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Frantz Zephirin

Frantz Zephirin

Zephirin was born in Cap Haitien, Haiti on December 17, 1968. By his reckoning, he is the 24th of 48 children sired by his architect father (with 19 different women). As a toddler he sat and watched his uncle, the Haitian painter Antoine Obin, as he worked. By the age of seven, Frantz was filching paint in bottlecaps to do his own paintings. Within a year he was selling paintings to the tourists from cruise ships that docked in Le Cap in those days and by age thirteen, lying about his age, he was selling work to galleries. Eventually he moved to Port-au-Prince and became associated with the Galerie Monnin.

His style is unique among the painters of the Northern School. He describes himself as a "Historic Animalist". He is entirely self-taught. Unlike many Haitian painters, he usually titles his paintings. Zephirin counts among his influences Leonardo da Vinci, James Darwin and the Lost Continent of Atlantis. His work is shown internationally. In October 1996 he was awarded the Gold medal in the Third Biennal of Caribbean and Central American Painting, sponsored the The Museum of Modern Art of the Dominican Republic. This competition featured 144 artists from 37 countries in the region. He was one of five Haitians to be included in the V Biennal in Cuenca, Ecuador in 1996. Two of his paintings are featured in the wonderful show "Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou" that toured the USA in 1997 and 1998. One of his paintings is featured on the cover of the bestseller "The Immaculate Invasion" by Bob Shacochis. His work was shown by the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltiimore) in the exhibits, "Holy H20" in 2005 and "Home & Beast" in 2006-7. Zephirin lives outside of Port-au-Prince, but travels extensively. (biographical notes courtesy of Bill Bollendorf - Galerie Macondo).

The Passage of the Ghedes in the Cemetery

Indigo Arts Gallery and art dealer Frank Giannetta presented Frantz Zephirin: Art and Resilience, the first US exhibit by Haitian master painter Frantz Zephirin since the January 12th, 2010 earthquake.

Exhibit dates: Thursday, May 13 through Saturday, June 19

Frantz Zephirin at the opening of his exhibit at Indigo Arts Gallery.
May 15, 2010 (photo by Anthony H. Fisher)

Frantz Zephirin is one of the leading contemporary artists working in Haiti today. A self-taught artist born in Cap Haitien in 1968, Zephirin has variously been described as a visionary, a surrealist, a visual satirist and an “historic animalist”. His work has been featured in museums and galleries around the world.

After a very close call with the earthquake Zephirin immediately went back to work recording his visions of a violently transformed world. His painting, “The Resurrection of the Dead “ was the arresting image chosen for the January 25th cover of the New Yorker magazine. Since the earthquake Zephirin has been featured in stories in the New York Times, Le Monde, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London, the Guardian and the BBC - website and broadcast. During March through May, 2010, Zephirin has been exhibiting his work in the exhibit Haiti Art Naif: Memories of Paradise? at the art center Denkmalschmiede Hofgen in Gimma, Saxony, Germany. A portion of the sales of Zephirin’s work will be donated to Haitian earthquake relief.

Zephirin only barely escaped death in the January 12, 2010 earthquake. According to an article in Le Monde, (“Haïti, les peintres de l’espoir” (Haiti, Painters of Hope), by Annick Cojean, Feb. 13, 2010) he responded to the quake, as to other calamities, by painting:

Some of these artists, like Frantz Zéphirin and Henri Jean-Louis, began painting feverishly, immediately after the quake, as a way to process the horror they had just witnessed. In the aftermath of the January 12 disaster, Zéphirin took a painting to Pétionville to gallery owner, Michel Monnin; undoubtedly, the article underlines, the first painting to be produced after the earthquake.

The painting, full of eyes—eyes of horses, zebras, giraffes, birds, mermaids, specters, and winged creatures—is “magnetic and inspired.” And it is not the only one; there are five or six more in the making. As Zéphirin says, it is impossible for him to do otherwise: “I can only think of this. The earthquake. I walk in the devastated streets, I drink, I think, and I go back to paint. I do not sleep. I paint. I paint like I breathe.” Also a vodou priest, many mythological aspects are present in his work. In his paintings “leaning over the disaster, spirits and gods, struck [by the event], meet, connect, and merge to find a solution to the problem of Haiti.” Zéphirin feels that the earthquake can act as a catalyst to produce deep and positive change. He also wants to convey a message about treasuring ecological wealth and fighting deforestattion. He wants to point out through his paintings that while houses and buildings were crumbling, the trees remained in tact and resisted.”

Shortly after surviving the January 12th 2010 earthquake, Zephirin was honored with the selection of one of his paintings for the cover of the New Yorker magazine. The January 18th story below gave New Yorker readers some background on the painting:

January 18, 2010
Posted by Blake Eskin

The cover of this week’s New Yorker is titled “The Resurrection of the Dead.” It was painted by the Haitian artist Frantz Zephirin.
“The Resurrection of the Dead” is not a direct response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th; Zephirin painted it in 2007. But Bill Bollendorf, who runs the Galerie Macondo, in Pittsburgh, explained that the three skeletal figures in the doorway are guede, members of a family of spirits who guard the frontier between life and death. The woman in the wedding dress is Gran’ Brigitte, and the man in the blue uniform is her husband, Baron Samedi.
Elizabeth McAlister, an associate professor of religion at Wesleyan University who specializes in Haiti (and who took part in Sasha Frere-Jones’ two-part roundtable on Haitian music), offered additional interpretation of the symbolism in the cover image. She understood the wall surrounding the doorway to be filled with
the unblinking faces of the spirits of the recently dead. Just crossed over, they still have eyes, which are the blue and red of the Haitian flag.
She went on:
Below them are the waters, the waters under which lies the country without hats, where the sun rises facing backwards. This is where the dead spend a year and a day. An ba dlo. Under the water. Resting. Floating. After that when it is time, they will be lifted out, drawn out, by their living. If they are lucky to have children living and walking on the earth.
The dead are still with us, in the unseen world. They have a space. They have a time. They have company. They are not alone. They will be received. They will hear prayers. They look at us.
Bill Bollendorf says he met Zephirin in Haiti in 1989. The artist first travelled to Pittsburgh in 1995, and every so often comes to visit and paint. “He always takes a Greyhound bus from Miami,” says Bollendorf. “He likes to ruminate on his art.” On his most recent visit, in 2007, Zephirin “painted five fabulous paintings and drank seven cases of Yuengling beer—and he was here for eight days,” Bollendorf says.


The Resurrection of the Dead - Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
New Yorker cover, January 25, 2010

In his paintings, Zephirin will refer to, and comment upon, history, politics, and Christianity and voodoo; “Bourique Chaje” (“The Overloaded Donkey”) is a critique of a comment made by an American ambassador to Haiti. Zephirin’s paintings often contain animals; Bollendorf says Zephirin once told him,”I’m an eagle. I hang above it all and see what I can catch.”
Zephirin’s home was in Mariani, near the epicenter of the earthquake. “He lives on a mountaintop in this voodoo temple, and on the second floor he paints,” he said. Bollendorf was unable to reach Zephirin for several days after the earthquake. Zephirin finally called him on Sunday afternoon, and said he was “doing an earthquake painting called ‘The Cry of the Earth.’ Painting it while sitting at an easel in the devastated street, he tells me.”

In September 2010 Zephirin's work was once again featured prominently, this time on the cover of Smithsonian magazine. The Smithsonian article, The Art of Resilience, by Bill Brubaker, describes the effect of the earthquake on Haiti's cultural resources, including the destruction of the Centre d'Art, the Musée Nader, and the Cathedral Sainte Trinité, as well as the restoration efforts by conservators from the Smithsonian Institution. It also looks at the plight of Haiti's artists, including profiles of Prefete Duffaut, Frantz Zephirin, Nacius Joseph and others.

Cover of Smithsonian magazine (September 2010)

The Passage of the Ghedes in the Cemetery
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (20 x 16), 2007

Price on Request

SOLD 7/2015

Rara ti Boujwa
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (48 x 48), 2007

Price on Request

Mariage d'Agoue et Simbi
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (20 x 16), 2010

Price on Request

Baron La Croix et Les Ombres du Calvaire
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (20 x 16), 2010
Exhibited at the Noyes Museum, January through March, 2011

Price on Request

Ground Zero (Kaditzsch, Germany, 3/28/2010)
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (43.25 x 27.5), 2010

Price on Request

Welcome to the World
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (20 x 16), 2010

Price on Request

The Oppressed
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (40 x 30), framed, 1997
Exhibited at the Noyes Museum, January through March, 2011

Price on Request

Kadia Bossou et Diabolobossou
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on board (20 x 16), c.2000
Exhibited at the Noyes Museum, January through March, 2011

Price on Request

La Deportation de Caonobo par les Espagnols
Frantz Zephirin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Acrylic on canvas (30 x 40), c.1990

Price on Request

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All photographs and text Copyright Indigo Arts Gallery, LLC., 1998-2015. Use without permission prohibited.

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