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Paintings: Jean Marcel Wah, Jr.

Artist Statement

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I identify closely with the ideas of Surrealism as defined by André Bréton in his Manifesto of Surrealism. He stated that “Surrealism, such as I conceive of it, asserts our complete nonconformism clearly enough so that there can be no question of translating it … ” It is an attempt to achieve, as Bréton puts it, “…a complete state of distraction…” It is this signifier that helps me to articulate my thoughts about my paintings and my identity as an artist. The abstraction in my work “serves” for the viewer to engage, to assign meaning to the painting, to discover its substance. All the while, it is simply my assertion of “nonconformism”—a means to “distract” the viewer so that he or she can look beyond the obvious.

Painting has always provided me with a sense of purpose, achievement, recognition, satisfaction, and money. However, as one starts to grow and reach for higher potentials in his art career, feelings of frustration, anxiety, and tension are heightened due in part to new experiences and greater self-awareness of one’s needs, desires, hopes, dreams, and so on. The focus on the “self” in my art process, my art career, and my identity as an artist has revealed a hidden part of me: the part of my “self” that has to do with how I want to identify as an artist, what type of artist I want to become, and what higher truths I am trying to reach.

From the beginning of my art career, I have always looked at my art as an instrument for social change, a tool that I would use to speak about Haiti and its people. Now that I have gone through this exploration of the self, I have uncovered interests more intimate, which are those of defining myself as an artist, separate from the agendas. Art is my language, a visual one that expresses my emotions. It is my voice that speaks out when I want to be silent. It is ecstasy which gives my life meaning and fulfillment. It is life itself, which continues to live and breath long after I leave this Earth. It defines who I am as a person, as a human being. Without my art, I am just a drifter passing through time with nothing to contribute to humanity. Thus, this “thinking through” or exploration of my inner self has brought to light my need to paint. I must not only paint, but I also could not be anything else but an artist. My personality, temperament, thinking, and aspirations all call for it.

My work, therefore, deals primarily with my current state of being, and with issues that I am experiencing socially, culturally, and politically. Although I paint images that come to me through observations of my surroundings—whether it is an abstract image seen of a painting or photograph or nature itself—I am beginning to explore other matters that make up my being, such as Vodou, the popular Haitian religion; my identity within the Haitian and American cultures; my desire for finding a voice independent from my late uncle Bernard Wah; and to define the kind of artist I really want to be.

Currently, I am attempting to deconstruct my painting process so that I can create works of art that incorporate my need to release the tight control I exercise over my painting technique. In the course of conceptualizing my work, I have come to appreciate and question a number of issues relevant to my painting process: The lineage of artists in my family; and Vodou, a religion intertwined with Roman Catholicism and African influences. It would be revealing for me to see how I may express this amazing reality unto canvas.

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