Gerard Fortune is a Haitian artist who was born and raised in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. His exact date of birth was uncertain, with different sources listing it as 1924, 1925, or 1933, but he has said that he was alive during the Haitian dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier, which would put his age at about 50-60 years old. Gerard began painting in the early 1980s, after working as a pastry chef at a hotel. He is known for his naive style of painting, which includes depictions of village life, vodou ceremonies, politics, and other subjects. His works have been exhibited internationally and are included in the permanent collections of several museums.
Gerard was inspired by the works of other Haitian artists, including André Pierre, André Normil, the “Saint-Soleil” community, and Hector Hyppolite. He gained confidence in his own work after a Frenchman purchased his first painting, an 8×10 inch canvas of Jesus on the cross. He continued to sell his work, always in a naive style, using whatever paint he could find and always in bright colors.
Gerard’s paintings often depict daily life in Haiti, including scenes of villages, the sea, and flowers. He has also painted vodou ceremonies and political events. He does not like to be tied down to exclusive contracts with galleries and prefers to be free to create and sell his paintings as he pleases.
The Frenchman encouraged him to continue and at some point, Gerard gained confidence and began taking his work to Issa El-Saieh, a former orchestra leader in Haiti who went on to become one of Haiti’s major gallery owners. It was at Issa’s gallery in Port au Prince that I first saw Gerard’s work. Surrounded by hundreds of paintings hung on walls, piled on tables, standing on the floor, I discovered a huge painting of happy village life. There were pretty little houses, and people of all sizes, dogs fighting over a bone, and cars and trees and flowers and bright colors. It was a painting of Haiti…if Haiti were a place where things were perfect. Later, I found another of Gerard’s village scenes of the same size –and they hang across from each other in my home.
Issa made a contract with Gerard and didn’t want him to sell to other galleries. Well-known dealer Georges Nader, too, took Gerard’s paintings but also wanted to be sole representative. But such arrangements did not (and still don’t) suit Gerard. He likes to be free to do what he wants, in terms of what he paints, how many paintings he makes, and to whom he sells.
“God tells me what to paint, the feeling of each painting.” He says that God gives hope to him. “Inspiration comes from God at all hours, “ he says, and so sometimes he works all night. Anyone can come to see him working by candlelight when there is no electricity in the one-room home that he shares with a small cat.
During the earthquake, he said his tiny house shook. Walls outside toppled over. He ran out into the courtyard. Other family members living around the same courtyard ran out of their small houses as well. No one was hurt and the homes didn’t suffer too much damage. “That’s because I have a good heart. God protects me. It was the first time I saw a goudou goudou (the popular term for earthquake, meaning rumble-rumble) —and I thought it was the end of the world.”
Gerard Fortune passed in 2019.
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