Category Archives: Haitian Art

“Tribute to a Great Artist”

By Candice Russell

My dear friend, Dr. Carlos Jara, was a psychiatrist from Chile, a diplomat for the Organization of American States, and a Haitian art dealer with a superb understanding of art and artists. While we had spoken numerous times of writing a book together, this enterprise never materialized. Since it was hard to pin down the busy Carlos, my suggestion was a voice-activated tape recorder on his part — I offered to transcribe his words. But Carlos was taken from us too soon on May 9, 1999 and the world for his family and many friends was changed forever.

That is why I treasure all the more a brochure with color images of his paintings and one including the artist at his easel is all the more precious to me because Carlos wrote it about his favorite artist — “Les Visions Magiques de La Fortune Felix” (1987) in French, Spanish and English. To prove this statement, he once showed me the house he had rented in Petionville just to house the hundreds of La Fortune Felix paintings he had. The artist also built a bridge between Carlos and me because his painting “Ceremony,” pictured in Selden Rodman’s book “Where Art is Joy” and my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” was the first Haitian painting I ever bought, with my being innocent of the knowledge about his fame in the pantheon of 20th century Haitian artists.

 

Carlos, who had personal friendships with many artists, put Felix above the others. He states why in the brochure: “The paintings of Felix show no concern with formal beauty: his lines are strong and his brush strokes vigorous; the pictorial message is expressed directly, with all its elemens presented  simply and naturally integrated in a final dynamic harmony.”

 

He goes on to write: “Various parallels have been established between Hector Hyppolite (1894 -1948) and La Fortune Felix. both come from the Artibonite Valley, both were houngans. both were discovered as artists at a mature age, and they share a definite tendency toward mystical themes in their paintings. Moreover, the works of Hyppolite and Felix have traits which could be called  expressionists. Finally, there is the audacity and the assurance which show through in the conception and execution of their creations. There is one respect, nevertheless, in which Felix excels the great figure of Haitian painting and that is the mastery of the use of color.”

It was probably the Gauguinesque palette of Felix’s “Ceremony” that attracted me to buy it, as much as the intriguing and unexplainable Vodou drama it depicts.  Funny thing is, in all the years since, even in Carlos’ massive collection, I never saw Felix do another painting even remotely similiar to it.

And that’s because of one special trait noticed by Carlos, his strongest supporter and exclusive dealer — the artist never repeats an image. Oh, he may use the same characters like mambos and houngans and spirits, but he always varies the locations and scenarios so that each painting is a welcome surprise. this truly cannot be said of many Haitian artists, who hit upon a popular theme and rework it ad infinitum because they know it sells. Why is this? Carlos writes of the artist : “Since he has also maintained his distance from commercialism and the inevitable repetitions resulting from gallery commissions, one can predict an even more brilliant future.”

 

“A Request of the Haitian President”

By Candice Russell

Just as I made a plea to Haitian President Michel Martelly on behalf of the earthquake-demolished Le Centre d’Art, I am making another request that I hope he can fulfill — if not through his own government, through the help of non-governmental agencies, even foreign ones with French and Kreyol-speaking volunteers, to get the job done.

I make this request in light of the fact that Martelly is himself a musician and therefore more in touch with the value of artistic expression than his predecessors and successors in office. Knowing that your country is subject to cataclysmic weather events, from earthquakes to floods, here is my suggestion:  please formulate an encyclopedic list of ALL the artists — visual artists, musicians, poets, dancers, singers — in Haiti. Concentrate on one city or region at a time. Gather information that is biographical about birthdates and addresses/contact information currently of domiciles, studios, and places of performance, and information about contacts like friends and relatives.

Why am I making this request? In part, it’s a remarkable record of Haiti’s cultural heritage at the moment. In part, it’s a means of knowing or trying to know who is still alive after a major  weather disaster. At this point, there is still no official record of which visual artists died during the earthquake, nearly five years after the event. And then there is the aspect of cultural tourism, which is partly why the airport in Cap-Haitien was recently opened, in the hope of bringing foreigners to the city to visit the famed Citadelle fortess.

Imagine if there were such a directory of artists. Tour organizers in Haiti and outside could craft group trips of interested people who wanted to visit the studios of ten artists in less than a week and buy their art directly from them, as well as from galleries. What a boon that would be to the tourist industry, especially if travel writers spread the word about their positive experiences on such a tour in the American media — most major newspapers still have Sunday Travel sections where such stories could appear with splashy photographs.

This is something unique and different that Martelly could do, instead of just focusing on the political. Focus on the larger picture and your legacy in the future to help the Haitian people as they live. Haitian art in Haiti needs a boost. Once the infrastructure of roads is improved and criminal activity is lessened, Haiti-focused people may be more likely to want to visit with a purpose in mind — seeing and buying art. That activity of artistic creation continues; the earthquake didn’t stop it, though many, many lives were lost.

 

Martelly could even put out a call for people to come to Haiti to help him in doing the interviews and visiting the artists. Where are they? All over. My friend Jean (last name unknown) could always be found on downtown streets. We would pick him up in a car and he knew the directions to every artist’s house (though he didn’t own a car or drive) and all the artistic activities going on in the capital. How he knew these things, I don’t know. My point is – this information is out there and easily available.  It just needs to be harnessed, organized and compiled for the benefit of Haiti and the world.

“Time for New Collectors of Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

It is a great time to begin collecting Haitian art. Without ever having to leave your house, you can begin buying substantial pieces of Haitian art via legitimate web sites like my own, www.haitianna.com, and several others. Another way to dip into the market is to get the twice-yearly free, full-color catalogs from Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia, near Atlanta. There is usually a small, select group of Haitian pieces in every auction. The auctions occur every spring and every fall and you can pre-bid, bid online or by telephone during the event, or attend the auction in person to bid in the room.

I admit to buying some wonderful works of Haitian art this way. In fact, I couldn’t resist last weekend’s auction. I had my eye on several wonderful paintings by the under-sung artist Montas Antoine. Only a couple were in outstanding condition, however, so I saved my bids for them. But, as all old auction hands will advise, once the bids went over my budget, I opted out of the process and let others compete for the paintings.

There were two very interesting sculptures from recycled metal oil drums by Murat rierre and Gabriel Bien-aime. True to my old tendencies, I wound up as the successful bidder on number 964, a Vodou flag called “Heart Face with Matching Snakes” by an unknown artist. My winning bid was $150, but with a buyer’s premium and shipping costs, the total is $222. The estimate in the catalog was $300 to $500 so I feel lucky I wasn’t outbid. The previous flag in thet auction, “Pink Heart with Snakes,” with water stain and some loss of embellishment, went for $350. Before that, “Queen of Hearts,” another Vodou flag, brought $400.

Other notable bids — $700 for an unsigned Pierrot Barra doll constructiono called “Cabbage Patch Cross.” I really wanted the 12 molded clay face busts by Louisiane Saint Fleurant, which you never see for sale anywhere — and certainly not in such a large grouping. But with bidding that began at $650 and skyrocketed to $1,800, I was shortly out of the runniing. Congratulations to the dealer or collector who got a real treasure and a bargain. I’d say they are worth, conservatively  more than $3,600.

The Saint Soleil-ish “Four Sisters,” a 28-inch by 28-inch painting by Roland St. Hubert, brought a winning bid of a modest $350.  Two nice works by Wilson Bigaud were in the first day’s auction.

Personally, I loved Gabriel Leveque’s pretty-pretty painting “Angels in the Flowers” from the 1960s that went for a very low $400.

Peruse the auction results online, read Haitian art books, look at web sites and get in on the action at the next auction in April. Set your price and try to stick to it. And if you go a little over, you will have piece you truly love and admire, along with a story about how it wound up in your possession.

Haitian art is addictive. You may start out only with paintings, then move slowly into the tactile favors of Vodou flags and the magnificence of sculptures in wood, papier-mache and various mixed media. Haitian art is an adventure, so jump in.

 

 

“A Story on Haitian Art”

In this month’s, November issue, of Fort Lauderdale Magazine, devoted to ethnic subject, I have a two page, copiously illustrated storyon Haitian art titled “Romancing the Art: One women’s ongoing fascination with Haitian paintings.” Edited by Tom Swick and laid out by graphic designer Greg Carranante, who used images supplied by Schiffer Books from my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” including two paintings by Anold Etienne and gelin Buteau, and a Vodou flag by Clotaire Bazile, along with the cover of teh book with a painting by Andre Normil. This is what I wrote:

 

“Call it a seduction by color, an infatuation with form. How else to explain my decades-long love affair with Haitian art?

“It began in 1983 when I went to a restaurant in Washington,  D.C.  that was decorated with paintings of people working in fields, sailing on serene seas, riding imaginatively painted buses. all the colorful artwork, the owner told me, was from Haiti.

 

“Back home in South Florida, I found a gallery in Coconut Grove that sold Haitian art. I became transfixed by paintings of green-skinned men by La fortune Felix.

“After a period of several months, I bought one — “Ceremony,” an irresistibly mysterious two-foot by two-foot depiction of a ritual Vdou drama. It cost $300. I couldnn’t get to the bottom of the painting’s exocit narrative or walk away from its soothing palette reminiscent of Gauguin.

“Years later, I was offered $10,000 for the painting by another collector. For more than sentimental reasons, I still own it.

 

“In 1984, I traveled to New Jersey to visit Selden rodman, the world’s leading authority on Haitian art, as his homethat doubled as a gallery. I returned to south florida with paintings by La Fortune Felix and Gerard Fortune.

“Finally, l went to Haiti, a few months before the coup that toppled Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalie and ended a generational dictatorship of almost three decades. In Port-au-Prince, every cab driver knew where all the major artists lived and gladly took me to see them.

“Imagine a foreigner coming to New York and, on request, being taken by cabbies to the studios of major American artists. It would never happen. But in Haiti, the weird, wonderful and unexpected are commonplace.

“A chance meeting at my Port-au-Prince hotel with an American, Virgil Young, led to a visit to the home of an art broker who pulled a suitcase out from under his bed and opened it to reveal gorgeously festooned squares of cloth.

“Hand-sewn with sequins and beads, these Vodou flags are used to summon the spirits during Vodou ceremonies.

“My cab driver called Montas Antoine, who met us on the street with several just-finished paintings. Antoine was famous for lush scenes of rural life in primary colors. I bought the largest one and, later, kicked myself for not buying the other two. At the time, i didin’t know how much antoine paintings commanded in he U.s., or how lionized the artist was in books and museum shows.

“Gradually, I learned about the stylistic divisions in Haitian art. The Cap-Haitien school is made up of artists from the north whose work is characterized by scenes from Haitian history as well as contemporary daily life. In their paintings, you’ll often see people walking past coloinial-era building in ice ceam colors. Philome Obin was the original Cap-Haitien artist; generations of his family have followed in his steps, joined by artists like Jean Baptiste Jean.

“Haitian art devoted to jungle animals and fantasy landscapes has enormous universal appeal. Perhaps tapping into African racial memory, artists like Racine Milhomme create canvases populated with giraffes, lions, tigers, elephants and other animals never seen on the island of Hispaniola. Mario Montilus, Juoel Lucien and Serge Labbe are known for thie fantasy landscapes — exquisitely precise, dream-like visions of an idealized Haiti.

“Other artists gained their reputations by focusing on Vodou. Chief among them is houngan/Vodou priest Hector Hyppolite, discovered in the 1940s, whose simplistic renderings without perspective attracted foreign collectors during his meteoric career. The late Andre Pierre and La Fortune Felix painted Vodou spirits, ceremonies and ritual preparations exclusively.

 

“The Saint Soleil group workedout of a ocmpound in Soisons-laMontagne, high in the mist mountains above Port-au-Prince. Making up its core group are Prospere Pierre Louis, Lveoy Exil, Dieuseul Paul, Louisiane Saint Fleurant and Denis Smith. this Vodou-based philosophy has certain tenets, such as woman as the source of creation and the myseriousness of life’s beginnings.

“When roman published his book “Where Art is Joy: Haitin Art: the First Forty Years in 1988, he asked if I knew of any museum that might be interested in putting on an exhibition of the artwork in its pages. I suggested the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, and eventually co-curated the show.

“Then Last year My own book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art” was published.

“It is an homage to the art I have loved for so log and to the country that produces it. No other country in the Caribbean — in fact, few countries in the world — can compete with Haiti and its rich visual heritage.”

“Wonderful Fantasy Landscapes”

By Candice Russell

If I could be a global agent of change to spread the word about Haitian art and only had one genre of painting for this purpose, I would pick fantasy landscapes, those idealized visions of a perfect Haiti with billowing clouds, placid seas, harmonious colors, and a profusion of nature’s bounty that is ridiculously abundant and beautiful. Is there a culture on earth that wouldn’t respond positively to such paintings? I cannot imagine one.

I write this in full view of a painting called “Three Women on Path” by the underrated Serge Labbe. Measuring 12 inches high by 16 inches wide,this acrylic painting on canvas on a wood stretcher has all the charcteristics of a wonderful fantasy landscape, including an orderly vision of nature, plus impossibly oversized orange flowers with bright pink interiors. The hills are green and blossoming. Sailboats are in the sea. All is calm and peaceful. A story could be written about the female field workers on the path who will enjoy their day in the sun.

The rain forests, wading birds and waterfalls painted by J.R. Bresil made him enormously attractive to Japanese collectors who came to Haiti in the early 1990s. And this kind of visual ambassadorship can be passed on to the works of Labbe, his peers and followers.

 

People who think they know about Haitian art are inevitably surprised by the wide range of artistic expression coming from the country. The universality of fanasy landscape paintings can excite people from other countries and continents to also appreciate Haitian art.

 

I encourage other art collectors and academics to become unofficial missionaries for the cause of Haitian art. Soon it will be the fifth anniversary of the terrible January 12, 2010 earthquake. While much has been done to rebuild, there is much left to be done. The Toussaint Louverture Foundation is doing its best to rebuild the Haitian Art Museum in Haiti. But why not cast a wide net to art lovers living far and wide away from Haiti, who may not know much about the country’s incredible artistic output and legacy, a lot of which this natural disaster destroyed?

 

Hang Haitian art in your office, not just your home. Get people talking about it. Give Haitian art as a gift, rather than a bottle of wine or flowers that will die in two days. Explain how resourceful Haitian people are, working with discards and repurposing metal oil drums by hand-carving them into works of sculptural art. They use what they have.

People are also incredibly impressed by the beauty and workmanship of Haitian Vodou flags, and that’s before they know the whole story behind their ceremonial function.  These are richly historical sacred textiles with aesthetic roots in Africa.  Maybe interest the curator at your local college’s gallery to do a show on Haitian art. We all have a part to play in diseminating the wonders of it to others. So start November with a bang and get involved. Make a difference to the wonderful artists of this country. It’s a way of giving back without going to Haiti and building houses or just sending a check.

 

 

“Invitation to Other Collectors of Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

 

This week I received a go-ahead for a major Haitian art project. I am inviting others to be join me in this endeavor. If you are reading this blog, you love Haiti and Haitian art and perhaps have a collection of it. If you would like to know more about it, please send me a message on my Facebook page — Candice Russell’s Haitin art — and leave me your name, phone number, and/or email address so I can make contact.

 

I am interested in the art of Vodou — whether it take the form of a painting, a sacred textile, a wood sculpture or a mixed-media constuction of the sort done by Pierrot Barra.  Certain painters exclusively mined the rich field of Vodou ceremonial preparation and enactment, like Hector Hyppolite, Andre Pierre and La Fortune Felix. Certainly there are other lesser known artists portraying Vodou spirits doing their jobs. I’m interested in these expressions, too.Hyppolite, for example, started the pictorial trend of portraying Vodou’s most fearsome myth — the legend of the zombi, with other artists in subsequent generations putting their own spin on the subject.

 

Photos of Vodou ceremonies in Haiti are also welcome.

Please get the word out. I’m trying to cast a large net and get started early. I hope for a wonderful response.

Thank you in advance for your interest.

“The Superb Paintings of Jean Baptiste Jean”

By Candice Russell

The opening last weekend of an airport in Cap-Haitien, Haiti — construction that was decades in the making — is a reminder of the wonderful artists in the unofficial Cap-Haitien school of Haitian art. Sparked by Philome Obin and his relatives, this school has painters who work under the same principles — representing history and daily life in straightforward fashion, uncluttered and orderly scenes (unlike the teeming crowds found in works by Port-au-Prince painters), and inclusion of colonial architecture like  tall-shuttered buildings with balconies in ice cream colors.

Jean Baptiste Jean is one of the most remarkable artists who ever lived. As part of the Cap-Haitien school, he created a body of work that falls into two distinct categories — the spiritual and the real. In the former category, he was fond of populating 20-inch by 24-inch canvases with tiny angels, the hands of God, oversized doves symbolizing peace, and even pitchfork-toting devils. He even made a political painting with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, as the focal point, but within a spiritual context.

During recent lectures I’ve done in Broward County, Florida, through the generous auspices of the Life Long Learning Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, I include two paintings by Jean as part of the visual portion of my talk. “School Children at Play” shows nuns at a table handing out toys to children, who are peaceably gathered in groups. They stand in front of colonial era buildings. Tiny hands are held by siblings and parents as a sign of love and protection. The painting is a perfect evocation of life in the town.

The other painting, “The Flood,” is unusual in several respects. It marks a distinct departure from the oeuvre of Jean Baptiste Jean. It is also rare to see tragedy portrayed in this form because the vast majority of Haitian art is about joy, getting on with the job, working hard and triumphing over circumstance. But here it is — people clinging to the roofs of flooded homes in fear of losing their lives and children climbing trees for the same reason. Even the trees in the background are stripped of all their leaves in this scene of terrible devastation.

Both paintings are pictured in my book, “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” along with others by Jean. He remains one of the best artists Haiti ever produced, though he is far less lionized than most artists of the first and second generations. I cannot account for this.

In my view, Jean had a delicacy of hand perhaps unparalleled among his peers. How else could he populate his paintings with dozens of tiny angels? His sense of color — the dreaminess and subtlety of his blue tones in the sky, for instance — is worthy of admiration and contemplation. He also could create clouds that look divinely inspired in their puffy perfection.

But just think of the range Jean Baptiste Jean had, moving easily from the realm of Christian-influenced angels to the dailiness of life, like a bicycle race through the streets of Cap-Haitien. If you want to know how distinctive and special he was and is, he has no imitators, no one with the talent and patience to copy his style or even take that style to another level.

There was only one Jean Baptiste Jean in Haitian art. If you have a painting by this artist, treasure it.

 

 

 

“Writing About Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

The interest in Haitian art in print continues to grow. Just from my experience, I see that it is widespread among editors at magazines. One example: Dory Dickson, editor of The Migrant Worker Journals in Hammonton, New Jersey wrote about my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art” in her summer, 2014 edition. It is printed in English and Kreyol.

Dickson interviewed me for the story.  Considering the audience for her publication, she quoted me as saying, “I want Haitians to be proud of their heritage. I want non-Haitians to be surprised and to wonder at the extensiveness of Haitian art, created in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, by people with very limited resources. It’s mind-boggling.”

She was also a champion to me personally by lobbying libraries in her area to carry the book, considering the Haitian population. Dickson encouraged readers of her story to do the same in their cities. So, thank you, Dory Dickson on behalf of Haitians and Haitian art.

For the November, 2014 issue of Fort Lauderdale Magazine, I wrote a 1,000-word story on my experiences in Haitian art, along with a list of resources on where to buy it online. It is exciting to be included in this beautiful publication’s ethnic issue. I also wrote about the different unofficial schools within Haitian art, including the Cap-Haitien school spawned by Philome Obin and his relatives, and the Saint Soleil school of five core artists — Prospere Pierre Louis, Levoy Exil, Dieuseul Paul, Louisiane Saint Fleurant and Denis Smith.

It is hoped that more people will become interested in the subject, as a result of reading my story. Or that it will open their eyes to the beauty and wonder of Haitian art.

That’s not all. I just finished a 1,000-word story on Haitian Vodou for the online magazine SALIENT, based in Chicago, Illinois. I believe it will be available in October. My goal in writing that story was to bring respect to the subject of Haitian Vodou, which is a world-class religion on par with Christianity and Judaism, despite not being treated as such.

I denigrated the co-opting of the term Vodou by Hollywood filmmakers, U.S. politicians, and entrepreneurs in New Orleans, who put Vodou in the names given to bars and laundromats in their fair city. Then I explained what Vodou really is — a belief system with its roots in Africa co-mingled with Roman Catholicism foisted upon slaves from West Africa by their colonial captors from France and Spain. It’s not cannibalism or werewolves or other such ridiculous misconceptions promulgated in the popular consciousness.

For AXESS magazine, published by Celebrity Cruises, I wrote 1,000 words on Haitian art for an issue that will be in the staterooms of passengers beginning in December and going forward for a year until December, 2015. This was fun to do. If you’re cruising, look for my four-page story (two pages just with imagery from my book) about the adventure of collecting and how I backed into my experiences with Haitian art.

All of this is written in the hope that readers will follow my lead and make their own paths in the collecting world of Haitian paintings, sculptures, and Vodou flags. There is so much outstanding art that continues to be created in Haiti. The artists there and in the countries where they moved crave our support.

 

“Haitian Art Takes the Stage”

By Candice Russell

For people like myself, collectors and curators of Haitian art shows, we can’t get enough of exhibitions, catalogs and books about our favorite subject. I wish there was a legitimate Haitian art museum in an American town or city that showed Haitian art non-stop, scheduled lectures about it and ancillary cultural events, like spoken word or poetry readings, Haitian dance troupes, and lectures. Well, one can dream.

With that said, I was surprised by the wealth of attention the small island country is creating throughout the U.S. and beyond this fall. The number of shows scheduled — all entirely devoted to Haitian art — is staggering and well out of proportion to what the average person would think of as Haiti’s footprint in the global art world.

I’m not going to cover them all. But if you’re in the neighborhood of any of the following places, I encourage you to visit them and support Haitian art.

Just this past week, Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, New Jersey opened “A Sense of Place: Cap-Haitien Paintings from the Collection of Jonathan Demme” in its Kresge Gallery. Artists featured include Seneque Obin and Alfred Gabriel.

The Agora Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea area is devoted to contemporary fine art. Currently, its attention is turned to Haiti in a show called “Enigmatic Realms.” The highly abstract to other-worldly figurative work of Port-au-Prince artist Shakespeare Guirand is featured. This nation’s art capital is paying attention to Haitian art.

On view now through October 27, The Thought Lot in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania is presenting “Haiti — Another Vision” featuring the work of contemporary Haitian artists like Anderson Ambroise and Vady Confident. Funds raised from the event will be donated to Partners in Health in Haiti, a non-profit community health provider and children’s art advocate. The funds will also support a workshop in Jacmel devoted to children’s art and led by Keely Kernan. For more information, telephone 717-816-5390.

The west coast of the country gets into the Haitian art act, too. “Haitian Art Exhibit” opens in the Ridley Gallery on the campus of Sierra College in Rocklin, California on September 29. It runs through October 24. For more information, call 916-660-7242 and ask for Lisa Marasso.

If you live in Europe or have a trip planned, the blockbuster Haitian art show of the season so far takes place at the Grand Palais in Paris, France from November 19 to February 15, 2015. Titled “Le Baiser d’Hyppolite ou l’art d’Haiti,” it covers an impressive swath of time — from the 19th century to today. The organizers have a mission. They say it “aims to transcend the magico-religious, exotic vision restrictively associated with Haitian art.”

What does that mean? Will the show only be devoted to Cap-Haitien artists depicting historical scenes and daily life? Will there be nothing of Vodou, the lynchpin of so much of Haitian art?

There will certainly be a color catalog produced with this French exhibition (hopefully, with a portion in English, too). One hopes that the exhibition inspires controversy, debate, and motivation on the part of others to present an opposing view (if one is necessary).

This abundance of Haitian art underscores the value of Haitian art on the global art scene. We hope it continues well into 2015 and beyond.

 

 

 

“Remember Hector Hyppolite”

By Candice Russell

Where would the mid-century Haitian art renaissance be without the discovery of Hector Hyppolite? Let us remember his unique contribution to raising up the visual culture of Haiti from the 1940s until today. The anniversary of his birth is almost upon us — September 16, 1894.

In his seminal book “Where Art is Joy: Haitian Art, the First Forty Years” (1988), Selden Rodman devotes chapter two to the circumstances surrounding the discovery of Hyppolite. American conscientious objector De Witt Peters, who would open his Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince as part of his overseas service, noticed the doors of a bar painted with birds in red and green among detailed flowers during a trip to the coastal village of Mont Rouis.

That was in 1943. It would be a year later when Peters began to investigate the anonymous painter of the doors. He found him in St. Marc and learned he was a houngan or Vodou priest. He convinced Hyppolite to join him in the capital and paint for the center. The artist established himself in a waterfront hut andn set to work, delivering sixteen paintings made with furniture enamel.

The response to this first delivery was mixed. As Rodman writes: “Peters saw that the pictures were uneven and crude, with a sameness of trees and skies, bulging eyes, and grotesque anatomies, but he was astounded by their invention.”

Famous visitors to Haiti shared Peters’ enthusiasm for the paintings of Hyppolite. None other than Andre Breton, spokesman for French Surrealism, and Cuban painter Wifredo Lam became his first collectors. Breton, in fact, bought five Hyppolite paintings at eight dollars each.

Rodman brought then-young American novelist Truman Capote to Haiti to meet Hyppolite. The writer admired the painter “because there’s nothing in it that has been slyly transposed; he is using what lives inside him: his country’s spiritual history,its sayings, and worship.”

In fact, Hyppolite was torn between the time it took to create his paintings with Vodou personages like “Agoue and His Consort” and “Ogoun on His Charger” and the practice of Vodou to which he was called. Rodman cites the conflict as perhaps the reason why the artist’s output was uneven in consistency. He struggled with the age-old 20th and 21st century conundrum of finding balance between all the demands of a busy life.

But, at a certain point, he considered himself more of an artist than a priest (and priesthood was also the calling of his father and grandfather). Even so, Rodman writes: “His technique was never wholly adequate to translate his visions into effective plastic images.”

Folklore, zombis and black magic interested him in paintings, Rodman writes. So what that they lacked execution of conventional perspective? He died in 1948, too soon to see the profound effect he would have generations of Haitian artists eager to imitate his style or to achieve the pinnacle of fame he did within his lifetime (an achievement eluding too many Haitian artists).

Of course, in the decades since Hyppolite’s passing, he has become the poster child of high prices achieved at auction. No other Haitian artist comes close, though the works of Edouard Duval Carrie are getting there. Tens of thousands of dollars have been paid for Hyppolite paintings since the 1980s. It is rare to see one at auction or to even hear of one for sale from a collector.

This week, raise a toast to Hector Hyppolite and his impact on a country and a culture always worth celebrating.

-the end-