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The canvas of Joan Miró

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The work of a master artist at the end of his life often anticipates the innovations of the next generation, even inspires it with more radical ideas than those generated in the artist’s youth. The sculptures of Michelangelo anticipated the optical theatrics of mannerism, the so-called “Black Paintings” of Goya inspired the symbolists, and the late works of Joseph Mallord-William Turner look remarkably like those of a young Claude Monet (who saw them in London as a refugee of the Franco-Prussian War).

The same could be said of Joan Miró. Though not as famous as some of his fellow surrealists, Miró’s long life afforded him the ability to keep working and innovating until the early eighties, while remaining true to his signature artistic style.

In 1963, Joan Miró was finally able to access the art he’d hidden in storage before fleeing, along with many other artists, Nazi-occupied France. Instead of selling these pieces–unseen for close to 20 years–Miró installed them in his new studio on the island of Majorca, turning to them repeatedly for inspiration in the last decades of his life. The artwork created from this amalgamation of old and new, prewar and postwar, shows an artist pared down to the most elemental, most elegant and sparse execution of his youthful artistic ideals. It is a small selection of these works, on loan from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, that are on view at the Denver Art Museum, March 22 – June 28.

Born in 1893 Barcelona, in person Miró came across, as Desmond Morris once put it, “The exact opposite of his paintings.” He was a short, unassuming man who dressed in conservative, modest suits and was polite and quiet in company. Some of Miró’s demeanor was perhaps attributable to his life before he became an artist: he worked as an accountant until 1911, when he had a nervous breakdown and decided to quit his job to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. On his first visit to Paris in 1920, he immediately became involved with the surrealists and modern painters like fellow Catalan, Pablo Picasso.

Miró lived in dark times, particularly for his native Spain, and though it might not be immediately apparent, that darkness became a part of his work, particularly in his later years.

Occasionally Miró is referred to as a “fringe surrealist,” but this is a stylistic distinction that misunderstands both surrealism and Miró’s work. He was in fact a full-fledged surrealist, participating in their first group exhibition and applying surrealist techniques to his paintings. The only thing that made his work “fringe” was that it didn’t look like any of the other surrealists’ paintings. Infused with color, symbols, biomorphic shapes, energy, and the abstracted elements of automatism–a favorite method of the surrealists that was supposed to unlock the subconscious–Miró developed a distinctive style that was bold, vibrant, and unique, exerting an influence on everyone from Picasso himself to, later, Robert Rauschenberg.

Yet it may surprise people to learn that this man, one of the most well-known painters of the 20th century, once declared he wanted to “assassinate painting” (as well as “break [the cubists’] guitar,”) and worked just as prolifically, if not more so, in sculpture. The majority of his works at the DAM exhibit are, in fact, sculptures, lost-wax bronze castings that integrate seamlessly with the figures and symbols found in his paintings. No matter what medium Miró worked in, his style was absolutely singular and recognizable.

Miró’s work is often described as fanciful, playful, and phantasmagoric, and it’s easy to see why. Take “Harlequin’s Carnival,” for example, which was on display at the DAM last year as part of the Modern Masters exhibit. One of his most recognizable pieces from the 1920s, it’s filled with squiggly lines and strange, imaginary creatures. The energy and visual chaos of “Harlequin’s Carnival,” however, conceal a diligently, even rigidly, composed work of art, divided into distinct quadrants, with a precise balance of color and form. This wasn’t just an artist painting off the cuff; this was someone who, even relatively early in his artistic career, knew exactly what he was doing.

The pieces in the Miró exhibit at the DAM show much more restraint than “Harlequin’s Carnival,” although the combination of lines, abstracted forms and shapes, and odd-looking creatures, remains intact. It can be quite easy to dismiss Miró’s work as “cute” or “childlike”–many of his sculptures look like robots off the set of Lost In Space, and there’s occasionally a cartoonish quality to his paintings. The smiling figure in the lower left-hand corner of 1976’s “Landscape,” for example, appears disarming and charming, a bright spot of innocent marvel in what might otherwise be a very dark, abstract work. Yet there is also something very menacing about Miró’s figures. Like with a Bosch painting, your eyes are treated to a visual feast of color, line, and fantasy, but the fantasy is not necessarily a pleasant one. Miró himself said that if his pieces were to tell stories, they would likely be tragedies.

Joan Miro Woman Bird Star

Woman, Bird, and Star by Joan Miró. Image provided by the Denver Art Museum through the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Miró lived in dark times, particularly for his native Spain, and though it might not be immediately apparent, that darkness became a part of his work, particularly in his later years. In his 70s and 80s, inspired by the political movements of the 1960s, Miró attended sit-ins against Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco (still dead), witnessed protesters beat up or even shot by police, and painted powerful triptychs such as “The Hope of a Condemned Man,” which served as a direct indictment of Franco’s regime. None of the pieces in this exhibit are so overtly political as that work (although the statue of a bull’s head skull could be interpreted as a comment on Franco’s effect on Spain), but there’s no doubt the mood of the era was infused in Miró’s art.

Another one of the major themes in Joan Miró: Instinct and Imagination is that of women, specifically images of women, birds, and stars, a trio that served as a central motif in Miró’s oeuvre. The show opens with a large bronze sculpture of an abstracted female figure, all hips and breasts. Nearby is “Woman, Bird, and Star (Homage to Pablo Picasso),” and a lost-wax bronze casting of an assemblage–or sculpture made out of found objects–of a figure bearing similar forked and celestial motifs. The female figures in Miró’s work, unlike in Picasso’s, are not meant to represent a woman, but The Woman. Like many surrealists, Miró developed a fascination for prehistoric art, and both his sculptures and paintings frequently draw upon ancient symbols and artifacts like the so-called Venus of Willendorf, creating modern echoes of goddess imagery and rock art in a gallery setting. Miró used female figures to represent fertility, birds to represent imagination, and stars to represent the cosmos, forming a symbolic language unique to his work that only enhances the pieces’ enigmatic sensibility.

As the exhibit progresses, one is presented with numerous assemblage sculptures, made with forks, broken picture frames, plates, rocks, and many other objects, pulled together to create figures or abstract pieces. Some of the sculptures have the distinct texture of coral or beach wood–because Miró actually found his materials while walking along the beach in Majorca! While found object art may seem rote or expected today, Miró was one of the first artists to “assemble” found objects together into singular pieces–another surrealist game that relied on chance and the alchemical sense of transformation to create art. Miró knew his assemblages were finished when they’d become their own object.

After the assemblages, the next section of the exhibit presents us with a series of paintings in the style that best defines Miró’s later years. Here we see the frantic lines, squiggles and shapes of “Harlequin’s Carnival” reduced down to their essence, one or two simple lines offset by a dot or star. The best of these pieces is “Poem in Praise of Sparks,” what Miró called a landscape of movement and sound. With two elegant, emotive, lines surrounded by soft marks of red, blue, and yellow interspersed throughout the canvas, “Poem in Praise of Sparks” is arresting. Sitting in front of it, one feels as if one is watching fireworks, filled with a quiet awe at the distant explosion of color and sound. Miró said of this piece, perhaps a tad defensively, “Yes, it took me just a moment to draw this line with the brush. But it took me months, perhaps even years, of reflection to form the idea.”  Other paintings in this group are equally emotive, touching one with a sense of peace, tension, or hope.

With these apparently simple, minimalistic works, Miró said he wanted to “capture the maximum intensity with the minimum of means . . . the immobile movement, the eloquence of silence.” A very zen-like statement for very zen-like paintings that have all the elegance and austerity of a haiku poem. Not coincidentally, Miró was deeply inspired by Japanese art in his later years, even collaborating with Japanese poet Shuzo Takiguchi, who wrote the first monograph about Miró’s work, on several works of art.

As Miró got older, he became more concerned with space and how to apply it so that it wouldn’t be just empty real estate on a canvas or in a sculpture, but a psychological force that occupied a place in his viewers’ imagination. In the final section of Instinct and Imagination, we see examples of this in every painting and assemblage. Space is a presence on Miró’s canvas, an essential part of the composition that balances out his bold use of line and heavy application of primary color with a subtly and confidence that didn’t exist when he painted “Harlequin’s Carnival” 50-ish years prior.

Overall there were less pieces in Joan Miró: Instinct and Imagination than I was expecting and, with some notable exceptions, the majority were not representative of his best later work. That said, Miró wanted his art to inspire people to dream and imagine, and the exhibit certainly succeeds in doing that as well as representing the culmination of a brilliant career. Later in his life, Miró stated, “I painted in a frenzy, with real violence so that people will know that I am alive, that I’m breathing, that I still have a few more places to go.” Working until the age of 90, Miró was an artist who defied his age and the expectations that went with it, never going quietly into that good night. From antagonistic political declarations to alchemical processes and poetic, philosophical representations of the universe, the art of Joan Miró, like the man himself, is more than it at first appears.

Need to know:

The show runs through June 28

Mon: Closed

Tue-Thurs: 10 am-5 pm

Fri: 10 am-8 pm

Sat-Sun: 10 am-5 pm

 

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The Last Watchman: The lost story of Colorado’s worst train wreck

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The only reminder of one of the worst train wrecks in Colorado history is a weathered post with a small white sign that stands sentinel at the edge of an unassuming arroyo. It is cracked, and wrapped in barbed wire so you must stand very close to make out the fading words. “This historical marker is a tribute to author-historian Dow Helmers (1906-1976), author of THE TRAGEDY AT EDEN the story of Colorado’s most disastrous train wreck… ’” it begins.

In 1904, dirt roads may have been the main mode of travel, but they made going long distances impractical and often unpleasant, so the idea that a train could smoothly and quickly get you to your destination seemed an attractive choice for the regular traveler to take advantage of the special weekend rates.

The arroyo today. It was near bushes that probably looked a lot like this that Mayfield found the deceased Engineer Hinman after more searching. Many others were not as lucky to have been found. The Gartlands from Denver suffered profound losses. Kate Gartland and 4 of her 5 children were on the train. None survived and 9-year-old Walter was never found. (C.D. Prescott)

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on that Sunday the 7th of August in 1904. A few scattered rain showers and even cloudbursts were often expected that time of year. The passenger train from Denver to Pueblo was running on schedule and ticket holders were gathering on the platform for their return trip home from their weekend jaunts.

The train was the No. 12 that had just made the trip from St. Louis to Pueblo where it picked up the dining car from the last southbound train and headed to Denver where it would be stocked, cleaned and staffed in preparation for the trip to Pueblo. Now that it would be heading south, it was redubbed the No. 11.

The No. 11 had seven cars including the engine. There was also a baggage car, a coach car, a chair car, two Pullman sleepers and the dining car. The well-regarded Henry Hinman would be the Engineer and his fireman would be David Mayfield. Both men were from Denver.

Passengers boarded and the No. 11 left the Denver station for its date with destiny on time at 5pm. It was in Colorado Springs that Hinman was given a bulletin order to use caution and watch for standing water. At least 50 more passengers also boarded. Many were headed for Pueblo but there were others that would be continuing on to further destinations.

Leaving the station about 5 minutes after the scheduled departure, Hinman carefully followed his orders and would eventually be running at least 15 minutes late. They were due in Pueblo at 8:15pm but were crossing Bridge 110-B over Hogan’s Gulch at almost 8:20pm at no more than 20 miles per hour.

The engine swayed to the sound of cracking timbers as Hinman eased the throttle forward hoping to quickly get to solid ground. The front had just reached the bank when it suddenly stopped, lurched backwards and began to slide into the churning waters below.

A panicked Mayfield managed to jump clear of the falling engine but after being struck by a timber from the bridge, he was washed downstream just far enough that when he crawled ashore, he was still able to see the train’s headlight shining into the sky. After searching and yelling for Hinman, to no avail, he made his way to the Eden Station for help.

Passengers that got out to investigate were immediately stunned to find that the engine, baggage, coach (smoker), and chair cars were gone. The bridge wasn’t simply empty as it was immediately apparent that it had also met the same fate. It was only the automatic air brakes that had kept the remaining cars from following suit.

Being the heaviest, the engine sank like a stone but the other three missing cars and their inhabitants tumbled in the rushing waters towards Fountain Creek. The angry waters smashed through glass and took lives quickly as they violently twisted the cars in an ultimate test of their very structure.

It was in this act of destruction that a few lucky survivors managed to find their escape. John Killin had to hold his breath as the car filled with water and it rolled with the current. He had just broken a window when the car collided with something and a large piece of the roof tore away.

Using the new exit, he was able to get out of the car and attempt a swim to shore. He was struck by a railroad tie and grabbed it for use as a floatation device. Falling from it a few times, he managed to find it again until he reached water shallow enough to wade to shore. Later, he would display the tie in his Pueblo store as he credited it to saving his life.

Henry Gilbert and Tony Fisher also managed to navigate their escape and the treacherous waters to find their way to shore where they met and immediately received medical attention. Rescue efforts started immediately as the water had already begun to recede and the first relief train took the survivors and the passengers from the remaining section of the train to Pueblo.

Men with lanterns rushed to try to find any other survivors. They lit fires along the shore for heat and light, but the searchers would have to wait for dawn before any real progress was made. Their rescue mission quickly became one of recovery and while they found most, they didn’t find everyone.

Word spread quickly that there had been an accident and it drew crowds wanting to help in the rescue efforts. It also brought looters that were willing to hunt for any bodies but only to relieve them of anything that they might be carrying of value. The macabre also arrived to spread blankets to picnic nearby as they watched the rescuers like they were attending a theater production.

The engine proved to be harder to recover than had been anticipated. The crane from Pueblo couldn’t handle the weight so a replacement from Salida had to be retrieved and that would take a little time. The bents from the new bridge were put in place while the engine still remained engulfed in the mud below.

The final death count had been 96. It would have been 97 if they had included Tony Fisher who survived the wreck but would die almost a month later from tetanus on September 1st from injuries related to the crash and his time in the water. The bridge was in place in time for the passenger train to run on schedule the next day.

At least 80 square miles of land used to drain through that arroyo but a better understanding of engineering and drainage improvements has changed that. Now water rarely flows through the dry ditch that was Hogan’s Gulch and when the sign was erected it wasn’t even called that anymore. It had been changed to Porter’s Draw as arroyos are usually named for the landowner.

Aside from what is left of the sign, there are no visible remnants of that fateful night. Even the replacement bridge has given way to the newer stronger, sleeker version to the east. The Eden train station has been moved and was used as a personal residence for a bit. Only the sign remains, but local lore claims that on cloudy nights, the lights from long gone lanterns bob in the distance along the banks searching for the lost to at last bring them home.

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Soul mates: An interview with Colorado’s in/Planes

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I feel the need to take a quick second to clear something up—I watched the band in/PLANES get married. Not for this article, mind you; the ceremony was years ago. I have been friends with musical and otherwise soulmates Inaiah Lujan and Desirae Garcia for over a decade at this point (due in no small part I’m sure to our mutual enthusiasm and passion for local music). As a result, I have had the opportunity to bear witness as not only their music but also relationship has burst and bloomed into multiple amazing endeavors. Whether it was their passionate and spirited take on Dustbowl-era Americana as members of folk revivalists the Haunted Windchimes or the wonderfully intimate lo-fi solo albums the both of them have released over the years, these two have a continually impressive musical output and a charm that I have always been excited to delve into. Hell, they even played in my basement once upon a time.

But none of them have struck me quite the same way as in/PLANES has. “Radio Wave,” their first full-length offering via Denver indie record label GROUPHUG, is something altogether different; something wondrously unique. It could be their voices. THOSE voices—honeyed and harmonious—especially whilst entwined in the duets that frequent the songs of in/PLANES. It could be the melodies they create—a riding-high blend of 50’s sha-la-la doo-wop, 60’s sunshine pop and indie-birthed soul—that feels distinctly pop without the trappings of sounding glossy or over-produced. Where tons of modern indie acts are ready to make a loud racket, in/PLANES instead opts to let the grooves play out sparsely and intimately, with inviting musicianship and vocal performances that envelop the space surrounding them. Whether live in concert or in the car, the music of in/PLANES holds on tightly and never lets go.

PULP: It’s weird trying to formally interview you guys; being friends makes it weird to ask you questions in a regular way.

Inaiah Lujan (guitar/vocals): That’s okay.

Desirae Garcia (bass guitar/vocals): We’ll be semi-formal.

IL: Business casual. (laughs)

I did do some research though, and I realized that in/PLANES has been around for longer than I remembered. But this new album is your first full length?

IL: Yeah. This is our first formal release that isn’t an EP. And also first physical release. There is some intention with that. You know that we are champions of analog stuff; Cassette tapes are my first love; I grew up making mixtapes. And CD’s have always felt pointless to me, but for so long we played the game because you used to HAVE to have CD’s on the merch table. But this band has been pretty vocal about our disdain for CD’s; “Radio Wave” is only going to be available on cassette. You’ll get a digital download with purchase of the tape.

Speaking of which, what does the name “Radio Wave” mean in regard to the band?

DG: It’s a line from the song “Why Didn’t You,” a song that is actually not on the record. (laughs). But it’s the very first in/PLANES song we ever wrote. We wrote that song, and it felt like it was part of a totally different project; it felt different than anything we were doing. So maybe it’s a nod to the beginning of the project. We like to think of the song as kind of a breadcrumb to where we are at now.

IL: The benefit of this band is getting to take our time with things; to be more intentional. So now we have been releasing stuff retroactively. The EP we released just last month is stuff we had recorded from our apartment; “Radio Wave” is stuff we put together with Adam Hawkins from Right Heel Music and our drummer Carl Sorensen, and we already have another album in the works.

For me, it also has dual meaning; in/PLANES seems to always create this kind of duality. “Radio Wave” also musically reminds me of when people were only listening to the radio. It kind of plays to idea of this vintage-pop genre we’re kind of going with.

DG: That’s also the music that this record is really inspired by.

IL: The EP feels like kind of a sampler or mixtape for what we’re all about, but this full length is more focused; a little more of that classic pop sound. It’s a fitting title for sure.

DG: Also it’s 1,000,000% love songs; which is bad and good. (laughs)

When you wrote “Why Didn’t You,” did it feel like a song intentionally for a new project?

IL: I think it just presented itself that way; I had been toying around with some chords, and I had been trying to write a song and I didn’t know where to start with melody or lyrics, so I had Desi help me out and it came together really quickly.

In doing so, we realized that we hadn’t collaborated in that way with just the two of us since the beginning of the Haunted Windchimes. At that point, the ‘Chimes had already become four contributing songwriters and had developed a strong formula; in that way it felt like not exactly a departure, but something new that we could try and explore on our own.

DG: It came out really naturally and organically. And it didn’t fit anywhere, either with the ‘Chimes songs or solo songs.

Do you feel like fans of the ‘Chimes and your solo efforts are following you down this path?

IL: I think so. We are all taking a break with the ‘Chimes for now, but we haven’t officially announced that to our fans, so sometimes we’ll get messages asking where we’ve been and why haven’t they heard any news about the band. So maybe some people are a little resistant to it. I don’t know.

DG: It sounds different enough so that some people aren’t going to be into it, which is okay. The other day, someone left a comment on the Windchimes Facebook page asking about us, and another person commented back saying “you should check out in/PLANES and (Haunted Windchimes member Mike Clark’s) the River Arkansas” and the first person commented back “We just like ‘Chimes’ style music,” which is okay! You don’t have to follow us everywhere.

IL: The great thing about being an artist and a musician is the ability to shift gears and follow rabbits down different holes. And with in/PLANES, we’re already trying to get out of our own box and comfort zone. But the common thread that ties it all is that we write all of the songs together, and we wear our influences on our sleeves.

So if you had to explain what you think in/PLANES sounds like, what would you say?

DG: That is my least favorite question, because it’s so hard to explain. The shortcut i usually go for is throwback, vintage pop with some rock tendencies. And if they’re listening after that, then I’ll just keep talking until they walk away, because it’s so difficult to answer.

But like to go with vintage-pop, because if someone says rock & roll, I don’t feel attached to that. We write pop music; all the formulas, the lack of formulas…

IL: It does feel like something you would turn on the radio and hear in the 50’ or 60’s to me, but our modern influences still sneak in; we’re both big fans of hip-hop and country music, and it all gets in one way or another.

DG: Digital drums are where we lose a lot of people. They’re like “WHAT? Is that a digital drum?” And I’m like, “Yup, it is.” (laughs) It’s those 808 beats.

The electronics are really subtle in your songs though.

IL: I think so too. I think we just want to be able to write a song without putting it in a box, you know? But at the same time, making sure to trim all of the fat; which may be contradictory.

We’re not trying to write complex songs. I don’t like to have any rules, but I do like to set limitations on myself; almost like limiting your color pallette if you’re a painter.

DG: Not to be pigeonholed, but also maintain some cohesion. Present yourself in a way people can understand. I don’t like to tell people what genre of music we are, but it is helpful for us; it makes us more focused.

IL: Knowing where the line or limitation is and knowing how far we can push it over causes a tension we like to work under. It’s good tension.

DG: You can’t put me in a box—only I can put me in a box!

“Radio Wave” from in/PLANES is out 5/3 on cassette via GROUPHUG records, with a slew of release shows and a digital release to come soon thereafter. For full dates and info, head to inPlanes.com

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The Exotic Strangeness of the Americas on display at CS Fine Arts Center

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This month the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center premiers a modest collection of Haitian paintings and sculptures titled, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory.” Though the exhibit suffers from some organizational problems, it still provides a fascinating look into a country whose rich culture and fiercely independent people belie its difficult past.

Haiti: land of fire and land of mountains. The first black republic in the world and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a country of extremes, colorful, noisy, in-your-face and uncompromising. That unsinkable spirit is reflected in its unique art, which is famous all over the world for its vibrance, joy, energy, and creativity.

The FAC’s “Art of Haiti” touches upon three common themes in Haitian art: voodoo (the “loas” mentioned in the title, which are voodoo spirits), historical scenes, and scenes of daily life around the island. There are paintings, sculptures, multimedia pieces, and installations, but unfortunately no prayer flags, which are probably the most popular Haitian art form currently on the market.

Strangely, The Art of Haiti works backwards from the most recent and modern art, ending with examples of artists who helped jump-start the Haitian Renaissance. Therefore it’s best to go against the flow set out by the curators and start the exhibit in the last gallery, gradually working your way back towards the beginning.

The Haitian Art Renaissance began in the mid-1940s, when an American watercolorist named Dewitt Peters opened a gallery, the Centre d’Art, in Port-au-Prince. What set Peters’ gallery apart was his collection of artists, which included both formally trained and self-taught, or “naïve,” painters.

It was these untrained artists who eventually became famous all over the world for their unique painting style. Like Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Haitian naïve painting captures daily life and events using simple lines, vivid colors, and flattened, patterned backgrounds. The charm and exuberance of these works feels at once very non-Western, and yet very accessible. The style appeals to a vast array of artists and collectors, from André Breton to Jonathan Demme.

You can see several pieces by some of the most famous Haitian Renaissance painters at the FAC (although the superstar of the bunch, Hector Hippolite, is not represented). Wilson Bigaud’s “Gede at the Graveyard,” and Antoine Obin’s “La Viste,” are perfect examples of scenes of daily life. Both Obin and Bigaud are able to tell a whole story in one non-narrative scene, contrasting a dark subject (death) with bright colors and a ton of movement and visual interest; or balancing a happy subject (a visit) with a softer palate and simplified, linear composition.

Michel Obin’s “Battle at the Ravine at Couleuvres,” meanwhile, is a visually complex history painting depicting a scene from the brutal slave rebellion that led to the nation of Haiti. His use of patterning in the trees and fields is particularly outstanding. That same technique and tradition is continued with a contemporary twist in the works of Tessa Mars, on the wall catty-corner to Obin’s piece.

Also of note in this gallery are the metal sculptures placed in the corners of the room. These represent a unique Haitian art form, first popularized by George Liautaud in the 1950s, where artists hammer out old oil drums to create loas figures and crosses for graves.

The Haitian Renaissance artists like Hippolite and Philomé Obin didn’t follow a particular school or style of art. Instead, they creatively searched for ways to express themselves and their culture. Today some contemporary artists adhere to their “naïve,” linear, and hand-painted style, while others–called the moderns–reject the Cap-Haitien style of painting in favor of the art schools and styles of the US and Europe. Nevertheless, the work of the moderns has the same vibrancy of color, historicism, voodoo influence, and vitality that can be found in the art of the naïves.

One of these artists, seen in the next gallery down, is Edouard Duval-Carrié. His multimedia series called Memory Windows uses layers of colored glass and resin, along with images and objects, to create kaleidoscopic pieces that are like puzzle boxes of Haitian history and culture. “Memory Window #1,” for example, has portraits of Haiti’s native Taíno people decimated by disease after Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola. These portraits also include Toussaint L’Ouverture, the revolutionary general who’s considered the father of Haiti, who is kind of like the Haitian version of George Washington. Up close the Memory Windows reward viewers with details and surprises; farther back they take on the appearance of organic forms, like split cells or skulls.

Another modern artist with numerous pieces in The Art of Haiti is Ralph Allen. Although born in Haiti, he emigrated to New York at a relatively young age to escape the reign of Haiti’s Duvalier dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc.” Much of Allen’s work addresses the terror of the Duvalier years and the ongoing political, social, and environmental problems in Haiti. His pieces are lyrical, blending images together in a flowing pattern that pulls viewers in like a visual maze. Sometimes the effect is sensuous, as with “Mistress Erzuile;” at other times it conveys violence or horror.

Although laid out somewhat confusingly and in desperate need of better signage, “The Art of Haiti: Loas, History, and Memory” provides a good introduction to the art and creativity of this unique country and the indomitable spirit of the people who live there.

The Art of Haiti will be at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center February 10-May 20, 2018. For more information please visit www.csfineartscenter.org.

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