Folk Art PA

Frito Bastien

Haitian Painting

Frito Bastien was born in Jacmel, a coastal town on Haiti’s southern peninsula.  His teacher and mentor in Haiti, Célestin Faustin, lent him his first art materials and passed along his knowledge of painting which Bastien now shares with his students in Philadelphia.

Portrait photo by Amy E. Skillman, Institute for Cultural Partnerships.

“All my life, I have drawn and painted what I saw around me.  When I was young and in school, I would sketch everything that I would see. When I got home, before I did anything else, I would start to draw something that I remember seeing out in the world.” 

In 1992, Frito Bastien fled Haiti after being forced into hiding following the assassination of two of his colleagues by Haiti’s dreaded paramilitary forces, the tontons-macoute.  He recalls, “Everyone was afraid, and not safe. Somebody said that they are going to leave from Haiti—to flee—and so I say ok, I am going to go now too.  That night they were taking a boat, but I don’t know where it was going.  I didn’t take anything.  Nothing.”  

Most of Bastien’s paintings represent scenes remembered from Haiti, including this one where ancestors speak through whispers and dreams.  “Painting lets me capture and preserve life in its infinite variety.  I, in turn, want to teach younger students to paint, so that they can continue after I am gone.  My paintings tell about my past, but my students are my future.”