ST. PETERSBURG — In the skilled hands of painter and sculptor Patrick Noze, the history and heritage of Haiti comes alive through his depictions of the Caribbean nation’s natural beauty, idyllic scenes and cultural figures. Gallerie 909 will be featuring Noze’s work in its exhibit “Haiti Speaks” beginning Feb. 13 from 5-9 p.m. with an artist talk at 7 p.m.
And if Haiti does indeed speak through Noze’s work, it is to communicate “things that you don’t normally hear about,” said the artist, a native of the island country. Not only do his paintings depict scenes of the historical past, but include “some of the colorful things that render my country beautiful,” he noted.
Some of them showcase simplistic scenes of Haitian life like street vendors and women walking with baskets balanced on their heads, while others are centered on Haitian history and the bloody revolution, such as “Combat Vertierre,” whose gripping battlefield scene is so vivid you can almost hear the gunfire. Prominent in the oil painting “Mother Haiti” is the striking face of a crying woman, as Noze explained this work was his first reaction to the catastrophic Haitian earthquake of 2010.
“This painting is depicting a crying Haiti,” he explained of the subject, “because of all the suffering, and there’s nothing she can really do about it.” He added that despite all the grief the nation has already suffered historically, over two centuries later it is still experiencing trying turmoil.
The Haitian Revolution, Noze pointed out, took the world by surprise, especially since the islanders defeated the army of Napoleon Bonaparte, possibly the greatest general in the world at the time. After the slave revolt in Haiti, he said, the slaves in America and around the world heard about the successful uprising and began to take action as well.
“It sort of triggered a chain reaction,” Noze stated. He asserted that even after the country won its independence, for years it was still financially responsible to powerful nations like France, and this liability worked to keep the people of Haiti suppressed and some of the nation poverty-stricken.
Though many Americans have a vision of Haiti as a poor, third world nation, Noze was quick to note that the poverty of Haiti is only restricted to a certain area. Though sections of its capital and largest city Port-au-Prince are certainly poor, if you visit other areas of the country, up in the mountains, for example, you’ll find that they are far from destitute, he pointed out.
“You’re going to think you’re in America somewhere!” he said, laughing. “Unfortunately, they always show that one area that’s poor, but Haiti is not poor. I can attest to that because I’m from a wealthy family.”
Adept in oils, acrylics, watercolors and even clay and bronze sculptures to name a few media, Noze is certainly a versatile artist. Some of his busts include historical figures Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and though one of a long line of sculptors, he is the only one in his family who paints as well.
Born in Haiti in late 1962, Noze immigrated to the United States in 1975 and began studying art through private lessons, and after graduating high school attended the prestigious Pratt Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“When we went to school they told us we had to copy the works of the masters,” he said, “and one of the masters that I always tried to emulate was Leonardo da Vinci. He was a genius in his own right.”
A resident of Orlando since 1995, Noze also admires “self-made” artist Salvador Dali, and Noze’s dream-like painting “Comfort Zone” is reminiscent of the famed surrealist’s work. In his own techniques, Noze said, he’ll sometimes employ Dali’s “mind frame” more than his actual style.
Noze was recognized as an artist at the age of 12, when he painted “Rara,” his rendition of a painting depicting a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. His father, he notes, was impressed by what was his first attempt, and sold “Rara” for $50 to a tourist who “fell in love” with young Noze’s application of colors.
But the most rewarding thing about painting, Noze explained, is the end result and achieving what you’re aiming for. “Do the work you love and give it 100 percent” is a philosophy of his.
“Oftentimes people ask me, ‘Why don’t you paint flowers for some people who’d buy it?’” he said. “To paint flowers we have commercial artists who can do that. But to paint a painting that means something that can serve for future generations…then you’ve accomplished the ultimate goal, which is what you wanted to achieve. And that’s really important.”