Monthly Archives: May 2014

“The Art Gallery of Dr. Carlos Jara”

By Candice Russell

The Saturday afternoon salons of Dr. Carlos Jara at his home in the Debussy section of Port-au-Prince during the 1990s were legendary. Whether you came to Haiti as an adventurous traveler like myself, a diplomat, a charity worker, or a missionary, it is likely you knew about these regular events — a highlight in cultural arts circles. Always with coffee and drinks, sometimes with lunch, the salons were informal get-togethers of disparate people in the know, coming together at the behest of a man with a varied and esteemed reputation.

Jara was a psychiatrist in his native Santiago, Chile. He came to Haiti as a diplomat, working for the Organization of American States, and settled there with first wife, Marie-Isabelle. Following their divorce, he married Emeraude Michel, the sister of popular singer Emeline Michel. With an eye for art and an intuitive understanding of people, the gentle Jara made a name for himself in the competitive art scene. People — collectors and artists — gravitated to him for his spirit, stories, sense of humor, and impeccable taste. I was one of them.

From our first meeting on a Friday night at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, I knew there was something extraordinary about Dr. Carlos Jara. He wore a traditional outfit for the tropics — white pants and a white guayabera shirt. After introducing himself to me in the lobby, I agreed to visit his gallery the next day.

The Saint Soleil original five — Prospere Pierre Louis, Levoy Exil, Dieuseul Paul, Denis Smith and Louisiane Saint Fleurant — were prominently featured in Jara’s large selection of paintings. But so were other artists whose work I found scarcely, if at all, in the city’s other galleries, like Abbot Bonhomme, the creator of sylvan rain forest scenes with parrots, and Phelix Brochette, whose plump people compared favorably to the paintings of the much more expensive Saint Louis Blaise.

Jara also had the largest selection of paintings by Stivenson Magloire, the troubled adult son of Louisiane Saint Fleurant, I had seen anywhere. Many of the works seemed to have been created in haste, as if the artist were in a fury of getting them off his mind and into the world. For that reason, Magloire could be called as prolific as the fast-working Gerard Fortune. But also, unfortunately, Magloire was producing only a handful of great works amid dozens of simply good ones in all sizes. And, of course, collectors want the paintings of outstanding quality.

Little treasures could be found at the Jara gallery, including paintings by Gerard Valcin, measuring eight inches by ten inches. Arranged in the living room were metal and forged iron sculptures of all description by Georges Liautaud, the pioneer of this medium. Or so it seemed. There were crosses, devil bulls, and market women among the sculptures. Jara would challenge visitors to guess which ones were by Liautaud imitators and which ones were fakes. It was impossible to tell, even down to the signature. But our host distinguished the bogus ones by tying tiny red scarves on them. He made his point. Buy only from a reputable dealer for the genuine article.

I bought my first Roger Francois painting from Jara, a proud bird that filled the canvas — “The Owl.” Only later did I come to appreciate how magnificent a painter Francois was.

Jara’s favorite artist of all was La Fortune Felix. He owned untold hundreds of his paintings, a portion of which were once kept in a separate home in Petionville, blocks from his own domicile. In Jara’s view, no one else could compare with Felix’s Gauguinesque palette and innovative portrayals of Vodou officiants and personages. “He never repeats an image,” Jara told me. This is true. Felix doesn’t do static variations on the same theme, but distinct and different narratives every time.

To make things easy for his customers, Jara had special wood units made to house paintings of the same size. One could stand and thumb through these, neat, clean stacks and choose accordingly. In an enclosed area adjacent to the dining room were more wood bins for larger paintings on masonite. I always wound up buying more from Jara than I intended and never regretted a purchase.

From Jara, I learned to appreciate Etienne Chavannes, Gelin Buteau and Wagler Vital, among many other artists. I appreciated the education I got from him about art and artists, because he was always generous with his time to share his experiences. Haiti benefitted greatly from his all-too-brief illumination of the art scene.

“Influential Haitian Painter Garoute”

By Candice Russell

This is an obituary of a famous Haitian painter that I was asked to write as a special correspondent  by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was published on December 17, 2006.


Haitian-born artist and educator Jean Claude Garoute, known to the art world as “Tiga,” died 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 such as Patrick Gerald Wah, who traveled from New York to see him. A televised tribute aired on New York television last weekend and was seen by the ailing Tiga, friends said.

Another visitor was Levoy Exil, a painter in the Saint Soleil movement, known as the avant-garde of Haitian popular art. This movement was started by Tiga in 1982 in Soissons-la-Montagne, with five core artists: Exil, Prospere Pierre Louis, Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Dieuseul Paul, and Denis Smith. Only Exil and Smith are still alive. (As of 2014, Exil is the last survivor of the original five).

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 religion of Vodou, or Voodoo, as it is often spelled, Saint Soleil also connected 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 home in Thomasaint, Haiti, Exil expressed gratefulness to Tiga for giving him the freedom and education that changed his life. “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.”

Carnival in Haiti next February will be dedicated to Tiga and the Saint Soleil movement. Exil and (fellow Saint Soleil artist Denis) 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.

French writer Andre Malraux became impressed with Saint Soleil 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 said, “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 ACTION Foundation, a Broward County-based nonprofit organization promoting Creole art and culture, several years ago. “The contribution of Tiga is immense, not only at the level of visual art, but at the level of culture,” said Eric Boucicaut, the foundation’s president. “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.”

Susan Karten, an American clothing designer and Boca Raton resident, studied art with Tiga years ago when she lived in Haiti. “He was very intense in a quiet way,” she said. “He only let us use three colors — red, yellow, and blue — because he said from these you can make anything.”

Funeral arrangements for Tiga are pending in Haiti.

“Masks in Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

As a category in Haitian art collecting, masks are wonderfully evocative distillations of a living creature’s essence. While I own masks from Mexico made from coconut shells and carved wood, my favorite masks are from Haiti in a variety of materials. These three-dimensional Haitian sculptures deserve a special place in my home.

Whether human or animal is the inspiration, Haitian masks successfully convey personality and character through line, form and color. On the artist’s part, the process of creation involves study and thought.

What are the must-have considerations in creating, for example, “Cat with Open Mouth” in papier-mache? Measuring 17 inches by 11 1/2 inches by 4 inches, this black and white-striped head by an unknown artist is a respectful exaggeration in size of a typical domestic feline. Its green eyes are impossibly slanted for dramatic emphasis.

But it is the long pink tongue and jagged teeth of the cat that give it a fearsome appearance. Red ears and bloodshot eyes indicate the animal’s devilish intentions, as well as its genetic tie to much larger jungle cats like panthers and jaguars. All the same, there is a mischievous, even playful side to this mask that makes it collectible.

Also in papier-mache, “L’Ange Exterminateur” or “Exterminating Angel” made in 1995, is titled and initialed by the artist Lionel Simonis. As one of the top tier exponents of this medium, he makes the mask not just for display like “Cat With Open Mouth,” but also for wearing (it’s certainly lightweight enough). It is the size of a human face with holes for the wearer’s own eyes. This mask is a pretty woman with large red hoop earrings and a colorful headdress worthy of a Taino or an Arawak princess, in reference to the island’s first inhabitants. With her high cheekbones and coquettish eyelashes, she is a seductive reveler ready to let loose at the Carnaval.

The painter Roi David Annisey turned from canvas to coconut shell in creating “Green Face Mask,” an acrylic on coconut shell, measuring 13 inches by 10 inches. Shades of the verdant color enliven the head of what could be a Vodou (voodoo) spirit. The creature’s hair is bush after bush, punctuated by yellow, laverder and red leaves. Its nose is a cracked tree trunk, out of which emerge five red flames suggesting a passionate, even fiery disposition. A few tiny lavender teeth are seen in the open mouth, across which is an orange-red fern.

Is the mask Annisey’s version of Grand Bois? This Vodou spirit is known as a leaf doctor, concocting remedies from nature found in the forest. The mask is signed with the artist’s full name in its bushy hair.

In the realm of Haitian metal art, “Mask: Male with Flying Hair” by an unknown artist, is a standout. Measuring 31 inches high by 5 inches wide, it is painted in shades of green, blue, orange, and gold. The nose, nearly a foot long, has a raised surface due to numerous emphatic circles nearly punched through from the other side.

But it’s the hair — straight up and wavy, as if the figure were caught by surprise while underwater — that gives this mask a sense of amusement. Did he see a whale while fishing? Is he in the midst of a Vodou possession, letting a commanding spirit have its way with him? Masks can take different forms and transmit different personalities, but they all have a story to tell.

If you wonder how to display Haitian masks, I run to two schools of thought. Interior designers recommend groupings of like things, even masks of disparate materials. And groupings do create a graphic punch on a wall, becoming a room’s focal point. But don’t forget the comfort and joy of putting a cherished mask above your bedroom door as a guardian spirit.

“Haitian Art Auction Results”

By Candice Russell

The April 26 and 27 spring event at Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford Georgia proves once again that it is very much a buyers’ market when it comes to Haitian art. Of course, this may change in the future, once collectors tune in to how little money it takes to build a worthy collection. At Slotin, informed collectors found bargains among the small, select group of Haitian pieces in all media (but primarily paintings).

Two large paintings by the esteemed Wilson Bigaud — “Village by the River,” which went for $660, and “Washing in Town’s River,” which went for $720 — brought surprisingly low bids, both well under the low estimates of a mere $1,000 in each case. Congratulations to those buyers.

Yet “Village Day” by Adam Leontus, measuring 36 inches by 24 inches, only achieved a winning bid of $360. It deserved to command a much higher price, in my opinion. This superior painting by an artist rarely seen at auction or for sale anywhere generated less interest among bidders than the similar-sized, formulaic painting “Haitian Couple in White” by E. Louisius, which commanded a top bid of $540.

Also perplexing is the small amount of $240 for “Fantasy Animals” by Fritz Dominique, a framed painting measuring 28 inches by 34 inches. The low estimate was $800 and it sold for a little more than a quarter of that. Go to Port-au-Prince now and that is what you would pay for a Dominique painting in a gallery, if could find one. He is known for anthropomorphic animals in fascinating scenarios, just like the much more famous Jasmin Joseph.

Bourmond Byron’s two paintings presented an interesting case. His “Fruit Tree Over Fish Full River,” a tribute to Haiti’s natural bounty, brought a very respectable $1,800 — $300 more than the high estimate. But then the same artist’s much smaller painting, the framed “Long Winding Road,” only brought a victorious miniscule bid of $150, sadly under the $400 low estimate.

Bargains aplenty were to be had at the Slotin Folk Art Auction. Can you imagine paying a laughable $30 for “Cap Beach,” a seaside scene with people at leisure under palm trees? And this 16-inch by 21-inch painting in excellent condition is framed.

The large, evocative “Voodoo Snakes” by Paul Jean Pierre commanded just $540, a little more than half its low estimate of $1,000. While I’m not familiar with the artist, the painting itself is outstanding and certainly worth more than the winning bid.

Imagine taking home an Obin painting called “Planting Season” in the characteristic tidy style of this family of artists for just $300. Or a very respectable 1985 painting by La Fortune Felix — balanced and theatrical — for $660, undercutting the low estimate of $800.

Consider the case of another name artist working as a sculptor. An intricate Nacius Joseph wood sculpture called “Eve with Snake and Apple” was taken home by a lucky someone for just $30. Yet the high estimate for this one-of-a-kind piece (no template used here) was $400!

Several fine paintings by Gerard Fortune were also steals at the auction. The most impressive was “Voodoo Man,” measuring 40 inches by 30 inches. The winning bidder only shells out $450 for this notable treasure.

What does this mean for buyers in the future? Get on Slotin Folk Art Auction’s mailing list for its November event. The web site is The phone numbers are 770-532-1115 and 404-403-4244.

My feeling is that the more people know and love Haitian art, the better. So spread the word.



“Meeting Andre Pierre” — Part Three

By Candice Russell

This is the third and final installment of a story that I began to write on this blog on April 12. Originally published in City Link weekly newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 16, 1998, it describes encounters with Andre Pierre, Haiti’s most famous living artist, at that time. I appreciate the kindness he always extended to me on my impromptu visits.


As for his own legacy, he leaves it to others. High praise has come Pierre’s way for decades. French writer Andre Malraux called him “the greatest naive alive” in the 1976 book “L’Intemporel.” Selden Rodman, author of several books about Haiti, felt that Pierre deserved a full chapter in “Where Art is Joy: Haitian Art, the First Forty Years” (1988). Pierre’s paintings were featured in the recent travelling exhibit “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou,” organized by UCLA.

When Lighthouse Point resident John Fulling discovered Pierre’s genius in the late 1980s, he set about the task of trying to own more of his paintings than anyone else. He also befriended the artist, commissioning him to do his largest and most elaborate works yet. With the hope of publishing a book, Fulling provided Pierre with a tape recorder and a translator so that he could explain the meaning of his symbol-infused paintings.

Nothing unrelated to voodoo ever appears in his paintings, which are rich in the complex history of the spirits. According to Ute Stebich in her 1978 book “Haitian Art,” “It does not bother Pierre that most of his work is bought by foreigners and nonbelievers. Relying on their special power, he sends his paintings out into the world to spread his mission.”

His only worries relate to the recent flooding from Hurricane Georges that destroyed his crops. “It’s a difficult time for the world,” Pierre says. “But while it’s bad for the world, it’s worse for Haiti because people don’t want to work the land. They want to go abroad.”

Under President Rene Preval’s brand of democracy, jobs are scarce and millions of people barely survive on a daily basis. But Pierre credits the exodus of boat people to something else: “Haitians never think of Haiti as a fatherland. They are imported people. When black people get some money, they want to get out. The real inhabitants, the real children of Haiti are the (Arawak) Indians. The Spanish and the French who came here killed the Indians to get their gold. When they wanted people to work for them, there were none, so they imported blacks from Africa.”

A philosopher as much as an artist, Pierre relates the story of the time he offered cups of coffee to American visitors, who commented that it was “good black coffee.” Pierre, jumping to the challenge of an argument, asked them to define the term “black,” which led to further discussion about God, man and the color of a shadow. Pierre’s point? “Everything natural has some black,” he says. “The first manifestation of God is black.”

Pierre can’t forget where his people came from or the values they taught him. “The memories of the people who died are your true wealth,” he says. “Through the sacrifices of voodoo, you remember the dead. I go to church twice a year but to the cemetery twice a week because all the people from your race live there.”

When asked if he fears his own death, Pierre smiles broadly and says, “I have not the right to be fearful about death because you have to leave everything and everything will leave you.”