Afternoon midday banter, the subtle sound of a broom sweeping fallen locks of hair off the edge of a barber chair base,childhood stories and cultural testimonies told by local griots. These experiences are what make up the edifying climate within many Black American barbershops, particularly that of a Miami a based barbershop, comprised of a range of African diasporan cultures that reflect Miami’s diverse demographic make-up. This atmosphere served as the primary inspiration behind Haitian-American artist Mark Fleuridor’s most recent series of paintings. Throughout his short tenure as an artist, Fleuridor has encapsulated the Black barbershop experience in a series of works that have not gone unrecognized.
Fleuridor, a recent high school graduate is well advanced beyond his years. The young artist was recently named U.S Presidential Scholar in the Arts, the highest achievement for graduating high school arts students in America. This year, the honor has only been awarded to a mere 141 American students who have shown exemplarily talents in various genres of art. The Miami teen received this honor officially last week at the National Recognition Program in Washington D.C.
Prior to the award ceremony in the nation’s capitol, I had the opportunity to chat with Fleuridor about his barbershop series, his personal and professional goals within the arts (which seem to be one in the same), and his family history. The young, but fairly accomplished artist was slightly reserved throughout our conversation. However, his tone strengthened when I asked of his long-term career pursuits. Is art something he envisioned pursuing full time? “Yes,” he replied, with much conviction.
In his senior year at Miami Arts Charter School, Fleuridor used his primary influences as a source of inspiration for the subjects in his works. He first created a series of portrait paintings depicting the matriarch figures in his family – which include portraits of his sister, his grandmother, and his mother who was battling breast cancer at the time. “Even though my mother went through the different stages [of cancer] she doesn’t show any weakness. I wanted to capture her strength,” said Fleuridor.
In contrast, following the series of significant women, Fleuridor felt compelled to highlight the influential male figures in his life, most of which he met in the Miami barbershop, Walberts Sport Cuts. “After I finished a series of women, I thought about men that I looked up to and I thought of the barbershop,” said Fleuridor. The barbershop ultimately served as a point of entry for Fleuridor into his cultural identity. Although his parents were born and raised in Haiti, he says he learned of Haitian culture mostly from men in Walberts barbershop.
In the series, Fleuridor has painted several scenes of Black men fellowshipping joyously with one another in Walberts, using acrylic paint, ink, mylar and found materials. So often in contemporary America, we are presented with images of Black men killed unjustly, or Black men in physically compromised conditions. It is refreshing to witness a different narrative – a depiction that represents composed, resilient, contented Black men, told through the talents of a Haitian-American youth.
The paintings reflect a range of figures in the barbershop setting. One represents a man resting leisurely in a barbershop chair with his mouth slightly parted as if well into a prepared story. Another painting illustrates a barber at work on a male figure whose back is visible, carefully situated in the barber’s chair. The background is adorned with common fixtures found in many Black hair salons and barbershops, including posters of Black hair models and hair products. Fleuridor’s work is primarily figurative with abstracted fragments of brushstrokes present throughout many of his pieces.
Though different in focus, Mark Fleuridor’s commemorative portraits are quite telling of the artist’s character — he is very vocal about his appreciation for all the people who have played prominent roles in his life thus far. Despite his most recent achievements, Fleuridor is still very humble and focused on developing his artistry. Although he is but a recent high school graduate, there are many great things in store for the burgeoning artist. He will be furthering his education in the arts at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in the fall, and will be interning at The Perez Art Museum Miami in the interim.
Taylor Renee is co-editor of ARTS.BLACK