Monthly Archives: September 2006


September 25, 2006

By Candice Russell

The most natural thing in the world is for Haitian artists to include animals of all sorts in their paintings and sculptures in wood and papier-mache. As an island country whose population is or at what time was primarily rural and agrarian, Haiti and its development have gone hand-in-hand with the progress of animals. Though they see them as sources of labor (even today, you’ll see cigar-smoking women riding side-saddle on horses in Port-au-Prince) or food (chickens, goats, bulls), that fact doesn’t lessen their significance in the minds of Haitians who depend on them for work and sustenance. Characteristic of this fact is the painting “Papa Ogoun and Papa Zaca” by Hector Hyppolite, picture in Selden Rodman’s book “Renaissance in Haiti: Popular Painters in the Black Republic.” The two papas are Haitian Vodou spirits brought to glorious mortal life riding horses, a regal form of four-footed transportation.

Great artists from the beginning of the renaissance in Haitian art, dating from the mid-1940s, have used animals as subjects. Micius Stephane, featured in the recent Haitian art exhibition “Allegories of Haitian Life from the Jonathan Demme Collection,” made more than a few paintings with dogs and cats in prominent roles. “Big Cat and Little Cat” (1965) shows only those two animals in a pretty domestic setting with lovely curtains. The white mother cat stands on the tile floor between two potted plants and looks lovingly at her baby white kitten. Cats, by the way, are deemed a sign of good luck in Haiti — perhaps because only people with money can afford to own them as pets. In “Scaring Away Birds” (c. 1963), Stephane shows a flock chased away by a thrown rock and the barking of a dog from a field of millet or corn that they might destroy.

Toussaint Auguste’s painting “Birds and Nests” (1949) also owned by filmmaker-collector Demme, shows five mother birds sitting on nests of eggs about to hatch, while a sixth bird sits on a branch regarding all the eggs in her nest. Auguste painted a metaphorical painting about the need for protection, guardianship and love.

Salnave Philippe-Auguste, Haiti’s Rousseau, is perhaps best known for a poster reproduced from his painting of a line of pink flamingoes. Anthropomorphizing of animals is the province of Jean Veny-Brezil, whose portraits of cat families in human clothing have a poignance that is beyond animalistic. These are relationship paintings, with all the cats engaged in selling flowers or some other uniting activity.

The jungle animal genre of Haitian art is thriving with a variety of artists painting zebras, lions, tigers, giraffes and elements in verdant forests. Is this some kind of racial memory on the part of Haitian artists dating back to their ancestors’ experiences in the homeland of Africa? Regardless of the inspiration, these paintings by such masters as Gabriel Alix are abundant in personality. Animal lovers are collectors of these works, which are riotously colored. Alix is also known for imaginatively adorning the branches of his rain forest trees with all manner of fruits.Animals also appear in papier-mache form — there’s a giraffe on my living room and a plump papier-mache zebra on a bookshelf.

One of my favorite animal items from Haiti was purchased by a vendor selling to people departing Haiti from the Port-au-Prince airport fifteen years ago. It’s a toy carved of wood that you hold in one hand and swing so that a carved chicken sitting on a platform and attached to a string pecks at little pieces of corn. The cleverness of Haitian artists at all levels knows no bounds.

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Gallery Scene in Haiti

September 16, 2006
By Candice Russell

Since this is the start of the fall season, prices have been reduced on key items on my website to inaugurate this change. Now and in the coming weeks is the time to check the site regularly for new items, never be seen, for exceptionally good prices. This week look for new small Vodou flags, some real treasures by masters of the medium including Georges Valris, with wonderfully bargain prices at $25. Brick-and-mortar galleries sell similar flags for considerably more money. Collectors in the know, start clicking. It’s likely we won’t be able to keep these beauties in stock long.

The erratic gallery scene in Port-au-Prince, Haiti may not be able to nourish artists in the way it used to, even ten years ago. But that doesn’t mean that artists stop creating. The market for Vodou flags, those labor-intensive squares of cloth elaborately encrusted with sequins and beads, keep being made by those in the business a long time. What’s remarkable is that a large cottage industry in flags, with new creators popping up all the time, reflects the collectibility of these sacred textiles. There’s nothing else even remotely like them in the world, so no wonder they are prized by people living far from the Caribbean island.

The painting scene in Haiti is questionable. One wonders how many artists are supported by galleries in Haiti versus how many others are creating in a vacuum without the backing they so crucially need. Conditions in Haiti don’t make it favorable for tourists and collectors of adventurous mind to visit at the moment, exacerbating an already difficult situation. One can only hope that the vendors of good art — metal sculptures painted and unpainted, wood masks, Vodou bottles and Vodou flags strung between trees — are still prospering on the John Brown Road leading from Port-au-Prince to Petionville. One prays that dear Haiti and its creative geniuses are surviving and even thriving.


Dieuseul Paul – Haitian Painter

September 9, 2006

By Candice Russell

The recent death of Saint Soleil virtuoso painter Dieuseul Paul this summer has struck another blow to the Haitian art scene, both for gallery owners in Port-au-Prince and outside the country, and collectors who were curious to see more from this distinctive painter. In the paucity of information about Haitian art and artists working in the past fifteen years, it seems remarkable that we have the published records we do about Dieuseul Paul, who was interviewed in the book “Billeder Fra Haiti” or “Images from Haiti,” an outstanding catalog in Danish and English based on the personal Haitian art collection of Danish filmmaker and sometime Haitian resident Jorgen Leth.

Paul said he started painting on Christmas day, 1971, though he wasn’t formally exhibited with the Saint Soleil school of avant-garde Haitian painters until ten years later. Tiga Garoute, a painter himself, encouraged him and all the other Saint Soleil painters. Paul explains what he does and doesn’t know about his art in “Images from Haiti:” “I am not able to give you all the explanations. That’s for the intellectual, for the art critic to say what they really represent. This is what I do, this is my style. Look, here I can tell you this is a face or whether I see a flower. I can tell you this is a flower or this is a bird, but to tell you all the meaning at other levels would be very very difficult for me because I never went to school or to any painting school. It’s just a mystery of Creation.”

Yet he admitted there was a distinction in his own work that set it apart from the other four core artists in the Saint Soleil group — Prospere Pierre Louis (deceased), Louisiane Saint Fleurant (deceased), Levoy Exil and Denis Smith. Those intimate with the styles of all five can immediately discern a Dieuseul Paul from a Levoy Exil, but it is hard to verbalize why. What Paul didn’t address in the book was his remarkable sense of color. Hanging on my living room wall is one of my favorite paintings by this artist. “Three Women Joined,” an acrylic on canvas measuring 24 1/2″ by 24 1/2″ framed, is a 1987 painting of the Marassa or triplets, protective Vodou spirits of children. It is rendered in Paul’s traditional way, with heavy black outlining of the figures who are deep purple set against a vivid orange background. What a color combination! It sounds bizarre but somehow he made it work. Another favorite painting by Paul I found in a dusty gallery on Delmas Road in Port-au-Prince. It was on canvas and I had to have it. The problem was, it wasn’t signed. I told my friend Dr. Carlos Jara, an esteemed art dealer in Haiti, to keep it and perhaps he would run into Paul some day. And he did! The next time Carlos visited me in Florida, he brought the signed painting, done in cheerful greens, reds and oranges.

The beginnings of life are the obsession of the Saint Soleil painters. Women are revered. There is a verve and energy about all the Saint Soleil artists’ work. With the death of Dieuseul Paul, the value of his work increases for the specialized collector appreciative of his extraordinary paintings.

He ended his interview in “Images from Haiti” by saying this: “These are very spiritually inspired paintings representing harmony, unity and the relationship between the spiritual and the material. And this is exactly the power of art…There is such a strong spirit in Saint Soleil — sometimes it prevents you from sleeping.”

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