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.”