Hippolyte’s paintings and life are in many ways indicative of primitive Haitian art. They combine voodoo and Christian symbols, and are noted for creating an iconography for laos, or spirits, of the voodoo tradition. As a third generation priest, Hippolyte (1894-1948) worked in his community and eked out a living painting houses. Then DeWitt Peters, an American from the Centre d’Art in Porte au Prince, saw a pair of doors with intricate floral patterns that he had painted on a bar. He tracked Hippolyte down and asked him to come work in the city.
Hippolyte immediately accepted. He believed it was his destiny to become a painter, and he had been waiting for it to unfold. He moved to a cottage outside Port au Prince in 1945. His work was an immediate commercial success and made it big internationally when it was collected and shown by French surrealist Andre Breton. Hippolyte thus also represents the highly commercialized side of “naive” or primitive Haitian artists which has continued to this day. Hippolyte was highly prolific for the next 3 years, until he suddenly died. It is reported to have been a heart attack, although some think the division between his voodoo duties and his artistic ones overwhelmed him as he began painting more and more.
Above is Hippolyte’s painting of Saint Francis, and below is his depiction of Mistress Erzulie, the voodoo spirit of courtesy. In depicting both the Christian and voodoo persona, Hippolyte treats the subject in the same manner. The focus is on the strong central figure surrounded by a lush, brightly colored natural world. It’s fascinating learning about his life and his art, especially how voodoo influenced his art, but there are few online resources. More information about his life and his works here.