Haitian art came into its own and its genesis goes back very far, well before the emergence of the Haitian people, before the arrival of slave ships and the caravels of Columbus (1492).In the marvelous paintings realized by the Taino Indians on the walls of caves and the colored graphics they made on their naked bodies and the walls of their huts. The painting tradition was consolidated and enriched in the world wind of Saint Domingue with the works of talented Negroes and reached its first blossoming in the newly born Haitian nation under the governments of Christophe, Petion, Boyer and Soulouque with painters such as Thimoleon Dejoie, Numa Desroches, Colbert Lochard, and his son Archibald Lochard. After a difficult period due for the most part to political instability, economic stagnation, the rise of photography and the introduction of chromolithography and during which such artists as Louis Rigaud, Edward Goldman and Lorvana Pierrot Lagojunis distinguished themselves against great odds, Haitian painting experienced a renewal in the 1930’s. With Petion Savain, Georges Ramponneau, Edward Preston, and Antoine Derenoncourt at its core, the “Ecole Indigeniste” was formed which led to the creation of the “Centre d’Art” In 1944, the “Centre d’Art” was created by an American English teacher named Dewitt Peters. He had been sent to Haiti by the U.S Office of Education as an alternative to World War Two military service. Seeing the imaginative works that decorated many Vodou temples, or Ounfo, Peters, also an artist, suspected that the country harbored much talent waiting to be discovered. He resolved to find and promote it. Many artists were then discovered, among them Hector Hyppolite, Philome Obin, Castera Bazile, Rigaud Benoit, Prefete Duffaut, Jacques E. Gourgue, Wilson Bigaud, and Louverture Poisson. Among the non-primitive artists who participated early at the Centre d’Art, it is worth noting the names of Luce Turnier, Max Pinchinat, Luckner Lazard, Elzire Malbranche, and Roland Dorcely. In 1950, following a disagreement, many artists led by Lucien Price, Max Pinchinat, and Dieudonne Cedor left the Centre d’Art to create the “Foyer des Arts Plastiques”. There emerged the “Realisme of Cruaute” so brilliantly illustrated by Cedor, Nehemy Jean, Denis Vergin, and Denis Emile. From the “Foyer des Arts Plastiques emerge the “Galerie Brochette” founded by Dorcely, Cedor, and Lazard. Without breaking completely with l’Indigenisme and the Realisme of Cruaute, Haitian painting became more conscious of purely aesthetic standards took a more intellectual and modern orientation in particular with Spencer Depas, Villard Denis (Davertige), Jacques Gabriel, and Gerard Hyppolite. Rose Marie Desruisseaux got her initiation into painting at the Galerie Brochette. At the Centre d’Art, Andre Pierre and other primitive artists had enhanced the reputation of Haitian art, while Gesner Armand joined the ranks of sophisticated artists. Founded in the early 1960’s, Calfou was the last great association of Haitian artists. With Bernard Wah, painting took a decisive turn toward l’Esthetique de la Beaute. This school which is more formal and less socially engaged, made a definitive break with l’Indigenisme. It found its more forceful expression in the works of Bernard Sejourne, Jean Rene Jerome, Emilcar Simil, Jean Pierre Theard, Jean Claude Legagneur, Jean Claude Castera, Phillipe Dodard, and Lyonel Laurenceau. At the margin of l’Ecole de la Beaute, we should mention such artists as Ronald Mews, Celestin Faustin, Edward Duval Carrie, Tiga, Herve Thelemaque, and Wilfrid Daleus. Of a style that is totally different but catches the attention immediately, the works of Sacha Thebaud, Franck Etienne, and Marlene Phipps are realized in an advanced modern style. During the 60’s also Tiga and Maud Guerdes Robard founded the Saint Soleil post naive school of Haitian painting. The School was born when they offered farmers in Soisson-la Montagne, a rural area in Laboule, Port-au-Prince, drawing and painting materials. Out of the movement came such painters as Louisianne St Fleurant, St Jean, Prospere Pierre-Louis, Dieuseul Paul, Levoy Exil and Denis Smith. The movement drew the eye of French author Andre Malraux who dedicated a chaptor to it in his book L’Intemporel. It is worth noting within that trend, Stivenson Magloire work constitutes an incomparable statement of primitive art.
On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Port-au-Prince and its surrounding area and resulted in mass devastation.The Haitian art world suffered great loss. Museums and art galleries were extensively damaged, among them the Centre d'Art, the Monnin Gallery, and the Musee Nader in Pacot, Port-au-prince.The collection of priceless murals in the Holy Trinity Cathedral were also destroyed. Today the vitality of Haitian art both in Haiti and abroad is an astonishing reality. Today's promising artists are numerous, such as Gregory Vorbe, Pascal Monnin, Albert Desmangles, Carel Blain, Frantz Zephirin, Patrick and marcel Jr Wah, Dominique D. Ambroise, and Fred Thomas, etc. And more than ever its future is assured.
©By Gregory Martineau