“Art A Go-Go” by Mahalia SolagesIf Larry Gagosian could see the paintings a gogo (what Haitians call something in abundance, not referring to his moniker) in this unconventional location he would, well, have enough to open another 700 square meter gallery. It’s no wonder why someone like Larry ‘GoGo’ Gagosian would miss the light mustard storefront. There are overgrown weeds and Lab Corp boxes hanging on the outside of the partially rusted expanded mesh entryway. There is a shop across the street that sells No Pin calling cards and a bakery cafe. There are fluorescent orange markings along the sidewalk. Jean-Michel Basquiat tagged things all the time, yet his art hangs in Go-Go’s galleries.I suppose a purveyor of contemporary and expressionism art wouldn’t think to pass under the red faded awning and grill gate of The Center for Haitian Studies, Health and Human Services, a clinic offering free ob/gyn and family practice care in Little Haiti, Miami, to find original artwork by the most recognizable Haitian painters. Nor would I.Whereas the immense expansive canvas’ of artists’ Evens Florestal, Augustin Rosier, and Claude Mathurin collections would have art enthusiasts palm itching and others pearl clutching, the patients waiting in stackable red vinyl conference chairs have other things to think about than to be concerned with the 5’x8’ Franz Charlemagne painting they’re leaning their weary heads on—there’s a wait, the air is clammy and the soda machine is out of order.Rasha of Haitianista and myself wait to get buzzed into the long hallway with doorways painted in what I call pastel island colors: chalk green, pink, ecru, to name a few. We are followed by a pharmaceutical rep, but led by a man who takes us to another coded entry to the person we are here to see, Romuald Blanchard.Blanchard, dressed in charcoal khakis and a polo with a Lobèy logo, is a consultant at The Center for Haitian Studies, Health and Human Services. He is owns Lobèy art and travel and is an absolute art enthusiast who handles the reselling of original works of art by modern artists.Yearly, Lobèy art and travel productions, in collaboration with Fondation Bienfaisance and the Center for Haitian Studies, sponsors two aspiring artists to feature throughout the Center. This year, Augustin Rosier and Evens Florestal, hailing from ENARTS (Ecole National Des Arts, Port-au-Prince) are the honorees. We walk along a labyrinth of hallways all lined with original paintings and randomly placed white paper with ‘art show second floor’ printed and taped to the walls. At the landing at the top of the stairwell, before going through another doorway, there is a table draped in black cloth. On it lay a few things including three black portfolios, each with a picture of the featured artist, including last year’s winner, Franz Charlemagne. The professionally made portfolios contain over twelve double spread color pages of their artwork. There are some business cards, luggage tags from Lobèy, and a handout about the “Perceptions” exhibit.Blanchard often says, “I have to show you this…” pointing out artwork from various painters. He bounces between numerous cell phone calls, explaining the conceptual art, and talking about the medical education the clinic offers. Medical students in their fifth semester from local schools such as UM, Nova, FIU, Barry, as well as some Caribbean schools do rotations here. With the help of the funding received they are able to recycle back towards financing programs whose resources have been cut down due to budget constraints. “I should mention, we attend community events, local galas and auctions,” Blanchard adds when questioned on how else he sells the artwork. When asked about his unusual gallery, he told us that the Center is the most cost effective space to display the artwork.Moving along the hallway there are cards on the floor against the baseboards, with the bold title of the painting, medium, and canvas size typed underneath. Blanchard points out a vibrant piece at the end of the hall by Claude Mathurin whose life sadly, was snuffed out in the earthquake. Mathurin primarily painted historic pieces: Taino Indians, revolutionary, etc. Claude was 32.Blanchard moves to Rosier. Abstract and Cubism come to my mind when I look at his strong lines. Many if not all the pieces throughout the exhibit are vibrant and harmonious. Haitian artists seem to be apt at knowing the chemistry between pure colors. Some are visual recordings, like Charlemagne; some are expressions, like Rosier and Florestal. Styles range from Surrealism to Realism to Abstract—all mixed mediums, acrylic and oil, laden with symbolism. We walk to two large chilly conference rooms where the Veve collection hangs. “This is a not sponsorship of religious groups,” Blanchard states of the Voudou inspired series by Florestal. He can’t help but appreciate the gorgeous lime, cerulean blue, cinnabar and crimson colors scrolled into signature symbols. Blanchard’s own interest in art dates back to the 80’s. It expanded into the 90’s when the Racine Festival began.“Before there was writing, there was this,” Blanchard says. Haitian hieroglyphics. Blanchard talks about the work as we move around the room. I feel as if I’m listening to someone reading scenes from the Matrix and Avatar. The first painting, a locked door, Blanchard explains was strategically placed. Its’ title: Legba—opens prisons. Legba, is the interface one must channel to first enter the other dimension in Voudou practices. Ezulie, is the spirit of love, and Agueta Royo, the spirit of water. There are dry erase boards where he had employees try their hand at creating their own version of lines, hearts, diamonds and crosses that make up the Veve essence.He takes us to another room, a warmer one, but Blanchard doesn’t turn on the lights. There is a tent sitting askew to the right with a light inside creating a glow. I can see the shadow of a person squatting inside. There are paintings on the wall as well as canvas’ propped at angles against each other on the carpet; others are laying flat. There is music playing or rather lamenting to a musical background. I hear Rasha say, ‘woah.’ “Do I need to explain the exhibit, or the idea was sold?” Blanchard asks in the dimmed light. The works are those of Franz Charlemagne. The music, Manno Charlemagne; no relation. All the sepia toned paintings with splashes of color show ruins, tin shacks leaning toward the ground with pigs foraging, suffering, angst. One piece has a hand emerging from rubble.It’s an eery sort of foreboding. All the works were completed before the earthquake.Blanchard takes us to another room, a storage area. In 2004, he three operated clinics in Haiti all financed by the art that was sold. In 2010, they all fell. A graveyard of dusty desk chairs, copy machines, clocks, boxes of syringes and medical equipment, all donated to help Blanchards’ quest to rebuild one clinic fill three rooms. I see unframed pieces on the floor next to strewn summary of benefits leaflets. There are also tall wooden hand carved exhibit pieces standing by a doorway. “Let me show you,” Blanchard says, “Oh, they are so far away,” reaching back to show the works of Exumé, Exil, more Mathurin. Blanchard pauses in his accented elocution, choosing the right words to share the ‘special story’ with every frame he pulls back. An art movement initiated in the early 70’s when peasants in a mountain community who had never painted before were given art materials in an experience on spirituality, spontaneity and art. “It’s astonishing what was produced,” says an awed Blanchard.The methods and techniques linked a web to the school of Saint Soleil, where Levoy Exil’s signature flattened amoebic figures are outlined in a dotted pattern, to the school of beauty where Desmangles’ emergence of profile and shadow washed many of his canvas’, eventually influencing: Payas, Fleurent (the only woman), and Martial whose Barbapapa like figures bear a semblance to Exil’s. They, among others, are the multitude of frames I see stacked on copy machines, behind examining tables, by lab boxes.On the sheet detailing the Perceptions exhibit it says: “The process of creativity is felt and seen, compelling one to reflect not only on the finished work, but also on the journey required to reach that illusive destination.” “Art for Survival,” says Romuald Blanchard.Forward uplifting movement. It seems we have our own Go-Go.To reach Romuald Blanchard:Romuald Blanchard firstname.lastname@example.org 305 401-1802 www.lobey.net “Unveil the world through Art & Travel”By: Mahalia Solages www.mahaliasolages.com
about the author
Mahalia Solages is the author of two children’s picture books. Her fiction has appeared at WritingRaw, WWOHD and she contributes regularly to Haitianista. Upcoming projects include a story in an anthology, and a story in L4K. Her ongoing projects include two women’s fiction novels, and a middle grade novel. Mahalia received her degree at the New York School of Interior Design, attended FIT and FIU, worked as a flight attendant for over a decade, became a pilot and a Flight Instructor. She settled into the literary world and creative writing via various courses including Gotham Writers Workshop, New York.Mahalia continues her life in Florida with her family and roommates Misha and Mr. Nelson—the cats.