Rene Dimanche Jr.—Longing for Home Key to Finding Powerful Visual Voice
I first met Rene Dimanche Jr. through his visual art at the Urban League Black Fine Art Exhibit. Later I learned he is a fine actor as well. I saw him perform the role of George Wilcox in the First Run Theatre August production “The Seamstress of St. Francis Street” written by Mario Farwell and directed by Jim Meady. The promo reads: "It is a North St. Louis seamstress shop in 1958. A woman is struggling with a secret and a prodigal sister unexpectedly appears like a force of nature, leaving a trail of calamities and some unlooked for hope." It was a powerful evening. I'm very pleased to present Renee on Riehlife as part of my continuing series of profiles and interviews of St. Louis-based and St.-Louis connected black fine artists (very fine!).
Riehlife: Rene, I had a sense that you carry a longing for home within you and you are searching for that through your art. Am I on track at all?
Rene: Yes, this longing of mine started after college. I did not know it would begin as a strong pull through the arts.
Riehlife: You work masterfully in a variety of painting styles as you search for a voice that that will express best what your soul wants to say. It seems as if portraits and still lifes...and maybe even portraits and still lifes tied to your homeplace of Haiti might be a place you are going. Could you tell us more about this?
Rene: "Finding my voice." How can I describe what this is all about for me? All I can say is that it is that thing that people talk about when they say "you'll know it when you see it" or "I just know that's the one and don't ask me why" I am getting closer to what I believe to be the path to take.
A big part of me misses my country, Haiti, dearly. Haiti is a place that I did not have the privilege of knowing really well. To a certain extent a big part of who I am is pretty well hidden from me.
Somewhere along the way I have almost lost contact with my Haitian roots: the people, the culture, the music, the country. With that in mind---I have a strong feeling that will be my inner journey in art---to activate a dialogue between me and my country Haiti. Until then I will continue to explore surface attributes---like color, shapes, texture---until the voice gets so loud that it must be responded to.
Riehlife: Yes, that's what I feel. That through your art you reconnect to home--both the home you came from and a home within yourself.
My blog's theme is connection, home, family, arts, and culture. What I was really drawn to in your story and the story of your art was how these things came together. Anytime an artist is looking for his voice, I tend to think its about identity and a search for place, somehow.
Rene: Precisely correct. My work is a spiritual and earthly search for a voice, place, identity---by first claiming Christ's victory over sin/death and then our relation to the land we long for (its culture and people).
Riehlife: Rene, so, this search for identity and perhaps even a search for place...how has that been for you?
Rene: Identity, place in Jesus our Savior and where we are from,
my search of who I really am and where I am from...these themes came into focus when a girlfriend of mine challenged me and said that I was not a Black person to her--because I was from Haiti. While I disagreed with her in many levels, she was right about the fact that I am Haitain-American not Black-American. Then I realized I knew little of my country.
Riehlife: All of your work is good, but so separate in tone and style...and I saw you really hitting stride with the portraits and still lifes as you go back to your roots in Haiti as well...Do you feel this is the direction you are going?
Rene: My works are a search and not settled yet. I am gravitating towards portraits/still lifes for the most part. I hope to work bigger in addition to doing small works.
I'm starting to read more in depth about regional art. Haiti is unique in the sense that much of it is still in a non-modern state. A lot of people in Haiti are pushing big time for a modern layout in all things. Yet a lot of its beauty is in its sense of old time culture and lifestyle such as young boy riding mule, a man by a mountain side tending his small vegetable farm by a stream, and women carrying big baskets of fruits on their heads.
Here are three works in order of completion about a year apart. I believe they show a definite progression towards a realm not known to me yet. I just need to continue to dig.
Self-Portrait by Rene Dimanche
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