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Colors of memory

Although Flushing-based artist Gina Samson left Haiti as a teenager, she still paints in the same vibrant hues as those of her former art teacher, Nehemy Jean, a celebrated painter and muralist who portrays Haitian themes. Commenting on her own paintings, she said, “There’s no shyness about the color. I think that because the light in Haiti is so bright and so vivid, maybe the eyes are more used to that really rich use of color. That’s definitely one thing that I carried from Haitian art.”

While Samson has created a new life for herself here in the United States and has returned to her birthplace only once, she concedes that memories of her childhood are a catalyst for her depicting Haitian people in her artwork. When viewers see her paintings, she hopes they are “introspective” about the lives of the Haitian people that they see on the canvas. For example, she has painted a portrait of an elderly Haitian woman who has dark lines in her face and a somber expression.

After visiting museums in the United States, she has found a difference in attitudes toward art between Haitians and Americans. “In Haiti art is pretty much everywhere. It’s just part of life. It’s not like you feel there’s art in a museum and you have to leave your familiar surroundings to go see it and then when you go see it, it’s in this environment where it’s “Hush, hush. Don’t touch,” Samson observed. “Art is a little bit more accessible in Haiti I would say because anybody feels that they can do any kind of creative expression, whether it’s music or dance or visual arts. It’s pretty spontaneous. I think it makes it a little bit easier for people in Haiti to identify themselves as artists and to try it out.”

Most recently, Samson has been painting musicians from the American jazz scene. Whereas some of these portraits incorporate the colorful, realistic style of her Haitian artwork, she draws other musicians in the cubist manner of geometric shapes. “For the past three years, I’ve really been painting musicians more than anything else. I’m very, very inspired by music, especially certain types of music,” she said. “I think that jazz has an aspect that’s very disciplined and another aspect of it that’s very spontaneous. It’s very cerebral and it’s also very playful, and you can have all of that in one piece.”

Growing up in Haiti, Samson took an interest in art at a young age. Though neither of her parents is an artist, her father was friendly with many local artists and encouraged his daughter to take drawing lessons. By the time she arrived in the United States, she was still studying art but had to abandon her artistic endeavors in order to support herself financially.

Samson’s work has been receiving a lot of exposure lately, as it has been exhibited in various New York galleries such as at Dorsey’s Art Gallery in Brooklyn and at the African-American Museum in Hempstead, L.I.

Thanks to her involvement in two cooperative artist organizations, the Long Island Black Artists Association and the United Haitian Artists, Samson has been organizing and participating in group shows with other artists. “These two groups have very active working artists — they’re not, like, dabbling,” she said. “They really exhibit on a regular basis in good venues. It’s a high standard to exhibit with them and it gives you a lot of inspiration and discipline to dedicate yourself to what you’re doing.”

For more information about Gina Samson, her artwork and upcoming exhibits, you can visit her website at www.samsonart.com or contact her by email at gsamsonart@yahoo.com.

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