Rouz Ble Zonn Ver
2020. Acrylic on canvases, 2×3′
“What you see is what you see” is what Frank Stella famously said about his most famous paintings, as if all they were were mere objects without any external referents. Stella said this in 1966 as he pioneered a new genre of art—Minimalism—that eschewed expressive artistry and symbolism by favoring a restrained simplicity, a style based on basic geometries, hard-edges, and flat fields of color. Ironically, this description fits many flags quite well, which, in spite of their own restrained simplicity—and many centuries of prior existence—are absolutely loaded with meaning, the very thing that Stella tried to leave behind.
In Rouz Ble Zonn Ver, perhaps some will only “see what they see,” satisfied by that experience or not. Mauritians, vexillologists, and a few others, on the other hand, will see in this painting a strong resemblance to the flag of Mauritius. They may know that red represents the blood shed in a struggle for freedom, blue the beautiful ocean, yellow the new light of independence, and green the greenery. These are not uncommon kinds of meaning, and these four colors are found on flags all over the world. These facts and that the flag sits on the fence of familiarity allows enough leeway for another idea: that the painting itself is a gesture of hope for the global community, an act of ecumenical artistic internationalism. (As is the next piece).
Rouz Ble Zonn Ver is also an homage to the artist Ellsworth Kelly, whose curious paintings of simple shapes and solid colors were inspired by his eye for finding them in the world. A work of Kelly might simultaneously mystify and essentialize what he liked about how something looked by divorcing that very thing from the context in which he found it, re-presenting such inspirations plainly in paintings of their own. In 1990, after four decades of making paintings in primary colors, Kelly composed “Blue Yellow Red,” a vertical tricolor bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the flags of Chad and Romania. The resemblance might only be a coincidence, but a coincidence does not nullify the resemblance. Many—like Stella—might have avoided such associations, preferring to objectify the object. Others might think such links make works more interesting. More interesting, perhaps, because there is something relatable, something meaningful, something true to contemplate. And when art speaks truth, is it not more beautiful? We are invited to wonder.
Nou Remersye Bondye
2014-2020. Acrylic on canvas, 5×5′
The title of this piece can be found in the first stanza of the national anthem of Seychelles, an island republic east of Kenya’s coast. Sung in the local language of Seselwa Kreol, “Nou remersye Bondye” means “We give thanks to God.”
The composition of the painting was derived from the national flag of Seychelles by compressing the original 2-to-1 dimensions into a square and then turning the square 45° counterclockwise. The result is a diamond whose rays emanate towards the heavens.
The making of Nou Remersye Bondye was a painter’s act of praise, a manifest expression of gratitude to the same God who is honored by the people of these islands. The size of the canvas approximates the reach of an individual’s outstretched arms, as its 40×40” dimensions were chosen also for the spiritual significance of the number ’40.’ Moreover, the work is meant to offer viewers a contemplative—if not intuitive—experience of joy and thanksgiving.
“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” (Lamentations 3:41, KJV)
Vexillology is the study of flags.