From the village to the big city: a Haitian artist in Manhattan
Brooklyn, N.Y. — Welcome to the studio and living quarters of Haitian artist Ury Domond. It's a basement in Brooklyn, where children play catch between stacks of brilliantly colored paintings. From above there's the smell of fish frying, and the footsteps and soft Creole of two dozen of Mr. Domond's relatives, who live in eight rooms.
And there's Domond himself: a slight, 32-year-old man in a black straw hat, straddling canvases to greet a visitor with a grin.
Like the scores of other Haitian painters living in New York City, Domond came here to find a broader market for his work and to help support his extended family.
Until recently, he was flying home every few months to the village of Jacmel, where he was born, and where most of his family lives. His four brothers, all artists, are there; so is his uncle, Wilmeno Domond, known for his bright yellow and red pattern paintings, and Domond's only child, his five-year-old daughter, Barbara.
``But right now there is too much problem in Haiti,'' he says sorrowfully, referring to recent outbreaks of violence, which made it impossible for him to attend his mother's funeral a few weeks ago.
So he sends money, dreams of next year when he hopes to bring his daughter to Brooklyn - and concentrates on what he came here to do.
To sell his paper-m^ach'e animals and buses, and his large-scale marketplace and ``voodoo paintings,'' Domond has had to overcome his natural shyness and become a little bit the New York hustler.
``On the street I am always looking for places to bring my work, and the work of my friends,'' he says.
His pluckiness has paid off: His work has been shown at galleries in Brooklyn and Manhattan, at a group show last year at the Brooklyn Museum, and has been purchased by private collectors in New York, Boston, and Washington.
Most popular are his green-eyed papier-m^ach'e tigers, quizzical-looking parrots, wild buses overflowing with riders and packages - and his marketplace paintings. In these, crowds of women and their wares are depicted in soft purples, greens, and blues, with the mountains of Jacmel often in the background.
``His work reminds me of Rousseau's,'' says Bob Sardell, who sells Domond's work at his shop, San Art, in Brooklyn. ``He's got a fine compositional sense and a poetic sensibility. It's not your run-of-the-mill tourist painting.''
Barbara De Martis, owner of the Brownstone Gallery in Brooklyn, agrees. ``His work shows a great deal of depth, more than any of the other Haitian painters I represent. ... They're done from the heart.''
But his ``voodoo paintings,'' Ms. De Martis admits, are not for everyone. Firmly set in a Haitian painting tradition, they portray the ceremonies and dramas of voodoo. As Haiti's indigenous folk religion, voodoo incorporates African religious and magical traditions, as well as elements of Roman Catholic ritual.
The imagery in these paintings by Domond are striking and mysterious, as in ``Interpolation,'' in which he tells the story of a man who refuses to honor a goddess. Some, however, find these pictures disturbing:
``My relatives, who live in this house, are Protestant and don't like me to paint my voodoo paintings here,'' explains Domond. ``So I paint them in my friend's apartment in Manhattan, or when I'm in Haiti.''
Domond has retained his Haitian sense of generosity, even after three years of coping with the difficulties of New York City: ``You like this painting? Take it home,'' he urges a visitor admiring a painting. ``Pay me when you can.'' This way of doing business can obviously backfire. Puzzled, Domond takes out a check made to him which was twice returned by the bank. ``Why would this man take two of my paintings, then disappear?'' he asks, frustrated. ``I keep calling him.''
Like other Haitian painters living in New York, Domond sometimes has to supplement his income by doing other work, in his case as a house painter and plasterer. But he finds a silver lining in these periods: ``It rests my eyes,'' he says. ``Two, three weeks of painting - and my eyes hurt. Then I go do some other work - and soon I can do my paintings again.''
Homesickness is a more serious challenge for him. One of his brothers sends him photographs of the mountains of Jacmel to console him, and ``to give me ideas for paintings,'' says Domond, for so far the streets of New York have not inspired him.
``But there are things I like here,'' he says, brightening. ``The dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, and the giraffes, tigers, and pelicans at the Bronx Zoo.''