Bursting with bright colors, chiseled with detailed linework, and extending past the limits of 2-dimensional media, Turgo Bastien’s works illustrate just how complicated, detailed, and beautiful the Black and Haitian experience can be. Turgo has always been involved in the movement for peace among humanity, using his skills as an artist to teach youth the power of painting in a world of conflict. Picture This Post (PTP) interviewed Turgo Bastien (TB) about the significance of his artistic and charitable work alike against the backdrop of a growing movement for racial equality in the United States.
(PTP) How does your work connect to the Black Lives Matter movement of today?
(TB) There is hope, because Black Lives Matter is about more than police brutality. So much needs to change: jobs, school, housing, etc. I feel connected to Black Lives Matter, because Haitians have always been oppressed. We were the first slave nation freed, on Jan.1,1804 and we've suffered because of that. But as a Haitian I have a fight within me, and it is in my art. My art stands for the Freedom Haiti has and Black Lives Matter.
This current movement really inspires me, and I’m so happy to see all different kinds of people coming together to fight for one cause. Art gives a voice to the voiceless. So we have the responsibility to get inspired and reflect those voices to teach others.
What knowledge would you like viewers of your work to gain?
First of all, they will see where I'm from. I am always concerned with everything happening around me and the world in general. So they will see that I am focused on humanity, and how we can share love and hope. Right away they will see that in my art I am looking for a better tomorrow.
I have learned a lot through the years. I've learned from people, from other cultures, and all my experience has affected how my work looks today.
How did you get started as an artist?
I didn't do art at school, I just started drawing on my own. I always liked to draw a lot as a child. But I remember my first painting, at the time I had no supplies, so I actually used chicken feathers instead of a brush and a piece of cloth as the canvas. One of my neighbors saw the painting and said to me "Wow this is beautiful, you are an artist,” and then she told me that I could sell them. As a child the idea of selling my art was eye opening, and it genuinely changed my life. Since that moment I never stopped. I've become older and more accomplished, and because of that encouragement today I am Turgo Bastien.
But it wasn't an easy journey. My style has evolved over time, through different experiences. When I was younger I remember wanting to learn and discover more, so I would walk miles to galleries, to see different artists. Sometimes I would be too scared to get in, cause it was too clean, I thought they would kick me out. Not many people know that part of me, especially because art is in my DNA.
How has your artistic style evolved?
I used to have a more traditional style. It was always abstract, but I used basic supplies. Now my style is much more unique. I use primarily found objects. I would say that I create and build more than I paint. I think my style is much stronger now, and I got here through years of experience.
Do you think your works would look different if you were not from Haiti?
Absolutely. Haiti is a beautiful Caribbean island, and the spirit is alive over there. It's hard not to feel and be influenced by it.
How does your work represent the African diaspora?
It's part of my roots, my great grandparents came from Africa. There is a lot in common spiritually and culturally. So you can see the influence in my work, like the masks I create. It's the roots, it's where my great grandparents come from.
So in my work you can see and feel the spirit of Haiti, Africa, and the history. Because it's abstract, every viewer takes something different out of it, but the signature of my roots is always there.
How has your experience living as a Haitian person in the United States impacted your artworks?
That's a very good question. You see, I'm from a very small country in the Caribbean, so coming to America is eye opening. It's a completely different landscape. I really got a shock, there’s highways, skyscrapers, and some many things I had not seen before. At that time, everything around me was inspiring. You can see a transition in my work. The imagery changed, I started adding more buildings and other things I didn't before. I really started to think different, because things are different.
I also got exposed to a lot more. Coming to America, I was able to go to different art museums, see different kinds of art, meet other artists, and other cultures. It helped me develop as an artist, because when you live in a different country you can learn so much.
Please tell our readers about your movement, Paint for Peace.
Paint for Peace is a movement. I use my art to teach the next generation about peace. I can use my art to preach love and togetherness. That's why I created this organization, and I hope that it can grow across the world. Peace is better than war, love is better.
I always preach peace through my work, so Paint for Peace is honestly an extension of myself, it is me. As a child, once I became involved in art, I began to see the world differently. I loved and respected everyone, I learned to love the world and nature, and honestly became more humble. Art can really change someone's worldview. So I want to spread peace through art.
The greatest success so far in Paint for Peace, has been that we took a group of kids, taught them art, gave them supplies and sent them to school. Now a lot of those kids are grown up, and they are still living with art today.
What can our readers do to support Paint for Peace?
You can go to my website to stay updated on everything Paint for Peace. I document all the work I do in Paint for Peace. We hope to help countries and bring art across the world, so join us on that journey. You can support and contact me there.
For more information visit the Paint for Peace website.
For more information on the artist’s work and upcoming exhibits visit the Turgo Bastien website.
All images courtesy of Turgo Bastien.