StoriesRocky Cotard ’18

Drawing Inspiration from Heritage and History

For artist Rocky Cotard, returning to Haiti opened new avenues for self-discovery, expression, and discussing differences.

“The more I dive into myself as a Haitian person, the more I become the artist that I want to be,” says Rocky Cotard, illustration major here at Lesley University. “A lot of my inspiration comes from going to Haiti and seeing people—Haitian people—doing regular things.”

Recently, Rocky raised funds through GoFundMe with help from mentors Guy Telemaque, John Barnes, and Josiane Hudicourt Barnes. His supporters, including friends and family, allowed him to return to Haiti for a self-directed study abroad experience. There, he joined Haitian artists Ismer and Emmanuel Saincilus to perform artistic research, engage in community service, and reconnect to their heritage as they made their way through the small Caribbean country. It was this trip that brought Rocky, who immigrated to Boston as a child, inside the studios of local artists like Ronald Mevs, and instilled the illustrator with a renewed sense of self-awareness and urgency.

“Haiti is a place where the artists are free,” says Rocky. “They’ve taught me how to be unapologetic about the things I create. In my mind, I’m there right now. I’ve found the thing that makes Rocky, Rocky.”

"I’m always thinking about how to use color to create rhythm between things that seemingly don’t match."
Rocky Cotard ’18, Illustration

Back at the College of Art and Design in Cambridge, Rocky’s studio is unmistakable. It’s the one bursting with brilliant colors—colors that feel as if they were bottled up and brought back from his trip to Haiti.

Amid a kaleidoscope of pens and markers, you’ll find mixed media sketches, an issue of Ebony magazine, and a catalogue of Basquiat’s work. On the surrounding walls, you’ll see some of his latest pieces: Portraits of women and cultural icons in unexpected hues, screen prints of popular Haitian drinks, and a series of watercolor-and-ink chickens and roosters captioned, “Gallus Gallus Domesticus.”

“There are a lot of emotions that I would like people to feel when looking at my work,” he says. “I want people to feel the sense of rhythm in the colors. I’m always thinking about how to use color to create rhythm between things that seemingly don’t match.”

While much of Rocky’s work stems from his history and heritage—for example, his chickens and roosters derive from childhood memories of waking up to the sounds of roosters at his family’s farm in Haiti—there’s a larger theme that ties his work together.

“I want people to learn to see differences because differences exist,” says the artist, whose work was recently exhibited in REPRESENT: Politics and Portraiture and featured in the Boston Metro. “Addressing this is important for generating thoughts that encourage people who are not of a certain culture to explore it.”

Whether in a portrait of Biggie Smalls or a screen print of Couronne—the oldest cola manufactured in Haiti—Rocky uses color boldly. And through his use of color, he’s able to highlight or diminish differences in people and in things, creating unexpected relationships for his viewers. It’s one of the ways he pushes others to question what they believe and become more informed.

“Artwork is a platform to expose issues,” says Rocky. “And I veer on the side of giving positivity to people who are not treated correctly by giving them a better image than what they have seen themselves as.”

For Rocky, his little sisters are a driving force to generate work that uplifts others, especially young women and others who have been historically disempowered.

“I have two baby sisters who I love,” says Rocky. “I actually have a hand in creating the world that they come into. Whether it’s huge or small, in some facet, I’m contributing to their future, so I’m always thinking about how to create work that makes them feel empowered.”

Outside of his artwork, Rocky is committed to reaching youth through the Expressive Arts Place, a nonprofit arts service organization. This summer, he’ll travel to Haiti with the organization on a mission to provide young people with a safe space for creative self-expression and will be guiding youth through collaborative art making while there.

In the future, the artist envisions himself continuing on this path of cultural discovery, education, and empowerment. And until then? He says he’s “considering how awesome it feels to have a voice.”

“As much as everyone else is experiencing my art and my work, I’m experiencing it as well,” says Rocky.

Rocky Cotard can be found on Instagram at @rockycotard.