Montreal resident and Haiti native Guerdy Jacques Preval paints with the perspective of a historian. The author of several books about Haiti’s history, Mr. Preval interprets scenes from Haitian history, but he also paints plain scenes and still life.
Over the course of Preval’s career, he has had exhibitions in Hong Kong, Paris, Ottawa, Venice, Port-au-Prince, and Lagos, Nigeria. Besides the aforementioned books about Haiti, Mr. Preval has also written a book about the history of Haitian music, and a book of folk tales.
You studied under two painters at a workshop called Poto Mitan. What were some of the main things that you learned while you were under their tutelage?
It’s true I studied in at the Poto Mitan workshop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At the time, I wasn’t yet fourteen years old. I had two main teachers: Dorcely, known as Dede, and Garoute—known as Ti Ga. Additionally, I had my classic training at Académie des Beaux-arts, which at the time was directed by Americo Monta Gutelli, who was the culture professor and Raoul Dupoux, the art and drawing professor. And as for training in what is called color dynamics and sensibility, it was Henri Dubreuill—who was a painter at Foyer des arts Plastiques—who gave me the basics…Later on, I’ll find myself at Atheénée Art Studio with a group of painters. That painting school was owned by Emmanuel Pierre Charles. Since I’m done giving these little details, I have to mention a truth that’s often been said: a child’s education begins with the early years. Poto Mitan gave me a particular freedom to create, to experiment. To invent forms that reflect reality, and some that didn’t reflect it. To This is before I ever heard of Picasso, of de Braque or cubism, let alone Paul Eluart, Salvador Dali and surrealism.
You moved to Montreal, Canada in the early 1970s. Was that a big change for you?
It depends. But like the saying goes: Vwayaj fòme lajenès—traveling makes one grows up]. When I arrived in Canada, it was in the middle of what was called La Révolution Tranquille—The Quiet Revolution—and it was revolving around Pellan, Boduas, and so on. These will serve to ignite this revolution and give it meat, especially with the name Le Refus Global, that was the name of the Manifesto. This will change the face of Quebec on all aspects—the political, the social, the cultural. This movement was beneficial to me, and helped me to show how I could make a contribution for change, in case there would be a change like that in Haiti. Case proven since at the end of 1986, I returned to Haiti, I went to teach at Ecole Nationale des Arts—ENARTS—and I trained several generations in the art of painting, as well as in other disciplines. I also taught at other schools like Saint-Ignace de Loyola in Pétionville. I also lent a hand during that time at the School of Ethnology and Sciences.
Out of the things you’ve accomplished in your career, what are you the most proud of?
I’ve authored a great number of books. Proverbes Haitiens Illustrés, for the National Museum of Man for the Canadian government; Kont Bouki Malis ak Tèt Sanko, for children…and a bunch of coloring books; Gérard Dupervil ou La Voix d’une Génération, La Musique populaire haitienne de l’ère coloniale à nos jours, Histoire d’Haiti la Nôtre, Histoire la Culture Haitienne….which is a primer on Haitian literature…Lots of plays too. Asasina Desalin nan pon Wouj….Tousen Louvèti ak Desalin. A bunch of radio soap operas. My greatest source of pride is making it possible for many to learn a whole lot of things. As a researcher, I make it my mission to teach them things, especially things they didn’t learn in the classroom.
What’s the biggest advice you’d like to give to artists starting out?
Art is like a science. It requires that you are current on everything that’s happening in the world…especially today with technology…even if your style stays the same…There’s something called technique, tools, and new tools…It’s like a culture that has a special core…but there are things that infiltrate it from time to time…that can destroy it…when all these things go out of style, it’s the core that remains. An artist has to do a lot of research, and work for as long as possible…Today, an artist has to be multifaceted…and capable of doing a great deal of things too.
Every painting starts out with a story. Do any of your paintings have a special story behind it?
Yes, I’m sure of that. Some of the paintings I’ve done, there is a hidden story, a historical aspect. For example, there is a beautiful painting that I did that has a beautiful story attached to it. It’s a painting called “Haiti tu ne peux mourir”—Haiti you can’t die. I’m going to send it to you. To conclude, it was a pleasure to speak to your readers. Maybe at another time, if I’m still around, I will tell you even more. Kenbe la-–hang in there.
[Photo Credit: Pacophoto]