I first met Michael about a year and a half ago and was immediately drawn to his personality and vision. His passion for promoting, uplifting, and sharing the unrivaled depth and beauty of Jamaica and its culture was something we both had and have very much in common, not just as an affinity, but as a way of being. As our talks continued, we touched on everything from the shifting tides of reggae and dancehall, to the rebuilding of Tivoli Gardens, to the simmer and stride of Kingston that we both agree is a gold mine of music and culture and not the ghetto war zone that is oftentimes portrayed in the media.
Michael Thompson was an undisputedly gifted artist, and as you got to know him, you began to realize that he was committed to a higher cause, namely to turning his home city of Kingston into a global cultural beacon. The catalyst and centerpiece of this movement is reggae. And the manifestation of his calling was a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum.
Michael started the International Reggae Poster competition in 2012, with partner Maria (Papaefstathiou) who is an acclaimed graphic designer in her own right and a native of Athens, Greece. They began it as a platform to raise awareness and momentum around the Museum initiative, and during that inaugural year, Michael and Maria received 1,142 poster entries from 80 countries around the world.
What you need to know about Michael’s mission is that there are deep layers behind it. It’s a vision that involves the originators and the instigators, the heavyweights and the future pioneers. His crew of bonafides such as Patricia Chin, the reigning queen of VP Records, and “Rockers” cameraman and director Ted Bafaloukos have been on the frontlines of reggae since the ’60s and ’70s, while Michael has been creating his incredible poster designs for over four decades. When you link that level of distinction and legacy with the Alpha Boys School, an institution founded as early as 1880 that has produced some of the most notable legends in the history of reggae – which Michael designed the logo for – that is in many ways a true cradle of reggae, it’s basically a shut down.
And so if we look from the cradle to the cameraman to the unparalleled legacy and living history of Miss Pat and VP Records, the completion of this trinity is Michael and his work, the call to arms. Michael was a self-described graphic designer and creative activist who attended the School of Jamaican Art, now called the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. He worked his way through the ranks as a designer before landing a job at Jamaica’s Daily News. Michael began creating posters in the late 70s and has since developed a visual language that goes beyond graphic design and elicits a broader commentary on the universal human condition. Michael’s activist posters for the Arab Spring, Haiti Relief, Tivoli Insurgence and Clean Water Crisis in Africa are a clear call to consciousness and mobilization. When he described himself as an artist without borders, it rung entirely true.
We are deeply saddened by his loss and salute Michael as an artist, a visionary, and a cool ruler who has already left his footprint on the globe. Now it’s time to help him increase Jamaica’s imprint on the world stage.
From Anicée Gaddis