An artist who works primarily as a painter, Manuel Mathieu draws from both his formal art education and his interest in traditional Haitian artistic customs, mythology and history. Haitian art is itself a complex of traditions, reflecting its African roots with Indigenous American and European aesthetics and influences. One school of painting, the Saint-Soleil School, is characterised by abstracted human forms and incorporates Vodu symbolism. Mathieu’s paintings are an inquiring amalgam of figuration underpinned by abstraction, with something of the intensity of the indefinite forms that Francis Bacon is most celebrated for. Exploring the deep rifts of historical violence and erasure rooted in Haitian socio-political history, the artist is particularly interested in probing the verity of events under the Duvalier dynasty, the autocratic family dictatorship in Haiti that lasted from 1957
until 1986 (the year of his birth), spanning the rule of father and son: Francois and Jean- Claude Duvalier.
Emotive portrayals rather than objective descriptions, Mathieu’s paintings extract elements of nature and religious symbolism in reference to Haitian artistic convention. Twisted figures communicate trauma and memory, solitude and vulnerability, in a poignant and emotionally confrontational manner. They ‘take us along a journey that brings pleasure and purpose in being vulnerable and ever-changing’. Employing the technique of frottage, where paint is applied to canvas before being methodically scraped off in layers and a fresh coat applied, the physicality of his process provides another discordant reminder of painting’s potential to evoke the corporeal. Mirroring political divisions and the unrest and violence they have caused, his compositions carve out space for their viewers to reflect on Haiti’s turbulent history, while inviting us to consider the different futures an act of remembering can generate.
Manuel Mathieu was born in 1986 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He studied Visual and Media Arts at the University of Quebec, Montreal and obtained a Master’s in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College, London in 2016. Mathieu’s works has been shown in major museums including, the Grand Palais Paris, the Museum of the Americas Washington and the Institute of Contemporary Art London. Paintings of his have been collected by the Rubell Family, JP Morgan New York and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.