Philomé Obin is acclaimed as one of the greatest Haitian painters of his time (July 20, 1892 – August 6, 1986), producing his first recognized work at just sixteen years of age and continuing to create art until his passing. Yet even by mid 20th century, the Cap-Haïtien born artist had barely realized a living for his works.
Celebrated now in the contemporary, Obin’s distinctive style was initially less appreciated by the Haitain middle-class who felt his representation of Haitian history and daily life too simplistic – too poor. Held at higher regard were the paintings emulating French extravagance rather than the painted murals and commercial work depicting an honest Haitian way of life.
Obin’s works, seemingly flat and lacking exact perspective, possess considerable depth; the illusion of unsophisticated figurative drawings give way to a precision and detail almost unrecognizable to the naked eye. The flatness of his works simultaneously dictate a pain and an endurance; his scenes of public celebration are a joyous revolt, a hallelujah to the Haitian independence, whilst his self-portraits unvarnished and bare, disclose the darker unchanging politics and poverty of the country. The Haitian dependence on the west is cyclical, and a theme often allegorically referenced in his works. His reoccurring inscription on many of his works, “Avant l’occupation, durant l’occupation, après l’occupation” [Before, During, and After the American Occupation], illustrate the changing periods of American influence on Haiti and its population.
Labelled the ‘sophisticated naif’, Obin’s particular use of pastel colours and muted tones characterized his works, this subtlety influencing many painters of the ‘Cap-Haitian school’, some of whom being family members he himself had trained: his brother Sénèque (1896–1972) and his own children Antoine Obin, Télémaque Obin and grandchildren such as Claude Obin, Michaëlle Obin, Henry-Claude Obin, Harisson Obin, Donald Obin. Obin’s works can be found all over the world, the largest collections residing at Sotheby's in New York, and galleries in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo.
Images courtesy of PHILOMÉ OBIN
words HELENE KLEIH
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