New Generation of Haitian Artists

March 25, 2007

The Saint Soleil movement, dubbed by the late author and scholar Selden Rodman “the avant-garde of Haitian popular art,” is proud to unveil the works of the younger generation. Levoy Exil and Denis Smith, the only two living originators of this art movement dealing with the same iconography, have good reason to nurture the talents of young men and women. By encouraging new artists working in the Saint Soleil style, the popularity of Saint Soleil is sustained.

In a recent visit in early March to South Florida, Levoy Exil brought treasures from his own hands, as well as paintings by artists heretofore unseen in the United States. Marie Danielle Exil is the daughter of Levoy Exil. A woman in her thirties, she paints in a remarkably similar style to her father, where not a scintilla of available canvas is untouched by a shape, a dot or a line. She is also a strong colorist with a palette entirely different from her famous father. Her lines are more sensual and organic. I was lucky to purchase four of her paintings — one for myself and three others of smaller size to put up for sale (watch my website in the coming weeks).

Marie Danielle Exil uses felicitous combinations of colors — varying shades of pink, purple, turquoise and yellow. Her figures are feminine with upturned mouths and thick curling eyelashes. Collectively, these figures seem amused at the cosmos as they float in a sea of dreamy half-circles and cradle creatures of unknown origin. With undeniable charm and a hand all her own, this new Exil has already caught fire in Italy and France, where her father exhibited her paintings to great acclaim. I’m very excited to have these artworks and look forward to buying more.

Onel, a young man, is the other new artist introduced by Levoy Exil on his recent trip. Not only paint but collage is incorporated into Onel’s canvases — bits of cloth, magazine photos of 1950s pin-up girls, and even Coca-Cola bottle caps! Inventive in the extreme, Onel’s spirited artwork is completely original in Haitian art. He’s also selling more expensive pieces than Marie Danielle Exil. My friends Margareth and Reynolds Rolles purchased the best painting by Onel featuring a large cross and multiple adornments. It’s a masterpiece worthy of a museum exhibition.

With the deterioration of the art gallery system in Haiti, due in part to the deaths of major dealers like Dr. Carlos Jara and Issa el-Saieh, artists are left more and more on their own to get their artwork to a larger world marketplace than Port-au-Prince. Collectors in the U.S., Canada, Europe and more places are eager to see what remarkable output is being created in Haiti right now. I hope to bring you more information and new original art in the coming months. Stay tuned.

–Candice Russell