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A Hedonist’s Guide to Art Acquisition

This is just my opinion, mind you, and maybe it’s really just me.  But I think art acquisition ranks right up there with food and sex in terms of hedonistic drives. Anybody else?  So why is that?  What triggers that first impulse to buy art?  And then what makes us feel compelled to buy more?  When does the act of purchasing a single piece of art become a full-on libertine pursuit? And if we are so driven, how do we pursue it as gourmands, and not gluttons?

Perhaps the first and most important consideration regarding the purchase of any artwork for collection is its overall aesthetic appeal. The “experts” say that, “A piece of high-caliber art will harmoniously orchestrate the aesthetic qualities of line, tone, color, shape, space, texture, etc. These elements will work in synchrony to maximize the descriptive, emotive, and spiritual effect upon the viewer. Hence, the piece becomes a visual symphony that informs, challenges, and engages the viewer long after the initial response.” And what, in blue blazes does that mean?  Taken down to their most basic form, these criteria are the heart of any decision for purchase.  Simply put: “Do I like it?  Is it pleasing to me?” If the answer is yes, the piece has potential.

One of a kind piece by Michee Ramil Remy. Over his lifetime, Michee produced a large body of work, receiving numerous awards and international accolades. His style is instantly recognizeable, uniquely primative and somewhat edgy.

Evaluating the technical aspects: i.e. the “line and tone” and “harmonious orchestration” of the piece takes a little homework, though you’ll get better as you go along. Talk to people who know the art.  Let them help you develop your eye for “line and tone” and so on.  Casey Riddell comes to mind for Haitian metal sculpture.  This is her business website, to be sure, but take advantage of her wealth of knowledge, if Haitian art is what you’re into. Good, reputable art dealers – and Casey is one of them – is happy to inform and instruct prospective collectors in evaluating the merits of a particular piece.  They can help you “see what you’re looking at,” so to speak.

By all means, visit art galleries and museums, too. Join art societies and mingle with other collectors and experts in your area of interest. (The Haitian Art Society might be one for you.  www.haitianartsociety.com) Check out books and other references, explore every avenue open to you. The more you learn and develop your eye, the better you will become in assessing aesthetic components and their relation to the whole.  When you become familiar with the best examples of a particular type of art, you’ll know how your potential acquisition stacks up.

The corollary to this is: Buy the finest artwork that you can afford.  Let’s break that down.  “Buy the finest…” Certainly! Buying something that is “pretty good” that you “kind of like” won’t give you pleasure in the long run.  You’ll end up wishing you hadn’t settled and the piece will not take its place amongst your treasured collection, it will end up in a garage sale. The second part, “…that you can afford,” is good common sense.  Don’t break the bank.   Not even if you are tempted.   That won’t give you pleasure in the long run either.

And we are back to the original idea.  Do you like it?  Does it give you pleasure? For that is the joy of collecting; to look at your pieces, remembering the where and the when, the knowledge gained, deal struck, and the thrill of the hunt.  Oh yes, there can be more to it than pleasure.  Much more.  But that is where it starts.

Double Trouble and The Marassa Twins

When a sculpture is selected to be sold in the Beyond Borders catalogue or on our website, we photograph it, give it an inventory number, and a name.  This one, for what may be obvious reasons, we chose to name “Double Trouble.” The impish looks on these faces, the hair standing on end, the shape of the mouths – all of that said, “Uh-oh” to us.  “Double Trouble,” absolutely.  It’s cute, it’s catchy.  Maybe someone with twins will buy it.

Well, it turns out that twins is exactly what the sculptor, Orelien Romaire had in mind when he created this piece.  But in his culture, images of twins do not symbolize cute and catchy “Double Trouble” at all.  In traditional Haitian belief, twins are Twins.  The powerful loa, Marassa Dossous Dossa, is a plural spirit representing blessings, abundance, the gift of children, the sacredness of family, and the divine. The Marassa Twins are invoked in very serious matters, and especially in the case of the mortal illness of a child.

These traditions of loa spirit veneration were brought to Haiti during the colonial period by the native Africans that were enslaved to work the French sugar plantations.  The Africans tried to keep their religious culture intact, but the French slave owners forbade the practice of any religion other than Catholicism. Period.  Attempts at any other form of worship were punished severely.

To get around the French, then, the slave population adopted a means of correlating their own deities with Catholic saints.  Catholic iconography was thereby appropriated and the The Marassa Twins came to be symbolized by Saints Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who lived in what is now Turkey and were martyred in 297 A.D. by the Roman emperor Diocletian.

There, the similarities start to diverge.  Cosmas and Damian were physicians and standard-bearers of the early Christian Church.  Today, they are recognized as the patron saints of doctors, veterinarians, children, orphanages, confectionaires, and daycare centers and are invoked in prayer against hernias and the plague. However, there is a rather ironic footnote to add.  To have been canonized, of course, saints must have performed miracles.  The twins, Saints Cosmas and Damian performed a miracle of healing:  They successfully grafted the leg of a recently dead black man onto a disabled white man, who was thus able to walk again.

I wonder how the French slave holders felt about that…

Standing in Canada with Haiti on My Mind

Summertime is vacation time for many of us, and as my family lives in a place to which people escape winter’s wrath, it’s probably no surprise that we chose to migrate northward as the summer’s heat became too intense for general tolerance. We set off for Victoria, British Columbia but, of all things, by the second day there, I was reminded of Haiti.

Haiti? You would think that about all Victoria and Haiti have in common is that they are on islands and that the residents speak some French.  But on an early morning stroll among the float homes on the Inner Harbor, I spied a fish sculpture by Guy Duval and instantly, my mind wandered back to his workshop in Croix-des- Bouquets. Guy is a remarkably talented person that takes great pride in his work.  I thought how pleased he would be to see his art so perfectly set in this beautiful place. It tickled me later when I re-read the letter he wrote to Beyond Borders accompanying a sample of this very design.  He said, “I take this moment extraordinary to introduce to you my model of fish. I think you and your friends are going to like it very much.” He was so right! Haitian art is as perfectly at home at the beach on the Caribbean Sea as it is along the Straits of San Juan in the North Pacific.

After our quayside amble, we hopped on an excursion bus and headed north from Victoria to nearby Buchart Gardens, a glorious 55- acre spread of botanical extravagance that receives upwards of 1 million visitors annually.  The Gardens are the result of great vision on the part of Jennie Buchart, who, in 1904 sought to restore the site of an old quarry after it had been depleted of its limestone. Even on an afternoon when the coastal fog had been slow to dissipate, The Gardens were a photographic wonderland.  Everywhere I turned there were marvels of color and delicacy to behold.

And I thought again of Haitian sculptors, this time, Jimmy Prophet and Willie Juiene, whose artful eyes and exacting hands re-fashion Nature’s work so elegantly in steel. The monochrome of the metal they work focusses one’s attention to form and line, and emphasizes the refined precision of the artists’ touch. These men have never seen Buchart Gardens nor are they likely to, but flowers and trees that serve as their inspiration are miracles of design no matter where they bloom and flourish.  In Haiti, as in Canada, the miracle is the same.

Haiti’s Olympic Team Competes for Hope and Pride

Poor countries have a generally have tough time in Olympic competition.  There are exceptions, of course, but the powerhouses generally are big countries with big populations and big budgets for international athletics.  In this year’s Olympics, it is not surprising that the greatest number of medals is currently around the necks of athletes from United States and China.  Yet the athletes of smaller countries compete fiercely and with pride, doing their best to bring honor and glory to their respective homelands in the name of sport.

Representing Haiti in the 2012 London Olympics are five athletes competing in six events. Three are men, two are women. Four are runners.  But only one, Lineouse Desravine, a judoka, is actually from Haiti.  The rest are products of the Haitian diaspora, running in the name of a country for which they have only a connection of heartstrings.  They are in London essentially on their own, yet they are emotionally attached and very close as a team.

Born in New York of Haitian parents that migrated to the United States, triple-jumper Samyr Laine describes the hurdles to be cleared by aspiring Haitian Olympians: “Haiti’s last Olympic medal was earned by Silvio Cator in Amsterdam in 1928. Its current budget for sponsoring athletes is $400,000, compared with, say, the United States, which spent $170 million. It just doesn’t have any resources and, from my perspective, bureaucracy actually works to hinder the athletes.  Then there’s the damage sustained by the earthquake.   Three of the nation’s five very, very basic tracks are still being utilized as sites for temporary housing.  In short, you pretty much have to be self-motivated.”

So why do they do it?  Well the first and most obvious answer is for the opportunity to compete with world-class athletes on an international stage.  Haiti’s team is composed of good athletes, no question, that have worked very hard to get to London, in terms of training and physical conditioning but also in amassing the requisite backing, both governmental and financial.  As of this writing, however, the judoka, Lineouse Desravine, 800m runner Moise Joseph, 110m hurdler Jeffry Julmis, 200 and 400m runner Marlena Wesh have all been eliminated in the first or second rounds.  Only Laine remains.

Perhaps it is not the hardware that drives the Haitian team.  It is the possibility.  It is the chance to give their country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, something to cheer about.

One-of-a-kind recycled metal sculpture by Louiceus Antelus

Something to take pride in. As Laine says, “If we did win a medal, I know that the entire country and the Haitian diaspora, and people on the island itself, they would just be elated. Even without the earthquake from two years ago, it would still be a big deal to give people their hope.  As athletes, we realize that this is a way for us to use sport to inspire others to rebuild the country, to do great things,” Give hope its wings – Jump, Samyr, JUMP!

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