»Study on Vulnerability« refers to autobiographical vulnerable and even destructive moments in your life – physically and mentally. Can you elaborate a bit on your history on deconstructing your figures and the figures’ heads in particular?
I was introduced to art by a mentor who was schizophrenic and maniac. His work was always showing figures that were mainly destroyed. He has a lot of demons. I was attached to this residue, and it took me time to move away from it and I understood my path wasn’t a search for destruction. To play with fragmentation was a search for my capacity to do and undo, reveal and take away – a search for the possibility to recreate myself. This could be physically, through my identity, or my place in the world. This force made its way into the work. In the portraits it might look like destruction, but it is more an expression of incapacity. I was confronted with and working with these incapacities to recreate a part of myself in the world. By embracing this incapacity, I evacuate the absolute. With that out of the picture, I am in a space of equal possibilities and it is in that space that I feel comfortable with possible realities and futures. It also creates a space of infinity, which I believe is the definition of abstraction. The figure is not destroyed; it is simply present in a different dimension.
So, it is more about revealing mental states and emotions, and the complexity of feelings, and fragmented identities … and about (failed) attempts of restoring our identities at any time and at any place being.
Exactly, and again how this mental architecture became present in the work. Because if the work is an extension of myself, there is a moment when it is so close that I become the work. There is an elasticity in the work and if it appears intense, it is because I myself am struggling with the work. Lately, I have this sentiment of denial because the world – especially the art world – is expecting certain things from my work. In the States, for example, the reception is very much about what it is to be a Black body, what it is to be a Black Haitian man. Is my abstraction always pointing toward spirituality? If I am allowed to leave that space and when I fall into a space of self-actualization where I can talk about what I want to talk about, it is empowering. When an external object enters a new space, it is perceived through the gaze of the spectator; it is permanently hitting it with his/her* sensibility, just like waves. In a spectacle in which two futures are competing for a better present, you can see how the perception of each other becomes primordial for the survival of one another. There is an intersection where the spectator and the spectacle hold the same future.
It sounds like you feel trapped in a certain discourse and expectations that you try to strip off from time to time.
What you focus on owns you. I think it can be a distraction to talk about a work in relation to the gaze applied to it. I didn’t grow up in a world where I needed to paint Black people for them to exist in art, which is the case in the States, for example. When you look at Haitian painting, we’ve been painting Black people. We found through a dreaming state of painting. This is the kind of legacy I am looking back upon. But I don’t feel the need to address it. I grew up in a house where you could see many Black bodies, if not only Black bodies in a painting. It is just the way it is. Among nature and cities, there were people in the painting. And as I started putting my work out there, I started being defined as a Haitian artist, as a Caribbean artist, as Black artist, as an International artist, and now I am understanding that the narrative is well and strong and present and there is no room for me to get lost. The place where anything starts is when you really feel lost or helpless, and this is it what I want to seek. I have to define what being lost in that context means. For me it is a state I surrender to my intuition and not my head. A state in which reality actually talks to you. From the perspective of control, we use the word »lost« but actually maybe the right word is »grounded.« A friend of mine used to say you honor yourself when it comes from source. It somehow makes sense to me. James Baldwin said »The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.«
Is this search for getting »lost« the reason why the elements fire, air, and dust have become an integral part of your paintings? I imagine that including these elementary forces into the process of creating a painting offers a particular mode of getting »lost,« and that in comparison with using paint, the burning is no longer controllable at one point.
Well, I wouldn’t see the process of painting and burning as two opposite approaches. Because of the way I use paint, I am constantly in a moment where I am playing with losing control and regaining it. But, I am slowly shifting toward the idea of finding art and not creating it, working with these new materials gets me closer to that idea. Painting somehow still feels orchestrated.
»To play with fragmentation was a search for my capacity to do and undo, reveal and take away – a search for the possibility to recreate myself. This could be physically, through my identity, or my place in the world.«
The difference with the process of burning is that it is a definite act. In that sense the act of destruction or disappearance is closer to drawing than to painting. With drawing there is something much more assertive in the way of working than in painting. With Sol LeWitt, we can argue that he finds the drawings because he is not totally in control. With the act of burning I am playing with something that is final or radical in a sense. There is a level of radicality in the burning that is not the same with painting.