Giving a person their “flowers” has the significant, metaphorical meaning of verbally saying kind words to people while they can still receive them. Earlier this month, Tanya Weddemire Gallery presented Guy Stanley Philoche’s “Give Us Our Flowers” series at Art on Paper 2023. The art fair gave collectors, fellow artists, and other visitors the opportunity to speak with Philoche at the Brooklyn gallery. “This was my debut fair, and my gallery has been open for nine months,” said owner Weddemire.

This series, which features 20 works on paper, contains limited editions unavailable after the originals are sold. Philoche was unexpectedly inspired by a tragic loss to create “Give Us Our Flowers.”

The Haitian American mixed-media, abstract, and visual artist has been creating professionally for the past 22 years. Philoche had a friend and lawyer who was one of his biggest collectors. The friend purchased his fifth and final piece right before the two had dinner. A couple of days later, Philoche learned his friend had died.

“I’ve dealt with grief before and I’ve dealt with friends passing, but this hit me really, really hard,” said Philoche. At his friend’s funeral, Philoche heard many loved ones say how great the friend was and that they wished they had spoken more meaningful words to him. While grieving, Philoche found himself drawing a portrait of his friend on canvas, something he doesn’t usually do. “And then boom! I had my new series.” 

A statement from Tanya Weddemire Gallery about the series reads: “These works show strength and resilience in families rarely celebrated. The intention is to celebrate and give people recognition, love, and respect every day. Too often we wait to honor people when they are gone. We should be saluting and toasting the people in our lives today and giving them their flowers while we can.”

Brenika Banks photos

Philoche’s works are all based on real-life people or reference photos of a real person. These differ from his museum-quality paintings. His pieces include an image of Muhammad Ali while representing other positive Black images such as “The Professor,” based on a real-life Haitian painter and lawyer. 

One work that represents young Black girls, called “Black Barbie,” and replaces the stereotypical tall, white, and blonde Barbie. “I wanted Barbie to have afro puffs. She has attitude, she’s from Harlem,” said Philoche.  He loves all his creations from the series because “we’re honoring us.” His “us”—Black people—is worthy of celebratory art not showcased in most museums. 

According to demographic diversity results from the scientific journal Plos One, African-American artists have the lowest share of art collections in all major U.S. museums at 1.2%. “There’s not enough ‘us’ hanging in museums, art writers, curators, critics,” said Philoche. “But I want to honor us while we’re still alive.” He said that too often, people are honored or given their flowers after they are no longer here. It’s more effective to celebrate people while they are still alive.

Weddemire discussed how essential it is for people to receive their flowers “in the moment.” “It’s really important for us to honor our loved ones—just everybody,” she said. Giving flowers goes beyond a physical gift. “We want to make sure that we honor people, give the sense of confidence, have them feel appreciated,” she continued. She applauded how well Philoche detailed “This Little Piggy,” which caught her eye because of the young girl’s smile. “Her cheekbones are so full and vibrant, and she’s holding a piggy —and she’s wearing her Converse. That’s amazing!”

As for Philoche receiving his own flowers, he appreciates those who love his work. “New York has been really good to me, and I have amazing collectors,” he said. “I’m just glad people love the work.” He strives to be remembered as “one of the greatest.” “I want my work to be hanging in every major museum.” 

Seven pieces from “Give Us Our Flowers” were sold at the time this article was written.

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1 Comment

  1. Very powerful concept and write up. Too many times I’ve been at funerals and hear ppl say the same things, “how they wish they said this or that”. Give people their flowers today…show the love and recognition while we can enjoy it. 💯 💐

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