I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on August 15, 1963. I grew up there, but came to the United States at the age of 12. I lived in New York City until I came to Miami in 1994 on vacation with my dad and sister. I ended up staying.
I’m a realist artist. I’ve been painting my entire life. I do a lot of murals now, but I started painting with canvases in New York. It was too cold to do murals there.
When I first came to Miami, I was already a sign painter and portrait artist. But when I saw Little Haiti, I really noticed something was missing. All I saw were letters. I thought it would be cool to see a restaurant with a nice big piece of chicken painted on it, or a painting of a table with someone eating. That way, the people who didn’t understand English would know what’s in the restaurant. And vice versa for the places that had signs in Creole.
I first started by working here through my uncle’s fabric store. There was a restaurant called Chez Le Bebe across the street from the fabric store. One day I walked across the street to the restaurant and looked at my uncle’s place. Everything again was letters. It’d say, “We sell this,” “We’ve got that.” I went back to my uncle and asked him if I could paint a beautiful woman out there with some nice fabrics, so that people would know what’s being sold in there.
He said, “If you’re not going to charge me, go ahead and get it done.” So he took me to Ace Hardware and bought me some paint.
As I was sketching, I noticed cars started slowing down. They kept looking and saying, “Good job!” Less than an hour into the picture of the woman I started putting colors on it. This lady pulled over and said, “Sir, this is beautiful. I have a fabric store three blocks down. Would you do the same thing for me?” I said yes, even though I knew I wouldn’t have time because I was going back to New York.
My uncle ended up giving me $200 for the mural, since it got so many compliments from customers. That’s when I knew I had to stay with my cousin in Miami to be an artist. It had always been my dream.
I had to trick my dad and sister in order to stay because Haitian people, we stick together. We don’t leave our family. You go three blocks down—we’re all related.
So, five minutes before the Greyhound to New York left, I told the driver I was going to use the bathroom. He opened the door and let me out. My dad was like, “You’ve got five minutes to come back.” I left with nothing in my hand.
There was a car parked by the gas station. Instead of going to the bathroom, I dodged behind the car and waited for the bus driver to leave. I could see my dad and my sister getting real mad, looking for me. And sure enough the bus driver closed the door and said, “Okay, I’m leaving him.”
The bus left and I found a payphone. At the time it was two quarters to call. I called my cousin, and said, “Cuz, I’m somewhere called Biscayne Boulevard on Seventh Street,” and he came to pick me up.
I ended up making a lot of money fast, doing exactly what I wanted to do. But my father stopped talking to me. When I came to Miami, I saw a future for me. I saw my dream. But I couldn’t get that into my father’s head.
A year later, Haiti was in the headlines because Jean-Bertrand Aristide was coming back to take power in Haiti. On 54th Street in Little Haiti, there was a place called Veye-Yo. Whenever something political happened in Haiti, we always gathered there. At the time, Father Gérard Jean-Juste owned Veye-Yo. He was a big leader of the Haitian community.
So when Aristide was coming back, all of the news outlets were there. As an artist, I wanted to put my two cents in. I put a big canvas in front of Veye-Yo, and drew Aristide coming back with American flags and Haitian flags united. Before you know it, CNN was interviewing me. The next morning, I got a call from my sister.
She’d told my dad that I was on TV. He assumed I’d killed someone or robbed a store. But once he saw that I was giving interviews and looking good, he finally called me to congratulate me. It was the happiest time of my life.
Since then the biggest challenge I face with my work is the sun. It’s too hot here sometimes. Sometimes there’s walls that you want to be working on, and walls you don’t want to be on, because the sun stays there 24 hours a day. Sadly I can’t keep an umbrella on top of my head while I hold the picture and the brush. That’s the only thing that’s hard in my business. But every other part of my job is a joy.
I love huge works with huge exposures. Things that kids will look up to. Things that, when you pass by, could inspire kids to be an artist. That’s why you see me in the street all of the time.
I love painting all over Miami, but I have to do my homework on the area. I can’t go to Little Havana and paint a picture of Aristide. I have to walk around, look around, and feel the environment before I put anything in someone’s environment.
If I go to Liberty City, I know that’s an American environment. I would know automatically, if I put a big Tupac or Biggie Smalls there, they would like that. Because that’s their vibe. So if I’m in Little Haiti I could paint Father Jean-Juste.
I hope my artwork will stay forever in Little Haiti and represent Haiti to the fullest. I am more Americanized now, but at the same time I like to keep my culture. Just like the Cuban brothers keep their culture.
That doesn’t mean I can’t paint skyscrapers, or the Statue of Liberty, or Mr. Obama. I can do all of that. But at the same time, when I’m in Little Haiti, I concentrate on what matters to Haitians.
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