Artist Tracy Guiteau on Haitian-American art, Naomi Osaka, and LeBron James' Uninterrupted

What do you do when tennis world number one Naomi Osaka and LeBron James’ digital media company, Uninterrupted, suddenly want to collaborate with you during Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival?

For Haitian-American artist Tracy Guiteau, first, you “lose sleep,” calm your nerves, process the invitation and let your “creativity answer their call.”

The 34-year-old Greenacres resident says Osaka, the Haitian-Japanese tennis star, handpicked her for the collaboration after noticing her earth-toned acrylic paintings of women on L'union Suite, a popular Haitian-American media platform. Osaka, according to Guiteau, followed Guiteau’s Instagram account and made the collaboration request at just the right time.

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The result? A larger-than-life, neon-hued art installation that’s a pop tribute to Osaka. The artist hand-painted a half-mannequin figure hot pink with tangerine swirls, then dressed her in a skirt of more than 500 pleated newspaper tear-sheet replicas that tumbled to a shoreline of 1000 glow-in-the-dark Yonex tennis balls. The reveal: a regal woman cloaked in the printed evidence of her success amid an orbit of tennis balls. It took Guiteau 29 hours to build the work.

“So I called it the Osake Wave, more related to a hurricane in a sense -- meaning that, although she's a tennis player, she’s much more,” Guiteau told The Post recently during an interview in her apartment studio.  

With help from the Uninterrupted team, the installation was presented inside Nylon Magazine’s third annual Midnight Garden Party during the first weekend of Coachella.

Osaka’s meteoric rise in the international sports scene (or “wave,” as the artist calls it) has a personal meaning for Guiteau. In fact, she said, the tennis balls she used to surround the dress, on the floor and in the air, symbolize the act of “making a ripple effect” in society. Those ripples are “not only affecting the tennis fans, but younger crowds, the Haitian crowd and the Japanese culture,” she said.

Guiteau believes Osaka’s influence and humanitarianism raise up a beacon for underrepresented Haitians as well as for young people of all backgrounds, many who are looking to emulate the tennis star’s success in their respective careers.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have that kind of representation. It was only Wyclef (Jean) at the time,” said Guiteau, a New World School of the Arts alum and fine arts/business graduate of both Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Westminster.

In an Instagram post following the installation show, Osaka said working with Guiteau and Uninterrupted was “unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”

For her part, the artist said she was “extremely thankful” for the opportunity, but looks forward to finishing up and exhibiting her paintings, some of which hold deep sentimental value to her. Known for hiding cryptic words and messages in her paintings, Guiteau said her aesthetic is inspired by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt and Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.

To that aesthetic, Guiteau brings her life experiences, including a tough, poverty-stricken childhood in Miami. She sees her work as a conduit of sorts to spread a “message of resilience.” This is a topic that has been close to her heart since her grandmother Bernadette died of cancer while Guiteau’s mother was going through chemotherapy treatments.

“It’s the women in my family. They are the backbone,” Guiteau said. “They are the ones who keep everything up. If it wasn’t for them, a lot of things would crumble.”

She says her collaboration with Osaka/Uninterrupted is not just one of the highlights of her young art career, but a paradigm shift. It is an “affirmation” that there is space in the art world for the intersection of “womanhood and Haitian culture.”

“That’s why you see predominantly women,” said Guiteau, describing her work. “It’s been women, women, women.”  

So, what’s next for Guiteau? After exhibitions at the Haitian Heritage Museum, Guiteau will join a cadre of rising Tri-County artists exhibiting their work at the The Art of Sherlock Holmes event inside the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden from May 10 through June 3. 

This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.