Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where Art is Joy: My Haitian paintings

Loas, Levol Exil, 2002

Years ago, at the Fullframe Documentary Film Festival, (one of my beloved Durham, NC's best events), I saw an amazing film-in-progress by Jonathan Demme called The Agronomist. He spoke after the screening regarding his work of love about Jean Dominique, the Haitian independent radio personality and director of Radio Haiti Inter, who was assassinated in 2000. 

It was an insanely moving film. Dominque's widow, journalist Michèle Montas, was in attendance at the festival, sharing her thoughts about her husband and the legacy of repressive government and free journalism in Haiti.

Angels, Levoy Exil, 2002

Aside from the political and journalism education at this Demme event, I learned about Haitian art for the first time. And I've never been the same since. 

Loas, Levoy Exil, 2002

Demme talked about the unbelievable bounty of Haitian painting. After that night I started doing research into it and found that I particularly loved the artwork of the Saint Soleil school, especially the work of Levoy Exil, who paints loas (special kinds of voodoo spirits) and angels, and Diesel Paul. 

Family, Dieusel Paul, 2003

I own four of their paintings and they are among my most prized possessions. Really, one of the few objects that I care about at all. These paintings are among the very few things in my new life from my "old" life. They hang in my new apartment, on the mostly empty walls.

Loas on my spare walls

I also own a beautiful book called, "Where Art is Joy," about the contemporary Haitian art scene. 

I can live my life stripped down and bare, as it is now, but I'm so happy to have these paintings. I don't know how they influence my own art. They are simple, like the stitching that I'm attracted to. I love the textured feeling of the painting. I love the folkiness of the images. But it is more than that.

Detail of swirling light from Angels, Exil, 2002

Perhaps there is no direct influence at all, which I find impossible to believe. I'm influenced by the impression of my bracelet on my skin, so it is hard to believe that this actual, live artwork is not filling me with suggestions. Is not radiating ideas. 

Detail from Paul's Family, 2003

Maybe I'm too easily influenced! But I wouldn't trade the ability of life and art and people to impress themselves upon me for anything in the world. 

Is that wrong?


  1. I love these. I have never seen any Haitian art. These are superb. I wanna sew some!!!!!!!!! My god you are inspirational! Love you Jx

  2. Haitian art is very vibrant and speaks to all:) The Haitians live to paint. Thank you for sharing!

  3. These are gorgeous. And it is not wrong to be easily influenced (with regard to art)! There is no such thing as a sui generis artist.