Weird Haitian Painting

Do you like weird art? I guess the answer depends on just how weird in terms of what elements are included. In this case, I am talking about a painting on canvas I bought more than two decades ago in Haiti. This untitled work, measuring sixteen inches by twenty inches, is signed by Jean Claude Mehu, the artist, and dated 1987. It is weird, but also strangely compelling to me, because of its abrogation of one of the first visual art rules — create a central focus.
There is no central focus in my painting. Rather, there are competing points of interest, including the woman in the foreground pouring a pitcher of water inside on what might be rumpled blue clothing or a rock inside her house! In the background is a tree growing out of a table with a neat blue tablecloth on which three fat rats scamper next to the naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Other unexplainable elements abound. Priests in long robes gossip in the background next to a bamboo fence, which is being repaired by a workman. Someone else stands on scaffolding to paint one of three houses in the background. A man in a red and white checkered shirt, blue kerchief, and gray knit cap holds what appears to be a small panther under its arms.
But the weirdest and most confounding bit of all is the bushy-tailed orange squirrel that dominates the right corner of the painting. He is sitting next to a bricked pool with water and is so wildly out of perspective that if the squirrel stood on its hind legs, he could be taller than the woman. What to make of Mehu’s wild imagination? I have pondered this painting many times and never put it up for sale because I cannot get to the bottom of it.
The thing is, it’s beautifully painted with meticulous detail. There are multiple narratives going on, none of which make a complete lot of sense. Once I get started looking at this painting, I cannot stop. With these thoughts in mind, maybe Mehu got it right. He created a painting that grabs the viewer’s attention in a way that one doesn’t want to let go.

–Candice Russell

-the end-