and doctor Lord David Pitt, Barbadian cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers, and Jamaican cultural icon, dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.
In addition to his paintings being featured on greeting cards, Lloyd provided artwork for books published by New Beacon Books and Bogle-L’Ouverture. In 1969, he designed the cover of Bogle-L’Ouverture’s very first title, Walter Rodney’s seminal work, The Groundings with my Brothers. He also did the very next title and several others over the years. (Interestingly, Bogle L’Ouverture was founded by Guyanese migrant Jessica Huntley, out of a desire to produce books for black people, and Huntley was in turn assisted and advised by Lloyd’s fellow Munronian and fellow inductee, renowned writer Andrew Salkey, who had migrated to Britain a decade before).
In 1971, Lloyd designed the cover of How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System, by Bernard Coard, who later came to controversial fame in Grenadian politics. It is perhaps because of Jamaicans like Lloyd and Salkey that white Britons at the time were said to have developed the habit of lumping all outstanding Caribbean persons together and collectively calling them all Jamaican, a habit which persists there and in other countries today. He also did work for other pioneering black-owned publishing houses, including Allison and Busby.
Lloyd’s wide recognition as a premier illustrator began with the 1973 children’s book My Brother Sean by Petronella Breinburg, for which he was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. In 1995 he was nominated for the Carnegie Medal for his own 1995 novel for teenagers, Many Rivers to Cross, which won the Youth Library Group award.
Lloyd is a Natural Talent.
Acclaimed art professor Eddie Chambers described him as “gifted with an ability to capture likeness in a range of creative and engaging ways,” and adds that “Lloyd has been responsible for a number of portrait commissions of leading black and Caribbean males who have excelled in their respective fields over the course of the twentieth century.”
No one has accused him of crossing the line between genius and insanity, but the range of his skills, and his inherent willingness to do something drastically creative, likens comparisons to eccentric Jamaican music producer Lee Scratch Perry. For instance, in his painting “Plotting the Course,” a painting that reflects the importance of the game of dominoes in Caribbean culture, his depiction of a group of men playing the game used real dominoes glued to the surface of the canvas, making the piece that much more dynamic and visually arresting. In contrast, some of his other work eschewed the paintbrush and relied purely on deceptively simple but poignant pencil strokes to create his striking images.
Fittingly, he is already immortalized in art, as a photographic portrait of him by Trinidadian-born British filmmaker, Horace Ove, is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Talent aside, Lloyd is also an unrepentant advocate for artists and art, but for black art and artists in particular, especially from the Caribbean. In his important pioneering role, he was one of the very few black artists on the western world stage in the 1960’s who deliberately chose to create and proudly portray black images. This was no walk in the park, and like a true product of a boys boarding school, he fearlessly and stubbornly persisted in what was a hostile climate in early post-colonial Britain, where his work stirred no small degree of displeasure among those who believed that black people should be neither seen nor heard. His very first exhibition, upon opening, was immediately closed by the white owners of the venue because it was characteristically black.
In addition to his work with the Caribbean Arts Movement, he is noted for a long association with London’s Minority Arts Advisory Service, which aimed to “promote ethnic identity and preserve cultural traditions,” and he was also editor of its Artrage magazine. In 1978 he also became part of an initiative called the Rainbow Group, which mounted several exhibitions. Between the 1970’s and up to as recently as 2015, he has participated in and staged numerous exhibitions.
Lloyd is an important figure in the world of art, in Britain, in the Caribbean, in Jamaica, and in the entire black diaspora, not just for his pioneering work as a black artist who looked out for other black artists, but also as an artist who helped to define several Caribbean and other heroes in their particular cultural contexts, and who overall helped to proudly define the black identity. Despite the continued efforts of many to perpetuate the effects of slavery and colonialism, there might not be a skin bleaching epidemic among black people anywhere if the world had been blessed with a handful of more Errol Lloyds.
Lloyd has served on the Visual Arts Panel for Arts Council England, and was a teacher for advanced painting at the Camden Arts Centre in London.
For these and many more reasons, Errol Lloyd, star athlete, artist and artist advocate extraordinaire, has been inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.