Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art: Philomé Obin

Philomé Obin (1892-1986)

A recognized master in Haitian art history, Obin was born in Cap-Haïtien, where he developed a personal style inspired by this region of northern Haiti. Rendered with precise and meticulous attention to the details of street life, the mountains, village architecture, and its colonial past, it is distinctive as “The Obin style.”

Philomé Obin was a devout Protestant. He received rudimentary instruction in drawing at a young age and produced his first known work—a watercolor of a young man hunting—when he was seventeen years old. He painted on and off with no recognition for over forty years. By the time he sent a painting to DeWitt Peters in 1944, Obin was over fifty-years-old.

The “Obin style” is often described as “magical pseudo-realism.” It is characterized by rows of peak-roofed townhouses with protective overhangs, elongated shuttered doors with long iron hooks, and tiny simplified figures in the foreground.

Obin saw everything precisely as it was: the mountains behind Cap-Haïtien, the glaring sun in the streets, the coffee-colored Capois elite, the arcades, and the iron balconies. He depicted the bearded, turn of the century revolutionaries with their flashing black eyes returning from the hills on their white horses to take advantage of the latest political crisis. He represented the Cacos—the name given to the Haitian rebels during Haiti’s U.S. occupation, 1915-1934—putting up courageous battles against the U.S. Marines. He saw inspiration in the Catholic convents, Masonic lodges, Mardi Gras masqueraders, and military parades.

In 1938 the Masonic Lodge at Limonade paid him six dollars for a group of heraldic panels. In 1943 Obin painted several religious pictures for Masonic Lodge No. 6, and in 1944 he sent President Elie Lescot a painting of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, an unacknowledged gift. That same year, Obin shifted his waning hope to be an artist in the direction of the newly opened Le Centre d’Art and wrote on his blackboard, “Dear G-d, the year 1944 was a bad one for Philomé Obin. Please try and make the year 1945 a better one for him.” In 1945, five months after DeWitt Peters received his painting of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Obin was put on a monthly salary and organized a branch of Le Centre d’Art in the North.

In 1976 the president of Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, awarded Obin with the highest government honor. More than a dozen of Obin relatives became painters. His legacy was also measured in the two murals he painted for Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, “The Crucifixion” and “The Last Supper.” Unfortunately, both murals were destroyed during the 2010 earthquake.

Sources: Rodman, Selden. Where Art Is Joy. Haitian Art: The First Forty Years. New York: Ruggles de Latour, 1988. 71-96 https://arthaitian.com/obin-philome-1892-1986


 
Philomé Obin (1892-1986)

Se yon atis yo rekonèt kòm yon gran Atis Pent nan istwa atis Ayisyen. Oben fèt Okap, kote li te devlope estil pa li dapre enspirasyon li jwenn nan rejyon nò peyi d Ayiti. Lè l pentire sa k ap pase nan lari a, lè l ap pentire mòn yo, kay nan bouk yo, ak tras kolonyal li, li pentire yo ak anpil presizyon, yo konsidere sa kòm “Estil pa Obin.”

Philomé Obin se te yon Potestan devwe. Yo te ba li kèk leson desen lè l te piti epi premye tablo yo rekonèt li fè – se te yon tablo ki fèt ak penti alo ki montre yon jènjan k ap fè lachas, lè sa a li te gen disèt an. Li fè prèske karant an ap pentire tanzantan san pesonn pa t pòte atansyon a tablo li yo. Distans li te voye youn nan tablo l yo bay DeWitt Peters an 1944, Obin te deja genyen plis pase senkant an.

“Estil Obin an” anpil fwa yo dekri l kòm “sedoreyalis majik.” Fason pou w rekonèt travay Obin se lè w wè yon ranje kay tèt pwenti ak yon arebò kouvèti kay ki elonje, gran pòt long ak gwo kwochèt an fè, epi ki gen ti pòtre tou senp ki bat sou devan.

Obin te wè tout bagay egzakteman jan yo te ye a: mòn ki dèyè vil Okap yo, solèy ki tap klere nan lari a, elit Kapwa ki te koulè kafe yo, galri kay yo, ak balkon an fè yo. Li te fè pòtre revolisyonè ak bab ki gen zye nwa klere ki tap desann sot nan mòn sou cheval blan pou yo vin pwofite de dènye kriz politik yo. Li te reprezante Kako yo- se non yo te bay Ayisyen ki tap fè rebèl pandan okipasyon Ameriken an, 1915-1934—yo te fè gran batay kont Lamarin Ameriken. Li te jwenn enspirasyon nan kouvan katolik yo, nan lòj mason yo, nan moun ki te maske nan epòk madigra yo, epi nan parad militè yo.

An 1938 Lòj Franmason nan Limonad peye Obin 6 dola pou l fè yon seri panèl eradik. An 1943 Obin fè plizyè tablo relijye pou Lòj Franmason No.6 la, epi an 1944 li voye yon tablo Roosevelt, Churchill, epi Stalin, bay prezidan Elie Lescot, yon kado Lescot pa janm di si l resevwa. Menm ane sa a, Obin vin mete ti rès espwa l te genyen pou l devni yon atis sou Le Centre d’Art ki te fèk ouvè lè sa a epi li ekri pawòl sa yo sou yon tablo, “Bodye papa m, ane 1944 la se pa t yon bon ane pou Philomé Obin. Tanpri eseye fè ane 1945 la yon pi bon ane pou li.” An 1945, senk mwa apre DeWitt Peters resevwa tablo pòtre Franklin D. Roosevelt la, yo kòmanse peye Obin yon salè pa mwa epi li ouvè yon branch Le Centre d’Art nan zòn Nò a.

An 1976 prezidan Ayiti a, Jean-Claude Duvalier, bay Obin pi gwo meday gouvènman an te ka bay yon sitwayen. Plis pase yon douzèn nan fanmi Obin yo te vin atis pent. Yo rekonèt travay li fè tou akòz 2 tablo li te pentire sou mi Katedral nan Pòtoprens lan, “Krisifiksyon” epi “Dènye repa.” Malerezman, tou de tablo sou mi legliz sa yo kraze nan tranblemanntè 2010 la.

Men ki kote enfòmasyon sa a soti: Rodman, Selden. Where Art Is Joy. Haitian Art: The First Forty Years. New York: Ruggles de Latour, 1988. 71-96 https://arthaitian.com/obin-philome-1892-1986


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