Originally from Haiti, Samson Tonton came to the US to live with his mother. Now residing in Norwich, Connecticut, Samson began his professional painting career back in 2015, about seven years ago. After graduating with his degree in computer animation from the Art Institute Of Boston, Samson immersed himself back into his first love, the initial passion he honed, drawing and painting.
With a keen eye for color, Samson (who I initially thought was drawn to Basquiat’s works) hated how basic Jean-Michel’s work was. He said, “Originally, I hated Basquiat. Because I didn’t understand what was the point of his work. It was so basic. And I had someone from New York that introduced me to Basquiat. And I said, ‘I hate this guy, I don’t like his [work]’, and she said, ‘Samson, I know you’re a very educated guy, and I want you to do me a favor’, I said, ‘Ok, what is this favor?’ She said, ‘I want you to look at a few Basquiat paintings, and watch them for a little bit. And we can talk about it. Don’t be so harsh until you actually know.’ And I took her advice.”
“I looked at one of his pieces, it’s called ‘King Zulu’, and then I was impressed,” said the painter from Norwich.
On the subject of whether Basquiat had any slight influences on Samson’s artwork, he replied, “I have a new consideration for him, so you can say a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. Because I have a piece called ‘Spotlight and the Devil With It’, and I think that piece is mainly inspired by some of Basquiat’s paintings.” One of his skills as an artist is being able to look at where another artist might start his, her, or their work and where the art is going, where it’s trying to go.
Back in 2020, Samson and another artist by the name of Emida Roller were hired to paint a large mural on the wall of a city-owned parking garage on Market Street in his town of Norwich. Norwich Public Utilities power-washed the surface a week prior to their execution.
“They [Public Art for Racial Justice Education and NAACP Norwich Branch President, Sheila Hayes] came to me about doing something called, ‘Sister Murals’, I did two of them actually. I did one in Norwich and I did one in East Lyme,” said Samson.
“They wanted to bring inclusion, they wanted to bring everybody together, unity, inclusion, so they wanted to create a mural,” explained Tonton. “And they contacted me around July 2020 about the mural, and then, what they wanted to do, they wanted to bring everybody that does something that adds to society.”
The Public Art for Racial Justice Education is a broadly based, interracial, non-partisan, non-sectarian orgnization branched within the Connecticut communities of East Lyme, Lyme, New London, Norwich, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Essex, Waterford, and Stonington. PARJE broached the idea to the local NAACP leader, President Sheila Hayes, and gained approval for the project from the city council.
Samson and Emida created the piece to celebrate the timeline of civil rights and historical humanitarians, honoring the figures that shaped Norwich and the country. The piece included Aaron Dwight Stevens, Cato Mead, Hiram Bingham IV, Virginia D. Christian, David Ruggles, Frederick Douglass, and many more.
Tonton stated, “Both of us [Samson and Emida] worked on it tirelessly. The mural was about 141 feet long and 16 feet high. We started it right before Thanksgiving, and we finished right before December 24th, right before Christmas.”
Laughing about the hardships that came with the job, Samson said, “Everybody was afraid of the idea, that we weren’t going to complete the mural in time, because of winter and the weather. But I told them that if I said yes, the chances of me not completing the mural, it’s slim to none. Because when I say yes to something, I will move mountains to make it happen. And we did it. My goodness, I didn’t sleep.”
Samson Tonton, while not a musician himself, loved incorporating instruments to his pieces, including, ‘Peace Be Unto You’, ‘One Man Band’, and many more. Jubilantly laughing, he joked, “I don’t play any instruments. I suck at all of them. I’m terrible, I tried piano and I quit. I tried guitar and I said that’s not mine, at least I tried them. And art, it’s easy for me. Painting is easy. Even if I spend three years, don’t touch anything, I can come back with my palette and it’s like rhythm, it’s me.”
Tonton explained that, “Music is always our way out, not only my way out, it’s our way out. A lot of us listen to music, we might listen to different kinds of music, but we all listen to music, music is always in us, whether we play an instrument or not, we can always relate to a piece. Music is a part of my life, and I always appreciate great masterpieces, when somebody creates a piece that is wonderful.”
Much like Gordon Ramsay, Samson is an artist with a powerful sense of confidence blended into his self-identity and is unapologetic for what he creates. Portraying his mesmerizing, colorful stance with his abstract pieces, Samson implements his own level of credence into his artwork.