PhillyFolk Artists

Frito Bastien

Haitian Painter

From the time he was a young boy, Frito Bastien has been fascinated with drawing, devoting every spare moment to this passion. Born in 1954 in Jacmel, a coastal town on Haiti’s southern peninsula, Mr. Bastien began working on canvas at thirteen, when the well-known Haitian painter Celestin Faustin took him under his wing. The Bastien family moved to Port-au-Prince in 1969, where the young artist continued his schooling and learned the crafts of cabinet making and carpentry. These remained his main source of income through most of the 1980s, and he occasionally combined his skills to produce decorated furniture.

In late 1991, Mr. Bastien’s political activities made him a target of Haiti’s dreaded paramilitary forces, the tontons-macoute. When two of his colleagues were assassinated, he was forced into hiding, then into exile. Only months after his arrival in Philadelphia did Mr. Bastien learn that his wife and children had survived and were living in Port-au-Prince.

In Philadelphia, he began to paint again. After suffering a severe job-related injury, he now paints full-time. Mr. Bastien’s development as a painter, his artistic style, and the thematic content of his luminous paintings are all part of an artistic tradition that has flourished in Haiti since the 1940s. Célestin Faustin provided him with minimal technical training; his main role was to encourage and support Mr. Bastien in developing his innate talents. This style of mentoring parallels the approach taken by Haiti’s influential Centre d’Art, founded in 1944 in Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Bastien’s paintings have an unmistakable Haitian stamp. He paints mostly from his imagination and his memory of life in the mountainous landscapes of rural Haiti. Much of his work illustrates in remarkable detail the customs and rituals of his homeland. His subject matter and clear, brilliant colors reflect a regional style characteristic of the south of Haiti, where Mr. Bastien grew up. Although many of his paintings evoke joyful memories of his homeland, several include details that subtly introduce an element of violence, evil, or danger into an apparently idyllic scene. This, too, was a strategy traditionally employed by Haitian artists, who could not safely voice opposition to a repressive regime. Popular singers and painters often used such forms of coding to express themselves on political matters.

Mr. Bastien’s work has been represented in the 1999 PFP exhibition “Folk Arts of Social Change,” in a Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial Challenge exhibition, at the Moore College of Art, the Art Alliance, City Hall, and elsewhere. He has received grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and The Pew Fellowships in the Arts (2000).