By Heike Dempster
Oringal post Art Districts Magazine – Florida
With “Dreamscapes: The Metaphor Has Shifted to Healing,” artist Stephen Arboite presents a series of soulful and spiritual works focusing on a metamorphosic journey, inviting viewers along on an emotional and introspective path to self-discovery and healing.
The paintings are representative of the past 10 years of Arboite’s artistic practice and are as much rooted in the present. They are continuations of investigations he started to pursue while a student, when he first discovered coffee as a medium. Initially chosen based on a lack of resources, the coffee soon led the artist on a powerful journey to explore his Haitian heritage and various discourses on the Caribbean diaspora.
“Throughout that process I found that the material itself, the coffee itself, and how it dried, had a really intuitive quality,” says Arboite. “The same intuition that drew me to that, led me to the path I am on right now. All these materials I use yield a certain weight, a certain power, a certain energy. I think it is deeper than what is on the surface. I am interested in those nuances. Why do we have the inclination to use certain materials over others? The more I investigated coffee, the more I realized the proximity to Haiti. The first Black republic and the country that exported more than 70% of the world’s coffee at one point. Coffee led me onto a path of understanding my history. This was parallel with me understanding certain spiritual aspects such as vodun and other African ceremonies.”
Arboite’s practice-centered on personal experiences, cultural heritage, spirituality and ontological explorations-navigates a path of consciousness of mind, body and spirit. His “dreamscapes” conceptually blur the lines of sleep, dreams, consciousness, reality, knowledge, perceptions and deep introspection. Even at first glance, the lines are blurred between what we see as representational and what we see as abstract. Arboite nudges us to reconsider and be mindful and present in our thoughts when engaging with his work. The figurative components are not always clearly defined and leave space for interpretation. They borrow from the artist’s personal life but transcend those boundaries to present complex, multilayered and multifaceted vessels for the audience’s thoughts and perspectives. Who or what may we encounter once we enter the depth beyond the window that is presented by the artist? How deep can we foray further into our own inner psychic to connect with ourselves? Ancestral spirits can be summoned by the artist’s spirituality, but what realms we are willing to explore once the artist opens the gate is really up to us, as we are presented with a crossroad and multiple points of departure, some more accessible than others depending on knowledge and personal histories.
The journey certainly does not end with the borders of the frames. Even the gestures and mark making by the artist’s pouring of the coffee/paint concoctions-or “initial release” as he calls it-engages our surroundings beyond the paper. Seen in a gallery, one can only imagine where the mark making continues. The coffee splatters on walls and floors of Arboite’s studio, and it fills the cosmos surrounding the creation process of his work. Paper towels soak up some of the excess coffee and ink, creating collage material for future works and representing the innovative, determined and resilient spirit of the people of the Caribbean. The paper towels, coffee grains and coffee filters may reappear years later to make aesthetic and conceptual connections not readily accessible to the audience at first glance, but they are powerful nonetheless in their quest for connection and the artist’s intentional representation of ancestry. Conceptually, the works exist as much in the present as they do in the past and future. They may predict a part of the path that each individual eventually has to take on their own.
On the papers’ surface we catch glimpses of androgynous and non-binary individuals, some containing marks that connect the artist’s very personal experiences and emotions to the work. The figures often have partially missing or obscured features. Eyes may be hidden, lips are sealed. They are on a transformative, healing journey. Maybe they still have not yet developed the ability to truly and authentically express themselves, much like many of the diaspora who are used to adaptive behaviors based on colonial and post-colonial indoctrinations and thoughts. Maybe they have been conditioned into silence and need to yet gain the strength to speak up and out, be truly themselves and reveal their identity honestly and authentically.
We are becoming. Once truly immersed in the depth of Arboite’s textured narrative, the discourse moves into a spiritual realm that derives from the artist’s immersions. He considers ancestral knowledge and the powerful force that is communal and individual healing, especially within the context of the African and Caribbean diaspora. Coffee-in scent, color and concept-points to ceremonies, ritual and heritage, and it gives historical and cultural context to the works.
In Arboite’s paintings, memories are intertwined, the past is collaged into the future, and the artist’s aesthetic and conceptual decisions guide the viewer along in the same unpredictable ways the coffee spills.
“It is limiting when you think you know everything: It limits your perception, it limits the possibility of you being able to experience new things or learn new things. I love the fact that there is a conversation with the work. I do not know how the paper is going to take the coffee that day, depending on environmental conditions or how I pour it. There are nuances that I cannot control. I am very interested in those nuances because they represent life. We essentially want to have everything in our control because it makes us feel comfortable, it makes us feel less vulnerable. This aspect of letting go, of being present, of allowing things to happen and understanding that you don’t always have to have control is when things can really shift.”
True healing will come though honesty, vulnerability, introspection, authenticity and sharing of emotions. All of this, Arboite is willing to do, willing to give, willing to share with his audience. There may not be any definitive answers, but the artist’s gestures are shifting the metaphor to healing-for himself and for his audience.
“Stephen Arboite. Dreamscapes: The Metaphor Has Shifted to Healing” is on view at N’Namdi Contemporary. 6505 NE 2nd Ave. Miami 33138 | Phone: 786 332 4736; 312 286 1868 | www.nnamdicontemporary.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
Heike Dempster is a writer, photographer and communications consultant based in Miami. After graduation from London Metropolitan University, she lived and worked as a music, art and culture publicist, journalist and radio host and producer in Jamaica and the Bahamas. She is a contributing writer to ARTPULSE, ARTDISTRICTS, Rooms, MiamiArtZine and other local and international art publications, websites and blogs.