‘Fantastical Journey’

‘Mambo’ by Pierre Sylvain

Middletown’s Russell Library has a magical exhibit on display in the lobby and reference section. Local artist Pierre Sylvain has mined his Haitian roots, along with American history and culture to produce “Fantastical Journey: voodoo, slavery, jazz!”

Pierre’s art defies adequate description. He works mostly in acrylic but stretches the form as he paints on far more than canvas. Glass and boards supply textures that enhance the images. He adds a collage effect with the addition of seashells and glass beads, as in “Mambo,” described as the female higher priest in the voodoo religion.

The black-and-white images in the lobby represent a powerful testament to the evils of slavery. “The Middle Passage” and “Door of No Return” could stand by themselves as a way to teach the pain and dislocation that afflicted millions, scars that remain today.

The most fascinating are the paintings on shutters. Many of them feature musicians blowing horns. The texture of the shutters gives the paintings an organic quality that suits the musical themes.

The images are accessible, though of course they grow on the viewer the longer one gazes. A number have people with one eye closed, or at least appearing as a slit. At first I thought it was a sign of injury, but the warrior “Woman of Caiman” will inflict wounds before she receives them. It’s the most Cubist aspect of Pierre’s work, at once enticing and mysterious.

Pierre calls another series “Grace and Movement.” With it he intends “to create a series that engages your mind and your spirit.” It surely does, as do the rest of his works.

The exhibit is up through March 31, thoughtfully after the end of Black History Month, and also offering plenty of time to go view it.

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