Willie Franklin Coleman was born on August 27, 1956 in Gadsden, Alabama. Toson is his self-given pen name. He describes his paintings as being influenced by God and the “remembrance of His gift and the purpose of things on Earth.” While painting on a canvas, he listens to the Bible on audio, or sometimes the Czech classical music composer Dvorak, or perhaps even some old-school R&B. Coleman feels whole and content when he is painting, building and creating. His work is contemporary with bold and subtle colors, abstract with lines and curves, and a sprinkling of Afrofuturism.
His mother worked as a maid for white families, and his father was a janitor for the local newspaper. Coleman is one of thirteen children. While growing up his mother made sure her children had plenty of coloring books, wood burning kits, Etch A Sketches, spirograph sets, and paint by numbers sets. Interestingly, as his mother grew older, she began painting landscapes. Around age three, Coleman’s imagination pulled him toward visual art. He loved coloring, tracing and drawing. He was fascinated by what his mind could send to hands, and what his hands could draw.
Coleman was a standout basketball player at Gadsden High School from 1972-1975, and played briefly at Gadsden State Community College. At that time art was not a priority, instead he had hoop dreams. Coleman took a few art classes at the community college. After leaving Gadsden State, he worked at Gadsden’s Republic Steel Mill for seventeen years.
Today in Gadsden, Coleman is a self-employed carpenter, but his true passion and driving creative force is his art. His residence not only serves as a home but also a gallery – the walls adorned with his paintings. Every canvas has a title, a story, and a thoughtful meaning. Since 1999, Coleman has devoted his life to the practice of his biblically-based visionary art. His work can be described as deeply philosophical, creative and avant-garde at the same time.
“You can see Toson’s spirit in his art. He understands our world, our culture and our history. You can see the sensitivity in his art. There is a deep inner consciousness in his work. His art is abstract and expressive. Toson is simply phenomenal.” Nathaniel Bustion, Artist and author of The Eternal Genetic Presence and the Creative Transformation.
“Toson is a very gifted artist with a unique perspective.” Renowned Artist Habiba Owens-Burns
“Toson’s style of art is what I call Controlled Abstract with a heavy dose of Spirituality Mix. Toson painting is his own unique form of creativity and he is most satisfied when each viewer sees something totally different. Toson is not in the business of making a picture but creating a work of art that comes from his Spirit.” Theresa Beverly, Reporter Monthly Newspaper
“The artistic scope and genius of Toson’s work captures the creative intelligence of nature. His entire gallery is aglow with the transcendent Immortal One.” Dr. Y’shua Yisrael
“Willie “Toson” Coleman is a committed but marginalized artist who has spent years painting and creating art. I met him in the 1990’s You might categorize his work as true folk, primitive, self-taught, naive, or outsider. I call it art. I call Toson an undiscovered artist whose art tells a story.” Bobby Welch, Gadsden Cultural Arts Foundation
“I’ve watched Toson for a number of years. I’m impressed with his dedication as an artist, through thick and thin. I find his work to have a special meaning, sometimes spiritual, and always striking in its visual appearance.” Elaine Campbell, Former Gallery Owner
“Toson The Artist, his paintings are from his mind and heart: the content of the most powerful part of the artist; a boundless imagination of ancient metaphors overlooking the future. I respect the man. I love the artist and his art.” The Black-Artist, John Solomon Sandridge
Gadsden, AL, Cultural Arts Center, Black History Celebration, February 2019
Attalla, AL, Heritage Festival, August 2016
Glencoe, AL, Harvest Festival, October 2016
Noccalula Art on the Rocks, Gadsden, AL, December 2016
Bustion, Nathaniel. The Eternal Genetic Presence and the Creative Transformation. 2014.
Talladega, AL, County Schools, Black History Month, February 2014
Gadsden Museum of Art, Celebrating Creativity, May 2011
First Saturday, Greater Gadsden Area Tourism, 2009 – Present
Gadsden Museum of Art, Diversity & Cultural Heritage Gala, February 2008
Art Walk, Gadsden, May 2006
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Juneteenth Celebration, June 2005
Gadsden State Community College, 2005
Gadsden Museum of Art, Diversity Exhibit, 2005
Juneteenth Festival, Gadsden, June 2004
Collinsville, AL, Arts Festival, May 2004
Gadsden Museum of Art, Celebration American Diversity, April 2003
Gadsden Museum of Art, African American Artists in Alabama, June 2003, May 2002, June 2001 & June 2000
Gadsden Center for Cultural Arts, Images of Things, February 2000