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Rarely Viewed Paintings by Haitian Artist Odilon Pierre at Ramapo College

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)January 13, 2005

(Mahwah) – An exhibition of paintings by Haitian artist Odilon Pierre, from the private collection of film director Jonathan Demme, will open at the Selden Rodman Gallery of Popular Arts at Ramapo College of New Jersey on Tuesday, February 8 and continue through March 18. An opening reception will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. on February 8.

The exhibition, in recognition of African Ancestry Month, spotlights the rarely exhibited works of this self-taught artist. Demme first discovered the artist’s work in the mid-eighties during a visit to the Iron Market, located in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince. Through a boarded-up, screened-in stall, Demme and several friends glimpsed stacks and walls filled with dust-coated canvases and wood carvings. After many visits, and still with no vendor at the stall, Demme persuaded a guide to track down the keys to the padlocks securing the structure.

The Iron Market population referred to Odilon Pierre as crazy,” not so much for not manning his stall, as for demanding higher than Iron Market standard prices for his work. Demme, when he finally met the artist, recalls that Pierre explained that he could not sell his paintings for less than he thought they were worth, when each one was a part of him, the product of his own flesh and blood, a chunk of his soul.”

A proud, perhaps stubborn man, Pierre, in a conversation with writer Edwidge Danticat said, I don’t want to make a lot of noise with my painting. I keep my work hidden. When a foreigner comes, if they want to buy my work, I let them have it. I don’t really paint to sell. I sell out of necessity.”

Pierre created small canvases and his subjects included the countryside, landscapes and peasant women. Danticat points out that Pierre’s style of painting was different from other Haitian painters. I was not looking for a style,” he commented. I didn’t have a vision or a handle on any subject in particular.”

On subsequent visits to Haiti, Demme had the opportunity to get to know Pierre and became an ardent admirer of his work. The artist died in 1998 following a long illness. Demme has made it his goal to not let Odilon Pierre’s work remain hidden.

This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Niche.com.

Ramapo College provides its students with individualized attention, mentorship, and supports; hands-on learning; and a range of opportunities for service and leadership development. Its graduation and retention rates exceed national averages and it places approximately 1,000 students per year in internships in New York City. The College is ranked #1 among New Jersey public institutions by College Choice; is recognized as the state’s top college on the list of Best Disability Schools by Great Value Colleges; is designated a “Military Friendly College” in Victoria Media’s Guide to Military Friendly Schools; and is recognized as a top college by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s, Princeton Review and Money magazine, among others.  

Ramapo College’s over 40,000 alumni are the confident, intellectually curious, self-aware, and humble people who are highly sought after and who make a positive impact at local, national, and global levels.  Ramapo College is distinguished as a Career Development College of Distinction by CollegesofDistinction.com. Every student at Ramapo is enrolled in its unique and award winning Pathways Program which equips and empowers students, across the continuum of their academic career, to secure internships, pursue graduate/professional school, and/or enter the job market. 

Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

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