By André Juste - Haiti Liberte
It’s late night. Trying to make some sense of the death of three artists-compatriots, I plop down on my studio’s sofa and pour myself a finger or two from a bottle of Barbancourt. Rum, I’ve suspected for some time, doesn’t quite agree with me, but a friend had left a half-empty bottle on my tap-tap-colored bar. I pour from my glass a trickle onto the floor, a self-consciously learned gesture I’ve tried out a few times before.
Frank Robuste has died. His early work, especially a forceful depiction of a rara dancer, had caught my eyes over 30 years ago. I would encounter him in progressive circles a few times since I first saw his fiery painting and even attended an informal display of his art at a mutual friend’s apartment. We would remain mostly cordial to each other. His paintings had devolved into this voguish, stylized cubism that harks back (by way of Bernard Wah’s curvilinear approach and Wilson Bigaud’s more sober “Conflict and Tension”) to modernist Cuban shows in mid-forties Haiti. More recently, he would regale me with some scintillating tidbits and quite bold observations about various personalities on the Haitian art scene, including his own brother Valcin II, who died before him. (Robuste discounted the supposed risks that his more well-known brother took for his political themes during the repressive days of Duvalierism. He had, allegedly, some tacit tonton macoute support — although, in truth, the razzle-dazzle of his cubist style might well have been protection enough.)