Something surreal is happening on the lower level of Mulberry Street Library this summer: Haitian-American artist Christophe Clavier has five paintings on display. Influenced by sources such as the surrealists, French classical painting, and Roman mythology, the artist conjures up a world of mystical imagery.
Clavier was born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti in 1977. He began drawing at the age of six, inspired by the drawings in an old French dictionary he found in his house, the Larousse. He was captivated by the classical figures and faces he encountered there, such as the linear features of King Louis XIV. Clavier was also fond of the stories by 17th century French storyteller Jean de Lafontaine. The fables were fascinating to him, and fed his artistic imagination.
Not all people Clavier encountered were enamored with his creative talents. His primary school teachers would often complain and tell his parents that he spent too much time drawing and not enough time studying, which affected his grades. One day, the teacher took his drawing away and threatened to tear it in half. All the students — 63 in total — protested, and urged the teacher not to do it. From that moment on, seeing all his fans, Clavier caught “the virus” to be an artist and has not turned back.
Secondary school proved even harder for Clavier. He did not like mathematics, but he found a home in classical stories from the Greek and Roman empires, and 18th century literature, which also began to fuel his artwork. In 2002 Clavier went to the National Art School of Haiti for one year of formal training. He felt that the political problems in Haiti would not amount to a future for him as an artist there, so in 2006, he emigrated to the United States. He currently lives in New York with his wife, and is studying toward a B.A. in Criminal Justice.
Q & A with Christophe Clavier
The New York Public Library: Have you shown your work before?
Christophe Clavier: I have had some private shows among friends, most recently a show with an illustrator. We sold a few pieces among our friends. I would like to have more shows at the Library.
NYPL: Who are some of your favorite artists?
CC: I like the surrealists — Magritte, Dali. Dali did over 2,000 paintings and I want to beat him in my lifetime. Picasso — I like some of him, but he kills women in his work, distorts their faces. But there is something fascinating about this too. I also like the classical French painters, and my heroes are Michaelangelo and DaVinci. DaVinci had the audacity to put himself in La Gaconde (Mona Lisa). I like to do this too sometimes. I will paint my eyes into a picture.
NYPL: How often do you draw?
CC: I draw every day. Everyday. I have tons of drawings. I don’t just like to draw a bottle, it is important to transform the object through composition. I love to mix colors, invent new colors. Emotions can be represented through color. I mostly work in acrylic because it is more forgiving and dries quicker. I wish I had more time and space in my life to devote to artwork.
NYPL: Do any of the pieces on display have a name?
CC: No, I haven’t named them yet. But one of the paintings represents the oldest living Cacique, or ruler, of the Taino people that was alive at the time Columbus arrived on the island (which he renamed Hispanola in 1492). The Cacique Guacanagaric is represented in this painting having the vision of his people being destroyed by a more powerful country. The chicken represents the fighting spirit, derived from the sport of cock-fighting, and of the strongest warrior at the time, Caonabo. He was the most skilled fighter. and the Spanish could not capture him, but he eventually gave himself up so that he could make peace for his people, who were being slaughtered.
The artist's paintings will be on view in the Lower Level Adult Reading Room at Mulberry Street Library through August 31, 2011.