Haitian Art News: Alexis, Gerald's Article: "Devotion To Style And Color"

"Devotion to style and color: Art expert Gerald Alexis explores the vibrant history of Haitian art, from the naive and primitive to the abstract and contemporary."

Unlike Haitian literature, fine arts in Haiti did not have much institutional support in the 1800s and early 1900s and suffered from the total absence of art schools, museums, and galleries. Haitians who were in the position to purchase art often praised the national awareness exalted in Indigenist prose and poetry, but they seemed totally insensitive to the creative abilities of the local painters. These intellectuals appreciated the poetry of Etzer Vilaire(7 April 1872 - 1951) was a Haitian poet. Born in Jérémie, Vilaire attended law school and wrote poetry in his spare time. He was a member of the literary society La Ronde, and his most remembered works are Page d'Amour (1897), ..... Normil Sylvain, and Leon Laleau Leon Laleau (3 August 1892 - 1979) was a Haitian writer, politician, and diplomat. Laleau is recognized "as one of the most brilliant writers of his time"[1] He received several international awards, such as the Edgar Allan Poe Prize in 1962. , and the writings of Jean Price-Mars, Jacques Roumain Jacques Roumain (June 4 1907 – August 18 1944) was a famed Haïtian writer and Communist politician. Although poorly known in the English-speaking world, Roumain is well known in Europe, and renowned in the Caribbean and Latin America. , and Jacques-Stephen Alexis. but their taste for the visual arts visual remained fashioned on traditional European trends, and they preferred the comfort of classical masterpieces, which they could enjoy only through prints and reproductions.

Some have even said that there were no fine arts in Haiti prior to 1944. That was the year the Centre d'Art was inaugurated as "a center where Haitians would come to paint and exchange ideas without having to follow academic lectures, fostering a state of mind favorable to artistic development."

The Centre d'Art was started at the initiative of Dewitt Peters, an American artist who came to Haiti to teach English in 1934 and who eventually contributed a great deal to the development of Haitian painting. The Centre was intended to be a meeting place for artists, a place where talented young men and women could find guidance. Its inaugural exhibition presented works by some twenty artists who had been struggling against all odds to get recognition. Soon after, those same artists were overshadowed by the unexpected arrival of popular painters who were creating an art that totally ignored western conventions. This art, coined "naive" by some and "primitive" by others, won high praise from American critics and well known personalities, like French poet Andre Breton and American novelist Truman Capote.

In 1946, Haitian art Brilliant colors, naive perspective and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Big, delectable foods and lush landscapes are favorite subjects in this land of poverty and hunger. Going to market is the most social activity of country life, and figures prominently into the subject matter. appeared outside the country for the first time in a Washington, DC gallery. The exhibition presented exclusively the works of the country's popular painters, however, which led Haiti to be known as "the only country in the world whose entire artistic output was represented by works of naive painters, primitive, not only in their approach, but also in their complete lack of academic training," according to according to prep. 1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

3. a press release from the Carol Reese Museum of East Tennessee State University East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is an accredited American university, founded October 21911 and located in Johnson City, Tennessee. It is part of the Tennessee Board of Regents system of colleges and universities. . Similar commentary followed. One article by Paul Waggoner Paul Waggoner is the lead guitarist of Between the Buried and Me. He is known for his unique and highly technical playing style, featured in many of the band's extended, jazz oriented guitar passages. published in the Contemporary Times suggested that Haiti "had no previous art tradition" and that Dewitt Peters had accomplished a "miracle."

These critics overlooked the fact that such popular expressions had existed for years prior to the arrival of Peters. Haitian popular art has always been closely related to the popular religion--Voodoo--and it has been a constant presence in society due to the Haitian people's extravagant taste for decoration. The critics also overlooked the tradition of portraits and historical paintings that dominated the nineteenth century.

The wars that devastated dev·as·tate tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates 1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. the colony of Saint-Domingue during the second half of the eighteenth century had several important consequences, including the abolition of slavery and the independence of the new nation of Haiti in 1804. Then, even as the newly conquered territories were defended and the infinite tasks of nation-building began, new traditions in the arts gradually emerged, particularly in the field of portrait and historical painting.

Under the government of President Jean-Pierre Boyer (1818-1843) it was fashionable to have your portrait painted by professional artists, and Boyer commissioned different artists to make portraits of himself, his female companion, and his mother. Popular artists like Hector Hyppolite Hector Hyppolite (1894 - 1948) was a Haitian painter. Born in Saint-Marc, Hyppolite worked as a house painter and was a Vodou priest, or houngan, before his talent as an artist was noticed by Philippe Thoby-Marcelin and DeWitt Peters in 1945. , however, were not concerned with photographic precision in portraits and remained aloof from the tradition of near perfect realism. In Hyppolite's Portrait de Henri Christophe, the general who led the native army to victory against the colonial power is identified more easily by the inscriptions on the painting than by any resemblance to him. Naturally, costume and adornment indicate that the subject is a high-ranking military figure, and the fact that he stands out on a bright background encircled en·cir·cle tr.v. en·cir·cled, en·cir·cling, en·cir·cles 1. To form a circle around; surround. See Synonyms at surround.

2. To move or go around completely; make a circuit of. in a wreath of flowers at the center helps to emphasize his identity and importance. The presence of Republican flags in Hyppolite's picture also indicates that the subject is a head of state.

Written inscriptions are often included in Haitian historical paintings as a way of ensuring that the narrative is transmitted as accurately as possible. Although this narrative may reflect no more than the artist's own limited knowledge, it is always an accurate expression of the way the Haitian imagination was shaped by national history. Contemporary historical paintings attempted to relate several distinct events in a single picture. One example is Valcin II's La Recontre des Deux Mondes, devoted to the festivities fes·tiv·i·ty n. pl. fes·tiv·i·ties 1. A joyous feast, holiday, or celebration; a festival.

2. The pleasure, joy, and gaiety of a festival or celebration.

3. of the quincentennial quin·cen·ten·ni·al adj. Quincentenary.

n. A quincentenary event or celebration.

Noun 1. quincentennial - the 500th anniversary (or the celebration of it) quincentenary of the discovery of America. Valcin II made this mural-sized painting showing the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors See also

conquistador Spanish colonization of the Americas Encomienda : Top - 0–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Jeronimo de Aliaga Diego de Almagro Pedro de Alvarado

on the right side of the mural and all of the events that followed in succession from right to left.

The tradition of portrait painting See Portrait for more about the general topic of portraits. Portrait painting is a genre in painting, where the intent is to depict the visual appearance of the subject, most often a person. was maintained throughout the Second Empire (Faustin Soulouques, 1849-1859), but a shadow was cast over this great period in painting when the Emperor was accused of wanting to raise Voodoo to the rank of a semi-official religion. Neither the middle classes nor the Catholic Church were happy with the religious paintings commissioned by the imperial family because it had become common for Voodoo practitioners to represent their deities through images of Catholic saints. The growing fear of such syncretism syn·cre·tism n. 1. Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.

2. reached its peak when a picture of Saint Faustin was endowed en·dow tr.v. en·dowed, en·dow·ing, en·dows 1. To provide with property, income, or a source of income.

2. a. with idealized i·de·al·ize v. i·de·al·ized, i·de·al·iz·ing, i·de·al·iz·es

v.tr. 1. To regard as ideal.

2. To make or envision as ideal.

v.intr. 1. features of the Emperor.

The Concordat concordat (kənkôr`dăt), formal agreement, specifically between the pope, in his spiritual capacity, and the temporal authority of a state. signed between Haiti and the Vatican in 1860 gave the Catholic clergy an important role in the Haitian education system, and foreign priests and nuns began teaching many of the courses at Catholic schools. In that context, the teaching of art was mostly restricted to copying imported reproductions. This reinforced a taste for naturalism naturalism, in art naturalism, in art, a tendency toward strict adherence to the physical appearance of nature and rejection of ideal forms. Artists as diverse as Velázquez, J. F. Millet, and Monet, have followed naturalistic principles. among many Haitian youngsters and eventually started a new genre in Haitian painting focused on nature and daily life. Later on, Haitian artists embraced landscape painting as a means of expressing their national identity. More beautiful than realistic, these images are born of complicity between the painter and nature and are infused with seductive force.

In the mid 1940s, artists from the Centre d'Art regularly went on excursions to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Peters believed that painting from life was an essential stage in the training process of all painters. Surprisingly, a number of artists systematically rejected any form of imitation that they deemed "servile ser·vile adj. 1. Abjectly submissive; slavish.

2. a. Of or suitable to a slave or servant.

b. Of or relating to servitude or forced labor. ." Instead, they internalized what they saw, injecting imagination and feeling into their knowledge of nature to render a more subjective reality by means of spontaneously and swiftly drawn lines. This was the case of Jacques Valbrun whose urban and marine landscapes are rendered in straight lines and in often vivid colors "Vivid Colors" is the second single of Japanese band L'Arc-en-Ciel. Track listing

"Vivid Colors" (Ken) "Brilliant Years" (Hyde) "Vivid Colors (Voiceless Version)" Chart positions

Chart (1995) Peak position Time in chart .

Meanwhile, the Voodoo practitioners' habit of concealing their rituals behind Catholic practices and masking their deities behind Catholic holy pictures led to the creation of images like Lafortune Felix's Erzulie Danthor, which is a portrait of the Mater Dolorosa, her heart pierced with a sword. Inscribed in·scribe tr.v. in·scribed, in·scrib·ing, in·scribes 1. a. To write, print, carve, or engrave (words or letters) on or in a surface.

b. To mark or engrave (a surface) with words or letters. in a triangle at the center of the frame, the image is balanced in exactly the same way as in the image he chose as his model--a mass-produced picture imported to Haiti in the wake of the Concordat. Such holy images of Catholicism were commonly encountered in Voodoo temples and in family oratories and played a key part in the development of Voodoo iconography iconography (ī'kŏnŏg`rəfē) [Gr.,=image-drawing] or iconology [Gr.,=image-study], in art history, the study and interpretation of figural representations, either individual or symbolic, religious or secular; .

The encounter between Indigenist painting and Voodoo occurred at the Centre d'Art at the end of the 1940s, thanks to artists from the popular classes. This was a decisive step in the history of Haiti's art because it introduced what Georges-Henri Riviere ri·vière n. A necklace of precious stones, generally set in one strand.


[French rivière (de diamants), river (of diamonds), from Old French rivere, from Vulgar Latin of the International Council of Museums termed "the most beautiful, most surprising, most diverse flowering: primitive, expressionistic ex·pres·sion·ism n. A movement in the arts during the early part of the 20th century that emphasized subjective expression of the artist's inner experiences.


ex·pres , surrealist, abstract, whose varied tendencies express both Haitian and universal man."

At the same time, all of the trained artists who supported Peters' idea of a Centre d'Art were from the elite and middle classes. They expected his support as they attempted to define a true Haitian aesthetic that would allow them to preserve their identity while entering international modern trends. Their contact with the Cuban avant-garde artists Fikret Muallâ Saygı (Turkish painter) Sigur Ros (Icelandic avant-garde band) Akasegawa Genpei (Japanese artist and novelist) Louis-Ferdinand Celine (author) Peter Gabriel (Art-Rock singer) Alexander Rodchenko (Russian artist)

who showed their works at the Centre in Port-au-Prince did in fact free them from the idea that images should be created only to represent things and allowed them to confront the various components of their identity.

These artists profited most, however, from the fact that they shared the same roof with their popular contemporaries. On the one hand, they appropriated and incorporated a modernist approach to their composition, contrast, and rhythmic structure. On the other hand, they were exposed to Voodoo as an inexhaustible source of pictorial elements that they could capitalize on Cap´i`tal`ize on`

v. t. 1. To turn (an opportunity) to one's advantage; to take advantage of (a situation); to profit from; as, to capitalize on an opponent's mistakes s>. . The trained artists also helped the so called "primitive" artists to accomplish what was considered impossible by some--develop technical skills without losing the vitality of their imagination and their keen sense of observation.

Ironically, in an attempt to "preserve the thrill of nostalgia that these primitives could bring" (Seldon Rodman "A Caribbean Chapter"), as well as to prevent their corruption by Western styles and protect them from the alienation felt at times by the trained artists, the Centre tried to separate the two groups. Racial and social prejudices may have also been a factor in the desire to separate them but in the end this (lid not occur. Had the separation happened, it would have precluded one of the most beneficial--if not the most beneficial--influences on contemporary Haitian art.

Under the influence of the Paris School, works by Lucien Price reflected social issues of the 1930s and 1940s. Charcoal drawings and dark lines were used to heighten his feelings, giving a strong, easily intelligible, and poetic expression to what he felt as a member of a well-to-do family who had discovered the moral and material wretchedness of the people. He inculcated his disciples with a sense of responsibility and the need to give expression to misfortunes that were hypocritically hyp·o·crit·i·cal adj. 1. Characterized by hypocrisy: hypocritical praise.

2. Being a hypocrite: a hypocritical rogue. concealed in society.

In 1950, a number of artists, under the guidance of Lucien Price, Max Pinchinat, and Dieudonne Cedor, broke away from the Centre d'Art and founded the Foyer des Arts Plastiques. The artists at the Foyer practiced a realism totally devoid of narrative and centered on the struggles of the poor. In sharp contrast to the idyllic images of landscapes and composed genre scenes offered to tourists and to Haitians with a taste for such conventional images, the works of the Foyer artists depicted serious social issues. At times their art was considered offensive, and authorities often branded it as communist-inspired and thus unacceptable. The artists were subjected to intense political pressure that ultimately led to depression, exile, and even suicide.

Price, who had used nothing but charcoal until then, began to experiment with color in Verb 1. color in - add color to; "The child colored the drawings"; "Fall colored the trees"; "colorize black and white film" color, colorise, colorize, colour in, colourise, colourize, colour 1950. In his Etude e·tude n. Music 1. A piece composed for the development of a specific point of technique.

2. A composition featuring a point of technique but performed because of its artistic merit. , he uses blue and red, the colors of the national flag. A military epaulet tied to a geometric element leads on to a head wearing a cocked-hat which emerges from some disorderly motifs giving a general impression of chaos. It was painted at a time when a military coup had overthrown the civilian government.

Haitian artists did not live in total isolation as some have suggested. While artists like Max Pinchinat looked to Picasso to filed resources to revolt against academic tradition, he also believed that his encounter with his so called "primitive" contemporaries brought him the simplicity and straightforwardness needed to express himself as a Haitian modern artist. Artists like Pinchinat were able to make such choices because they had traveled to Europe. Others received their training from correspondence courses, and most kept informed through magazines and other publications.

People in Haiti, as in many other Caribbean countries, generally consider abstraction unsuitable for local artists. However, Price had already gone through his first abstract experiences when he taught Jean Claude Garoute--also known as Tiga--at the Centre d'Art. While Tiga in turn displays a penchant for abstraction, he nonetheless applied the recommendations of the "new school" by representing such figurative elements as eyes, circles, crosses, and symbols borrowed from the veves, which are emblematic em·blem·at·ic or em·blem·at·i·cal adj. Of, relating to, or serving as an emblem; symbolic.


[French emblématique, from Medieval Latin embl drawings made during Voodoo ceremonies. In 1948, Tiga developed the soleil brute technique which allowed him to play on the representation of space in a suggestive rather than a narrative form. He wanted to impose a subjectivity which, in his view, is essential to any relation between man and art.

Tiga always displays a real concern with form conceived as "emotional signifiers." Hence, referential images can never be considered mere illustrations. In the soleil brules of recent years, color (primarily brown) is used to achieve a camaieu effect, and the form, nearly always allusive al·lu·sive adj. Containing or characterized by indirect references: an allusive speech.


al·lu , is strengthened and tied to the Amer-Indian influences that have marked Tiga's work.

Adepts of abstraction have argued that Taino motifs and Voodoo ritual drawings were mostly abstract. While artists draw on these sources for contemporary works, however, they were not artistic works in essence. Another argument is simply that rhythm--like sound and color--is an inherent part of the life of the Haitian people and that it is understandable that the rhythm found in Haitian dances would also be present in arts like painting and sculpture. And while such arts do not exclude figuration fig·u·ra·tion n. 1. The act of forming something into a particular shape.

2. A shape, form, or outline.

3. The act of representing with figures.

4. A figurative representation.

5. , they cannot exclude abstraction either, since music, which is made of rhythm, is the most abstract of all arts.

Many young Haitian artists are creating art that borders on abstraction. Whether self-taught or trained, their concerns are strictly and legitimately aesthetic. Their works are a play of referential forms, simple or elaborate harmonies of colors. Some of them call upon the symbols mentioned earlier that are drawn from pre-Columbian Taino culture and/or from Voodoo ritual drawings. Tiga initiated this trend when he returned to Haiti from the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966.

At that time, more and more Haitians were buying local art and their preference was for a more "modern" style of art. Their choice can be explained by two factors. On one hand, this clientele repudiated the art made with "primitive" forms for tourists. On the other hand, they were fascinated by the mysterious aspect of a modern art that satisfied their desire to be up to date. This art-buying public, often without much knowledge, fell for the audacity au·dac·i·ty n. pl. au·dac·i·ties 1. Fearless daring; intrepidity.

2. Bold or insolent heedlessness of restraints, as of those imposed by prudence, propriety, or convention.

3. of artists who took on contemporary elements and applied certain theories, without really assimilating them, in order to appear "modern." Tiga criticized these Haitian modern artists for their main weaknesses: their unconditional submission to foreign influences and their total lack of faith in their own values. Such criticism was valid for artists whose abstractions were merely decorative and for those who were merely copying the European still-life style. It did not apply, however, to those artists who, in the tradition established by the Foyer des Arts Plastiques, dealt with the expression of inner feelings and social concerns.

Haitian contemporary artists continue to express social issues and physical and moral degradation as common themes. One example is the skillful skill·ful adj. 1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill. imagery of the so called "neo-primitive" painters who depicted the plight of boat people. Their images are aggressive, disenchanted dis·en·chant tr.v. dis·en·chant·ed, dis·en·chant·ing, dis·en·chants To free from illusion or false belief; undeceive.


[Obsolete French desenchanter, from Old French, , and melancholic mel·an·chol·ic adj. 1. Affected with or being subject to melancholy.

2. Of or relating to melancholia. . It is particularly interesting to see how some Haitian contemporary artists have been able to alter a subject and turn it into a symbol in order to infuse in·fuse v. 1. To steep or soak without boiling in order to extract soluble elements or active principles.

2. To introduce a solution into the body through a vein for therapeutic purposes. it with a meaning that goes beyond the general understanding of the public. In a way, they have done what is commonly found in the Voodoo iconography established by popular masters like Hector Hyppolite or more recently, by Lafortune Felix. Their works must be considered beyond what appears on the surface. Critics who have failed to do so have categorized these artists simply as devotees of beauty, a judgment based solely on the elegance of the forms they have created on their canvases. But this alteration of the subject has become part of the intellectual knowledge of these contemporary artists and that of their followers.

Jean Price-Mars, one of the founders of the Indigenist movement, said that "Haitians can properly be described as a people who sing and suffer, a people who suffer and rejoice, a people who laugh, sing, and resign themselves." It is to be expected, then, that the works of the younger contemporary artists are vigorous and constantly being renewed. They still carry universal truths that they want to share,

Gerald Alexis is an internationally known specialist in Caribbean art, with a special emphasis on Haitian art. He has taught at the Ecole Nationale des Arts, and is former Director of the Musee d'Art Haitien, College St. Pierre. He is the author of Peintres haitiens, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris[c]2000. All images are from Peintres haitiens. COPYRIGHT 2007 Organization of American States No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder. Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Devotion to style and color: art expert Gerald Alexis explores the vibrant history of Haitian art, from the naive and primitive to the abstract and contemporary.