In a small, white-cube gallery on Normandy Drive called Central Fine, the artist Viktor El-Saieh is showing a series of paintings that conjure the free-fall of symbolic experience. Titled The Dizziness, the exhibition contains works that build on El-Saieh’s interest in mining political mythologies of Haiti, his home country, and the bestiary of hybrids that exist in both the figurative and real realm.
El-Saieh, born in Port-au-Prince, is the grandson of Issa El-Saieh, a highly influential figure in Haiti’s cultural scene. Besides being a maestro, whose outfit fused Haitian drumming, Cuban pianists, and big-band sensibilities, Issa founded the El-Saieh Gallery in Haiti’s capital city. One of the only—if not the only—contemporary art spaces currently in Haiti, Viktor grew up in the gallery, surrounded by Haitian art and artists.
As a student of political science who focused on issues of leadership, El-Saieh is drawn to singular figures, those that are awe-inspiring, dangerous and in-between. As it is in much traditional Haitian art, there is a great emphasis on the figure, human and animal, as well as the landscape. For the new show at Central Fine, Viktor El-Saieh uses colorful acrylics to depict a world of brush where strange figures reside, in a decidedly surreal fashion that goes against the grain of Haitian painting.
Building on his explorations of a mythological political figure in Haiti named Chaloska, a much-feared military commander, El-Saieh delves deeper into characters who occupy different social positions. From devils to suit-clad petit bourgeois, lions and wolfish men, the suite of new works includes figures that punctuate planes of bright pink horizons, hilly zones of waterfalls and giant flowers. Equal attention is paid to creature and terrain.
There is one piece in particular that perhaps signals the latent meanings in these vivid yet cartoonish works. Titled The Patriot, a pair of eyes squints in wait, behind some palms and broad-leafed plants. Just who this being is scouting, and where its allegiance lies, is up to the viewer to assess.
Viktor El-Saieh: The Dizziness
Through November 21, 2017
1226 Normandy Drive, Miami Beach, FL, 33141