A report by Matthew J. Palm for the Orlando Sentinel.
Frantz Zéphirin might be a priest, but he is equally interested in affairs heavenly and earthly.
A leading Haitian artist, Zéphirin’s colorful works are on view at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens through April 16. His paintings offer an intense mix of spirituality, politics and activism swirling through vivid hues and intricate patterns.
Zéphirin is a priest of Haitian Vodou, the Caribbean religion often referred to as “voodoo” that mixes elements of African spiritualism, Catholicism and other influences. GladdeningLight, the Winter Park nonprofit that explores the intersection of spirituality and the arts, partnered with the Polasek in Winter Park to present the exhibition, titled “Contemporary Visions of Frantz Zéphirin: Haitian Mystic.”
Most of the works were painted specifically for this exhibit. Zéphirin, 48, lives and works in his Temple of the Seven Virgins, on a mountain near Port-au-Prince.
Showing how recent the work is, one striking painting depicts the despair of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew devastated the island nation in October. “God Help Haiti,” Zéphirin writes of his large-scale work in acrylic, which also condemns Haitian politicians who took advantage of suffering citizens: In the eye of patterned storm bands, ghoulish skeletons clamor for votes from the battered populace.
Matthew is far from the only natural disaster to hit Haiti. After a 2010 earthquake, The New Yorker used an image by Zéphirin to illustrate its cover. That caught the eye of Polasek curator Rachel Frisby.
“It is easy to get lost in one of his works,” she says. “Let your eyes take in the overall dance of colors as you dissect each circular level.”
Zéphirin, who as a child painted for cruise-ship tourists, was the featured artist at GladdeningLight’s January Symposium in Winter Park.
“The art of Frantz Zéphirin is spirited and empowering, representative of individual struggle in the wake of societal neglect and political impression,” says Randall B. Robertson, founding director of GladdeningLight.
Some paintings resonate on a higher plane.
A cemetery throbs with color, light and mysterious eyes in “The Visitors.” Zéphirin explains the title of the piece this way: “They come among us to live silently and swallow our energy. They accompany us even after death to show us the passage so we may be like them… they are the ones who have preceded us on this planet.”
Frisby hopes the exhibition will help dispel misconceptions about the Vodou religion. “The word Vodou itself is highly charged and often misrepresented in our media,” she says, pointing to “early depictions in Hollywood of the dark jungle, inundated with exoticism and zombie terror.”
To offer more insight into Haitian culture, the museum will host a free “Haitian Mardi Gras” celebration from 1-4 p.m. Sunday with food, music and art activities. An educational lecture about Haiti will take place at 7 p.m. March 14 at the museum’s historic Capen House. To register, email email@example.com.
‘Contemporary Visions of Frantz Zéphirin: Haitian Mystic’
- What: Exhibit by the Haitian artist
- Where: Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, 633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park
- When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Sundays; through April 16
- Cost: $5; $4 seniors; $3 students; free age 12 and younger
- Call: 407-647-6294
- Online: polasek.org
- What else: Haitian Mardi Gras Celebration at the museum from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Open house includes art activities, food, music and lectures. Explore the intersection of Christianity, Vodou and the tradition of Carnival in Haitian culture. Free admission; $5 to park onsite.