Though he is only twenty-five years old, Miami-based artist Mark Fleuridor’s textile and multimedia portraits show assuredness and maturity far beyond his years. Since graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2019, Fleuridor has exhibited work in shows in Florida, New York, and Baltimore, including at the Wassaic Project in upstate New York, a prestigious residency for up-and-coming artists. Last year he had two solo shows in Fort Lauderdale and presented an artist’s talk at Miami’s Perez Art Museum. His depictions of his Haitian American family’s home life in Miami movingly celebrate familial love and religious faith, but also include playful elements that prevent his work from being overly sentimental, such as pop culture details from his childhood in the early 2000s or the logo of the Miami Dolphins, his brother’s beloved team. These autobiographical references feel particularly fresh in Fleuridor’s quilts, which provide a contemporary interpretation of an artform often associated with past eras and in U.S. culture historically practiced primarily by women. His adoption of the medium also represents the continuance of a tradition of longstanding importance, especially in the U.S. Southeast.
Fleuridor learned to quilt at MICA, when the school partnered with the African American Quilters of Baltimore (AAQB) guild for a Quilt Club for students. Experienced artists in the guild taught the MICA students, and under their instruction Fleuridor fell in love with fiber work. He cites AAQB artists Glenda Richardson and Rosalind Robinson as important inspirations for this new direction in his art. “When I use textile material I feel at home,” he says. “I love how the material is very flexible. It can be used as a quilt or as a sculpture. I feel like I’m constantly learning and unlearning from textile materials.”
Many artists have discovered this passion through the AAQB since its formation in 1989. The group holds monthly meetings for members to share fellowship and technique. Their guild extends a long African American practice of quilting, as do the many other African American quilters groups around the United States. Black quilters have been creating quilts continuously as long as the United States has been in existence, though it was only in the later twentieth century that their art became a prominent subject of scholarly research. Beginning in the 1960s, African American quilting groups such as the quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the Freedom Quilting Bee in the nearby town of Alberta were recognized as producing art worthy of studying, collecting, and exhibiting in galleries. For many people, quilts also provided an important connection to ancestors as the Civil Rights Movement brought wider attention to folk cultures of Black Americans, as memorably dramatized in Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” Historian Cuesta Benberry is credited with vastly expanding the understanding and archiving of African American quilting, especially through her 1992 book Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts and an associated traveling exhibition. At the time, many researchers were excited by the correspondences between historical African American quilts and textile arts from African nations, analyzing features such as stitch length, size and organization of quilt patches, and color choice to establish a continuous tradition. Benberry became concerned that this narrative inaccurately portrayed Black quilters as a homogenous group or dismissed Black quilters working in other styles as copying European American forms. Through extensive research she demonstrated that Black quilters had in fact contributed to the development of a diverse array of forms in American quilting.
The prolific body of work created by the AAQB includes many beautiful and intricate “art quilts” to be displayed on the wall rather than used as bed coverings. Some of these exemplify “story quilts,” in which scenes or narratives are developed through appliqué, patchwork, or mixed-media techniques. Story quilts are an important tradition among many African American quilters, including the famous nineteenth-century quilts of Harriet Powers, an artist born in slavery in 1837. Faith Ringgold’s elaborately detailed narrative quilts, which she began producing in the 1980s, brought new attention to the form in the late twentieth century.
Fleuridor brings his own experience and associations to the genre of story quilting, and credits younger contemporary artists working in textiles as influences too, such as Ambrose Murray. Most of his quilts portray his family members or memories from his childhood. Scenes include the mundane items one might find in the home of a family with children on an average day—a Nintendo controller, a television turned to the local news station, a jug of Hawaiian Punch tipping over a kitchen table, a basketball, a toy car. The family’s love for each other is present in every scene, whether through an older sibling cuddling a younger one, a caretaker feeding a child, or a father saying a prayer for his son. Fleuridor’s mother is one of his most important subjects, and he has created numerous portraits of her, with textiles and on paper. His four siblings also appear in multiple works. Motifs suggesting the family’s Christian faith recur throughout the portraits. The Miami setting informs many of Fleuridor’s choices too, especially the color palette of golds and reds and corals that convey the tropical climate.
At times, Fleuridor had as many as five quilts in progress at once, with the most detailed ones taking three to six months to complete. He often works from family photos, though sometimes he embellishes reality. For his 2020 quilt All of Us, he couldn’t find a picture showing himself and all his siblings together at church when they were growing up, so he collaged separate photos together for reference, depicting them dressed for services. With the exception of the littlest boy—Mark Fleuridor himself—who looks out at the viewer, holding up a vase, the younger children all face their older sister, a gentle, pretty young woman in a long floral dress. The eldest son carries a Haitian flag over his shoulder. The siblings gather close to each other as a unified group.
Quilts are often associated with domesticity, comfort, nurture, and caretaking; even those not meant for use may convey softness and warmth. These traits harmonize perfectly with the quiet contentment among loved ones that Fleuridor depicts, but they can also be evoked in other media, as his latest work shows. After the series of quilts that gained the notice of galleries and critics, Fleuridor moved from textiles back into painting, though he said in his artist talk for the Perez Museum that his young nieces and nephews’ enthusiasm for playing in his paint influenced a return to fiber art and collage while he was living at home during the pandemic. In a recent series of multimedia works on paper called Enveloped by the Sun, Fleuridor amplifies his propensity for warm colors, using almost exclusively yellows, reds, oranges, and browns that seem to radiate heat. Of this series, Fleuridor says, “I depict individuals in sun-drenched environments where they are held and protected by their surroundings.” In some of the portraits, the subjects are also held and protected by others, as in his portrait of his older brother Moise holding their baby sister, Kianna, on his lap. Fleuridor often includes patterns of hibiscus, the national flower of Haiti, and mango leaves, which recall the mango tree that stood in his family’s yard. He relates the cycle of the mango season to the larger seasons of an individual or a family’s life. Other works feature a pattern of wrapped strawberry candies, a favorite that Fleuridor associates with home.
Mark Fleuridor is still in the early years of a promising career, in the excitement of experimenting in different media. After residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Oxbow School of Arts in Michigan after graduation, he even began incorporating poetry into his process, inspired by his conversations with authors Yalie Kamara, Rachael Uwada Clifford, and Kosiso Ugwueze. “They inspired me to write poems about my own ideas,” he says, “which has helped me understand my work even when I feel stuck.” He also created his first public work in 2021, a colorful mural called Being Held that adorns the exterior of a childcare center in Miami, and hopes to do more public projects in the future. Whether his early textile work points to a dominant mode in his artmaking or his versatility will be his hallmark, Fleuridor has already earned an audience eager to follow his every stitch or brushstroke.
C. J. Bartunek
Images © 2022 Mark Fleuridor, photographed by Phillip Karp.