Haitian Art: An Expression of Culture and Fantasies
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG –Haitian Art: An Expression of Culture and Fantasies opened last week at the Feather Serpent Gallery, 1018 Central Ave., and will run until Oct. 8. The art of Dr. Ludner Confident is the centerpiece of the exhibit, which features a number of Haitian artists.
Confident, a St. Pete resident and anesthesiologist, started dabbling in art as a youngster in Haiti.
“I was creating my own toys, my own Christmas cards,” he remembered. “And then I finally wanted to do oil paintings, so I went to an art center in Haiti and started doing ceramics and oil paintings.”
Then came medical school, so he had to tear himself away from his palettes and canvases to devote himself fully to his studies. From Haiti he moved to New York, then to Washington for his medical internship and on to New Orleans for his residency. And as the years went by, the doctor started collecting art and in the process of collecting the works of others, he suddenly realized: “I’m an artist too! I should be painting! Let me see what I can come up with.”
So he picked up the brush again in 1988, at the age of 39, after he had moved to St. Pete. He bought books, visited galleries and watched videos. Once again he started producing his own paintings and in time he was encouraged to enter his work in some Haitian art exhibits. He had to coax himself, though, to finally turn the corner from passionate amateur to bona fide professional.
“One painting I didn’t want to sell because it was very important to me,” he recalled, “but somebody insisted on buying it. So I asked for $5,000 and they wrote a check for $5,000! That kind of put an obligation in me to become a professional artist!”
Soon he was immersed in the art world once again, doing about 12 exhibits a year in such cities as Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Miami and Atlanta. His work was even featured in international exhibits in Brazil, France, Canada and even Japan.
As a native of the troubled nation of Haiti, Confident was no stranger to sociopolitical turmoil and some of his earlier work reflected that climate. He described one such painting:
“I painted a young girl leaning on a table,” he said. “Skinny. Hungry. And the American Navy fleet and the Haitian soldiers. There was an embargo in Haiti because of the military coup. And that girl is caught between the two forces.”
Other works dealt with such weighty themes as the Original Sin and abortion, and he admitted it was rewarding when a piece became a subject of discussion which might ultimately enlighten people on social, moral or ethical issues. In later years, though, he turned his attention to serene subjects like seasides, flowers and “the beauty of God’s creations.”
“I moved on to painting beauty and the things that I like,” Confident explained. “I painted sports, I painted music. Most of my paintings have a musical instrument in them,” he said, chuckling.
Many of his works at the Feathered Serpent showcase a balance and harmony between the natural world and man-made objects. “Serenity by the Sea” portrays a woman on the beach, her arms outstretched over a guitar that almost seamlessly blends into the sandy landscape. In a wonderful work of symmetry, “Sailing the Skyway” features a pair of boats in the bay with the iconic Sunshine Skyway at the center, its towers doubling as the boats’ masts. And the aptly titled “Vases” is one of his more sensual works as the curves of flower vases mirror the contours of a woman’s body.
“I would say that I’m a surrealist,” he said. “I like to play with nature, to play with reality and put a twist on it. That’s what I enjoy.”
It is no surprise he named the world’s most famous surrealist, Salvador Dali, as a chief influence.
“I love his intense creativity,” Confident averred. “I mean anybody can paint a still life if you take the time to do it, but when you’re taking reality and turning it into something else? That’s creativity.”
Linda Ramirez, owner of the Feathered Serpent, has always admired Haitian art and even took a trip to the Caribbean nation in the 1970s. Along with Mauricio Vasquez, the gallery’s curator, she is very enthusiastic about showcasing Confident’s work.
“I feel very honored that Dr. Confident was willing to exhibit here,” Ramirez said. “His work is very unique.”
Also included in the exhibit is the work of several other renowned Haitian artists, including Jean Pierre Theard, Robert Paret and George Auguste.
Haitian Art: An Expression of Culture and Fantasies will run at the Feathered Serpent until Oct. 8.