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.