Monthly Archives: December 2006

Haitian Art Loses a Master

“Haitian Art Loses a Master” — December 17, 2006

A titan of Haitian art has passed away. Haitian-born artist and educator Jean Claude Garoute, known to the art world as “Tiga,” died on Thursday of liver cancer in a Fort Lauderdale hospice. Before his death at age 71, four days after his birthday, Tiga hosted a steady stream of visitors to his bedside, including artists like Patrick Gerald Wah who traveled from New York to see him. A televised tribute to Tiga aired on New York television last weekend and was seen by the ailing Tiga, whose mind remained sharp until the end even though his body was ravaged by disease.

Another visitor was Levoy Exil, a painter in the Saint Soleil movement, known as the avant-garde of Haitian popular art. This seminal movement was started by Tiga in 1972 with five core artists including Exil, Prospere Pierre Louis, Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Dieuseul Paul, and Denis Smith in Soisson la Montagne. Only Exil and Smith are still alive. Saint Soleil paintings are characterized by explosive color, semi-abstract figures, doves as symbols of peace, and women as the source of creation. Connected to the dominant Haitian religion of Vodou, Saint Soleil also connects to a larger sense of sacredness, according to the writing of Tiga, who based it on four key words — dream, possession, creation and madness..

In visiting from his Thomasaint, Haiti home, Exil expressed gratefulness to Tiga for giving him the freedom and education that changed his whole life and allowed him to raise fourteen children.
“My relationship with Tiga is very spiritual,” Exil said after visiting him in the hospice. “He gave me three brushes and told me to do anything I felt like doing. President (Rene) Preval has great regard for Tiga and inquired after his health. He sees him as an icon or master of Haitian art.”

Exil explains that when he spoke to Tiga, “There is such electricity in the communication. Because of his illness, his body was practically gone but his mind keeps him so strong. If not for that, he would have been gone already. Tiga says that the moon receives the soul of a person and the sun burns the body to cleanse it so it can come back to life.”

Making peace with the fact of his impending death, Tiga had no fear about it, according to Exil. He merely saw death as a transformation of his energy and a continuation of his soul in another form. Those who knew and loved him are more prone to celebrate his life rather than mourn his passing.

Carnival in Haiti next February will be dedicated to Tiga and the Saint Soleil movement. Exil and Smith are working on the floats for the parades in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, as well as their costumes. Tiga’s daughter Pascal Garoute will lead the parade. This Carnival plans to be one of the most spectacular celebrations in recent years.

Saint Soleil came along at the right time, according to Selden Rodman in the book “Where Art is Joy: The First Forty Years of Haitian Art.” The art market had become commercialized and painters felt more comfortable copying other people’s masterpieces than creating original works of their own. In 1996 Tiga wrote that Saint Soleil’s “primary purpose was the rehabilitation of art and the liberation of the human spirit through media corresponding to all senses: clay, drums, colors, voice, stone, ink, etc.”

French writer Andre Malraux became impressed with the Saint Soleil painters during a 1976 visit to Haiti and wrote in the book “L’Intemporel” about the movement as “the most striking and only controllable experiment in the magic world of painting in our century.”

Haitian art collector Reynolds Rolles of Plantation, who is also a fine art photographer, said, “Tiga could see your potential and give you the tools to develop them. He was honest, friendly and trustworthy. His best quality was his personality. Not only was he a great artist. His Saint Soleil movement put Haitian art on the map internationally and made art lovers see differently things they never saw before.”

Tiga’s art was featured in a benefit for the A.C.T.I.O.N. Foundation, a Broward-based non-profit organization promoting Creole art and culture, several years ago in the courtyard of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. Eric Boucicaut, the foundation’s president and an art collector, said, “The contribution of Tiga is immense not only at the level of visual art but at the level of culture. He had a theory of artistic rotation which entailed the use of many different media almost simultaneously. It worked with adults as well as young children and the mentally challenged who were his students.

“Tiga was a singer, philosopher, poet, researcher and fantastic sculptor as well as the creator of Saint Soleil, one of the most important movements in Haitian art. This is a major loss for Haiti. ”

Susan Karten, an American clothing designer and resident of Boca Raton, studied art with Tiga years ago when she lived in Haiti. She and her late husband Morton Karten had a business there (she still does) and lived in Haiti for thirty years. “He was very intense in a quiet way,” she says. “Tiga’s intensity made me create. He only let us use three colors — red, yellow and blue — because he said from those you can make anything.”

The only local museum show in the tri-county South Florida area devoted exclusively to the Saint Soleil artists was held at the Center of Contemporary Art (now the Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Miami, Florida in the early 1990s. Exil and Saint Fleurant came from Haiti for the show’s opening, then jointly created a mural commemorating this special event in an all-day event. Artist Philippe Dodard also participated in the painting. It was at this mural-painting that I purchased works on paper in black-and-white by both Saint Fleurant and Prospere Pierre Louis, along with a notebook of oversized pen-and-ink drawings by Exil.

Funeral arrangements for Tiga are pending in Haiti. He told Exil that he wanted to be cremated, to return to the fire.

— Candice Russell


Last Weekend of Phenomenal Haitian Art Sale

“Last Weekend of Phenomenal Haitian Art Sale”

This is the last weekend of my annual 2006 Haitian Art Sale at my home in Plantation, which is located in western Broward County. Both Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. is the time to come and enjoy fantastic craft items ridiculously low-priced, including a painted metal palm tree leaf plate (perfect for croissants or mangos), a smiling sun face that would look great on a kitchen wall, and a snazzy lizard to perk up a child’s room.

Master painters abound in this show including Prospere Pierre Louis, Andre Pierre, Pierre Joseph Valcin, Stivenson Magloire, Etienne Chavannes, Gelin Buteau, Levoy Exil, Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Amerlin Delinois, Gerard Valcin, Georges Liautaud, and many more. Gorgeous Vodou flags including works by geniuses and pioneers of the medium like Clotaire Bazile, creating medium-size treasures priced at less than $350, and the always-creative Georges Valris, who made a Marassa of arms-linked females that is to die for, are also part of this year’s mix. It’s quite a show!

Guests this year have included author-scholar Paula Harper, who is a University of Miami art professor, gallery owner Berenice Steinbaum of the Berenice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami’s Design District, artists Leigh Walker and Nancy Edelstein, photographer Reynolds Rolles and his wife Margareth, and George Bolge, executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art and his wife Marguerite, among many others. Some of the wonderful Haitian art items that were purchased this year include a museum-quality Vodou flag of a mermaid by Mireille Delice, the cousin of Myrlande Constant, miniature painted metal horses (all gone by second weekend), hand-painted tiles with Vodou symbolism, a mixed-media sculpture of an angel by Lionel Saint Eloi, and a fantastic painting by Phelix Brochette, whose style is like Colombian artist Fernando Botero in that he paints people of extra poundage.

Who knows who will come and what will be sold this weekend? If you’re in the South Florida region, please stop by and have a glass of champagne as you enjoy the sale in a comfortable home setting.

–Candice Russell


Haitian Art Thriving in South Florida

December 4, 2006

“Haitian Art Thriving in South Florida”

By Candice Russell

Last weekend was weekend number two of a four-weekend Haitian art extravaganza, a show and sale at my home in western Broward County. And what a spectacular weekend it was.

The 2006 Holiday sale of wonderful paintings includes work by the Saint Soleil masters like Prospere Pierre Louis and Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Etienne Chavannes, Wagler Vital, landscape genius Bresil, Pierre-Joseph Valcin, the late great Stivenson Magloire, and many other artists of renown. Vodou flag luminaries including Clotaire Bazile and Georges Valris are also represented with glittering examples of their exquisite workmanship and stunning designs. This year brought new items from Haiti, courtesy of my dear friend Lange Rosner, who finds art for me and sends it to me. Superb examples in unpainted metal include delicate little trees with birds perched in the branches — something I had never seen before. From small gift purchases like sequined and beaded eyeglass cases emblazoned with cheery hearts or fish to large paintings dramatically perfect for a living room wall, this year’s treasures are truly wonderful as local collectors discover.

Quite unexpectedly, one of my favorite artists came to town last weekend and visited my home during the Haitian art sale. Courtesy of a neighbor and friend, Haitian-born photographer Reynolds Rolles, the Saint Soleil painter Levoy Exil was my guest. The occasion for his being in South Florida, rather than in his home in Thomasaint, Haiti near Kenscoff or in New York where he also lives, was a sad one. Tiga, also known as Jean-Claude Garoute, is the founder of the Saint Soleil movement several decades ago and he is ill in a Fort Lauderdale hospice. Levoy Exil came to see Tiga and bask in his wisdom and the intensity that always characterizes their communication.

Exil brought a handful of very strong paintings that he had completed within the last several years. I purchased one for myself, a vivid canvas of a single figure — a winged angel — surrounded by the angularity of straight lines. These marvelous stripes are an ideal means of surrounding the angel. And the colors are heavenly — orange, yellow, pink, always outlined in Exil’s traditional black lines.

The artist also brought good news. For the first time that any of my Haitian friends can remember, the Carnival in Haiti next February will be themed. In honor of Tiga and the Saint Soleil movement of avant-garde contemporary painters, the Carnival is dedicated to both the man and the movement that elevated the status of Haitian art in the global art world. Exil is returning to Haiti on Tuesday to work on floats for the Carnival parade with several relatives. The only remaining Saint Soleil painter from the original core group — Denis Smith — is travelling back to Haiti from his current home in New York in order to also participate in the Carnival celebration. It’s enough to make reluctant tourists return to the beleaguered country in order to witness this extraordinary event. Unfortunately, three other originals in the Saint Soleil group have passed away, including Prospere Pierre Louis, Louisiane Saint Fleurant (who was the mother of Stivenson Magloire) and, most recently, Dieuseul Paul who died last summer.

Haitian art lovers are encouraged to contact me at for more information about my current show or to receive a free photo packet from me via the U.S. post office, tailored to your specifications. Catching on with more and more people, Haitian art is the wave of the future. Who knows what might happen next weekend at the show? Stay tuned.