Haitian art is prized all over the world. This much is known from the dozens of books devoted to it, the global exhibitions, and the high price tags, and high auction bids. But some of these masters behind this art legacy have long died, and those who haven’t are no longer actively painting, while still yet others have already reached their apogee. This leads one to ask oneself, who will take over when these artists are no longer around? Where are the emerging masters?
Yael Talleyrand will be among those who are taking over the reigns, and heralding a new generation of young painters in Haiti’s visual landscape. And that ain’t no bull. Barely settled into her 20s, the Port-au-Prince-based painter has a style that will snatch your eyeballs from everything else, and get you to affix them on one of her pieces. One of her pieces entitled “Nadie en el mundo”, for example, the painter has depictions of four different women. No, it’s the depiction of just two women and on the reverse side are images of these same women, but this time they’re stripped down to their brown flesh. The first woman’s face is covered with elaborate lace, and her eyes are averted. Another figment of lace covers part of her chest, and the rest of her body is bare. She’s settled on a bed that’s as stripped as her body. Is she a “lady of the night”? Though her face is concealed from us, it’s still easy to see that her demeanor is far from joyous. She looks oppressed, hopeless, dejected. And the other woman in the frame? She’s clearly a new figure, though she bears a slight resemblance to the first woman. She’s well-endowed, and her body bears some of the lace that covers the woman in the first frame. Now, their kinship is firmly established. Now again, are the other two women in the next two frames, the next two generations of women in this family line, or are they reflection of the first two women in their youth? But the last two women look to be the same age as the first woman, so this supports the second theory—the theory that the painting just depicts four generations of women in their pains. Could this painting be about mental illness? There’s so much pain in the expressions of these women, as if the said pain got passed on from the first woman on to the others, and became more intense with each passing.
Kreyolicious: Tell us about yourself.
I like to think of myself as a art hustler, totally refusing to adopt or settle down with a specific medium and interested in all the areas surrounding the arts: entertainment, event planning, art teaching, design, production, and most importantly promoting artistic expression as a universal language. I am utterly obsessed with painting and drawing, but went to art school for videography. I’m so close to my camera, I consider it an organ, an extension of my eyes. Of course, being from a family of multiple generations of artists has highly influenced me choosing this as a career path. The way I was raised made it that not for one second was I ever away from artists or a studio.
Kreyolicious: When did you realize that you had some talent as a painter?
Well, I started art school not liking painting. Or painters. I thought it was too complicated of a medium, and that the people that mastered it seemed to all have this ego issue… I took my first mandatory painting class at seventeen, with master painter Timothy App, and the first painting I brought to class was done so carelessly my teacher asked me to tell him about the truck that hit my piece before class. He said he did not care how little I wanted to paint, everyone leaves his class a painter, regardless of what their intentions were before. I don’t know what he did to my brain, all I cared about after that class was painting every time I got a chance.
Kreyolicious: Has anyone ever said anything about your art or about the art world as a whole that made you want to give up?
I have gotten discouraging comments, but that would not be why I’d give up. I know art is completely subjective and that no one’s perception of what I do can truly define it. More importantly the satisfaction I get out of making art has very little to none to do with outside approval. It is more the instability in this field that has had me on the verge of giving up. You can never know how next week is going to be, or where you’ll have to be next month. And at times, I break down and want to stop and do something “normal”, but that would be like erasing my entire life.
Kreyolicious: Sometimes parents have their concept of what their kids should become. And who can blame them. They raised us, they nurtured us, and they spend nearly all their resources on us, be it their time and/or their money. Do you feel parental support in terms of your career choice?
One-Hundred percent. I’ve always gotten the top of the line art supplies growing up, plenty art books about all the artists relevant to what I was doing, was pushed to make art all the time as a kid… Both of my parents are artists but only my mom works in the art field. However I think at first they would’ve rather seen me study something else, knowing that due to my upbringing I would end up making art regardless of what I studied. Though, they also knew how limiting an art education would be when it comes to finding something to do in Haiti down the line.
This concludes Part I of the interview with Yael Talleyrand. Please watch out for PART TWO.