Born to a Dominican mother and a Guadeloupean father, Ronald Cyrille, nicknamed “Black Bird”, is a 33-year-old artist. “Odyssée Ponctuée” (Punctuated Odyssey) is the title of his last exhibition composed of 45 works that he presents during this month of March at the Rémi Nainsouta Room in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe.
KARICULTURE.NET invites you to get to know this visual artist who had the opportunity to meet Caribbean artists and to exhibit in Paris, Berlin or New York.
From eight months to the age of nine, Ronald Cyrille lived in the small and peaceful village of Calibischie in Dominica with his grandparents. Then, his mother decided to keep him with her in Guadeloupe after the school holidays on the island. The little boy had to adjust to the frenetic city of Les Abymes with its buildings and cars everywhere; he also had to forget English and learn French. “I was put in the same class as my sister who is two years younger than me in order to help me. The choice to leave Dominica was not mine because I was just starting to build a life over there with my grandparents and all my friends were there. I lived this moment of my life like a real tearing”, he recalls.
Today, this memory of lush nature (including breadfruit leaves) that Ronald Cyrille kept of the island of Dominica appears on several of his paintings. He also took the nickname of “Black Bird” which evokes the fauna and the journey.
In addition, an animal that the painter describes as a “Creole dog” with its long snout is present on his works; a sculpture representing the animal that shows its teeth is in the middle of the Rémi Nainsouta Room. “The Creole dog is walking through the paintings, it is less and less present in Guadeloupe because people have adopted pedigree dogs, this Creole dog also symbolizes vagrancy. During my childhood in Dominica, there was not much public lighting and when night fell, the fear of dark arrived. The dog’s teeth represent the danger, the threat but also the smile and the passing of time then these teeth fall out”, explains the artist.
An exhibition as an odyssey
The title of the exhibition “Odyssée Ponctuée” (Punctuated Odyssey) resonates with Ulysses’ story, the hero of Greek mythology: “Each exhibition is a journey, each work is a narrative punctuated by dialogues, tensions, discoveries. This title is also related to my new life as a family man”, he says.
To carry out this exhibition, six techniques were used: painting on canvas with acrylic paint and oil painting; cutting and pasting on Canson paper and wallpaper; drawing with “sanguine” pencil; drawing on altered paper; spray painting, cutting and scraping; sculpting with recycled material like cans.
Ronald Cyrille’s passion for drawing dates back to his childhood. He began to draw Disney characters when he arrived in Guadeloupe; in Dominica, he rather prefered the outdoor games to enjoy nature with his little friends. Then, overcome with nostalgia, he decided to speak in his drawings about this green nature on the island of Dominica that he left.
At Baimbridge high school in Pointe-à-Pitre, he chose a graduating class with a “literary & artistic option”, and today, he still remembers this teacher – Mr. Sicard – who taught him the first basics of visual arts. If his mother wanted him to become a pharmacist, she finally accepted that her son began artistic studies. Even if he did not pass the baccalaureate, the young man did not get discouraged, he passed the equivalency test to pursue higher education.
Art awards as springboards
In 2006, he entered the Institut Régional des Arts Visuels de Martinique (IRAVM) after passing the entrance examination. After three years of studies, he obtained the National Diploma of Arts (DNA). In 2009, he decided to take a sabbatical to go to France, to visit museums and galleries and to participate in a collective exhibition on street arts organized by the Maison des Arts de Bagneux. In 2010, he returned to IRAVM where he stayed for two years more to earn the Higher National Diploma of Plastic Expression (DNSEP).
In 2012, he was the recipient of the “Prix Jam Session” which is awarded by the General Council of Martinique to young artists. It must be said that Black Bird’s signature was known in the street art community because he realized frescoes on many abandoned houses in the district of Terre Saint-Ville in Fort-de-France… The same year, he took part in the 1st edition of “Start”, a contest initiated by the General Council of Guadeloupe. He won the 1st prize in the plastic arts category; the prize money of 12,000 € he gets gives his work more visibility because he had the financial means to buy material, to transport his works and to participate in exhibitions. “This experience helped me “to structure myself”, to network with other people”, he says. And it was true that even if he lived in Guadeloupe, Ronald Cyrille did not stop showing his work.
An action to democratize art
He organized three individual exhibitions, the first one dating back to 2013 was entitled “Contributions” : “For my first exhibit, my paintings cost 50, 80, 100 euros for example… I thought I was a young artist painter and I should not be too greedy.
But these small prices were also for me a way to democratize art (…) There are people who never dare enter a cultural center. My mother, for example, never would have come to Rémi Nainsouta Room if I did not expose there because, like many other people, she would think that it was not a place for her who is a modest person. I do not make a living from my paintings for the moment but I work hard”, he declares. He also took part in several collective exhibitions in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, France (Paris, Brittany), Germany (Berlin). In 2014, he participated in the inaugural exhibition of Joël Nankin’s workshop – a Guadeloupean painter – called “Grenn Sèl”; he presented a work on the social events in May 1967, in Guadeloupe. That same year, he exhibited his works at Saint-Malo’s Media Library in Brittany on the occasion of the start of the transatlantic race, the “Route du Rhum”, which arrives in Pointe-à-Pitre. In 2015, he was invited in Aruba to participate in “Caribbean Linked III” which is an artists’ residence and an exhibition organized every year by Atelier 89 Foundation.
English, an advantage
For almost three weeks, Ronald Cyrille lived with 11 other young artists from the Caribbean (Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Curaçao, Aruba, Surinam, Guyana, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). The group was supervised by Elvis Lopez (director of Atelier 89), Holly Bynoe (director of ARC Magazine, exhibition curator, visual artist from St. Vincent and the Grenadines but living in The Bahamas), Annalee Davis (visual artist, director of Fresh Milk Art Platform). “During this stay, we visited the island of Aruba, exchanged about our country, its traditions, its culture, what interests us as young Caribbean artists. In the end, we each produced a work. I made a series of drawings. One of my works is exhibited at Atelier 89 “, says “Black Bird”.
In March, 2016, Ronald Cyrille was invited to “Volta New-York”, this major international fair dedicated to the contemporary art that brought together over 130 art galleries during four days. “It was a great experience in my career and I also met the Caribbean diaspora who lives in this city of the United States, some people already knew my work and were happy to see me at this great event”, he says. His command of English allowed him to establish dialogue with his interlocutors: “this language which was for me a handicap when I arrived in Guadeloupe has become an advantage”, he admits.
The interest of the foreign press
Following “Volta New-York”, the young Guadeloupean painter was one of the ten artists selected to appear in the visual arts magazine “Hyperallergic” of Brooklyn, New York. Moreover, other foreign magazines – such as “Frieze Magazine” in London – were also interested in his artistic work.
From 2016 to 2017, Ronald Cyrille is one of the four artists making up the itinerant exhibition called “Carré d’Art” organized by the Institut de Coopération Franco-Caraïbe (ICFC). Last year, with José Man Lius, Daniel Dabriou and Diane Hugé, the artist showed his paintings for a month at the Old Mill Cultural Centre in Roseau, Dominica, and for a month and a half at the Governor’s House in Saint John’s, Antigua. “I met with great pleasure Earl Darius Etienne who is one of the greatest Dominican painters; in Antigua and Dominica, we were well received, there was a real interest for our work and this trip allowed to locate Guadeloupe”, according to him.
From February 21 to May 12, his works are exhibited, for the second time, at the Maison des Arts de Bagneux in the Paris area. Other artists like Hervé Télémaque from Haiti, Anabell Guerrero from Venezuela and Alex Burke from Martinique also participate in this collective exhibition entitled “Mémoire Caraïbe” (Caribbean Memory).
It is clear that Ronald Cyrille, the “Black Bird”, is an ambassador for Guadeloupe, he needs to be more recognized locally so that he makes a living from his painting.