Marilène Phipps was born in Port-au-Prince. She attended primary school in Haiti, and secondary school at the Lycèe Claude Debussy in St. Germain-enLaye, France. She obtained a degree in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Art was an elective subject in her studies at Berkeley, but it quickly inspired her creative vision. She mastered both drawing and painting with sensitivity and skill.
Painting connects Phipps to the powerful early sensations and visual excitement of her childhood in Haiti; without it, life would be impoverished. She takes as her inspiration the scenery and rituals of her homeland, and creates works that might be interpreted as narrative paintings, but are at the same time richly textured color studies suggesting that the action occurs across the painted surface.
Painting is for Marilène Phipps more than an act of self-expression; it is the means for a dialogue with the viewer, whose emotions she challenges using a vocabulary deeply rooted in her ancestral home and developed through her studies abroad. If she feels a purpose in her work it is to communicate to the viewer the visual sythensis, the resulting language which emerges from the merger of the two cultures.
To engage the viewer in a dialogue she presents physical elements, such as animals, graveyards, crosses, houses, windows, doors and shadows in terms of their metaphorical meaning. These elements are often charged with the symbolism related to the spirits of the Voodoo religion; thus a bull represents Ogou, the warrior spirit, a goat is Guede, diviner and spirit of death, and a river is the place where Simbi, the healer, lives.
Her large-scale paintings are the essence of the “painted novel”, which generates admiration, astonishment, controversy and awe: the require meaningful and symbolic thinking and interpretation while the storyline develops over a series of paintings.
She has exhibited at the venerable Port-au-Prince “Centre d’Art” (1981 and 1983), at the Musée d’Art Haïtien (1983), the Musée du Panthéon National (1984), the International Monetary Fund, Washington D.C. (1985), the University of Pennsylvania (1988), the Mattatuck Museum, Hartford (1990), the Discovery Museum, Bridgeport (1991), the Mexican Art Museum, Austin (1992), the United Nations, New York (1995), and at several galleries throughout the United States.
Her work is part of the permanent collections of the Centre d’Art, the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, the Musée d’Art Haïtien, the Davenport Gallery Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has received a fellowship at Radcliffe College (1992-1994) and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship (1995).