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.”