Frantz Zéphirin’s mother wanted him to be a doctor, but the prolific Haitian painter knew as a child that, spiritually and intellectually, a canvas and a palette would make the right life for him. When his grandmother drove him to the studios of painters Antoine and Philome Obin, he was captivated by the fantastic images they created, and wanted to do the same. “My destiny was, and still is, the Z’art.” Z’Art is Zéphirin’s word for his art, and it encompasses ideas of patience, imagination, creativity, inspiration, and skill.
His early works were reminiscent of Philome and the Cap-Haitian school. Proud that he was able to mimic the great Haitian masters’ signature style, he was dismayed after he moved to Port-au-Prince to be told that his style was altogether too similar to Obin’s. After numerous days of not selling any of his painting to any of the galleries, Zéphirin took his canvases to the beach and chucked them into the sea.
Determined to make a name for himself as an artist, Zéphirin created his own unique style—historic animalism—that’s heavily inspired by Haitian political and social history, the Bible, and vodou. His paintings are commentaries on Haiti's past as well as its current post-earthquake state.
Recognized for his use of bold, bright colors and patterns, Zéphirin’s Orwellian characters often have animal heads and human bodies. These creatures embody critical skepticism towards Haiti’s ruling authorities. In recent years, Zéphirin has explored different techniques and media in his work, such as incorporating photographic images within his traditional painting style, and adding marks made with oil crayons and pastels.
The spiritual and mythical creatures that predominate in his paintings come to him in his daily dreams and visions. “I paint them and sometimes these creatures take me to an unknown world, and show me many things in both our worlds. Every human has spirits who walk and live with them. Sometimes they speak to me when I neglect them to put them in a painting.”
When the earthquake struck, Zéphirin immediately started to paint his observations of a damaged Haiti. His recent paintings are on exhibit at Key West’s Haitian Art Company, and include The Earthquake, a haunting tableau of the skeletons of those who were trapped and died beneath the ruins of collapsed towns and cities. Below sea level, an aquatic creature with the faces of the dead stares out to the viewer. Zéphirin says about the painting, “They weren’t prepared to die suddenly and they need to come back to life, but it's too late.”
The earthquake still haunts Zéphirin. It has become a theme he visits frequently, often with his paintings in memory of those who lost their lives. “I’m grateful to be alive and I pray to God and thank him. I will never forget that day, and I pray for the souls of the victims.”