Blaise Emilson started out his career in the arts as a frog. At the age of 9 he was recruited to dance in a Mardi Gras street performer troupe known as “krapo” which, at the time, was a brand new addition to the Jacmel carnival scene. The troupe dressed all in green like frogs while the smallest and most flexible dancer in the group balances on top of two bamboo poles held in the air by the others and does all sorts of tricks and contortions to the guaranteed cheers of any crowd that gathers to watch. When Blaise was recruited to be a part of the group, he was the one assigned to dance on top of the poles and quickly became widely loved throughout the city for his performances. It was when the krapo troupe performed at a local orphanage called Trinity House that Blaise’s life took a dramatic change. The staff at the children’s home recognized his talent and invited him to come live there with the other children. Although Blaise wasn’t an orphan, his mother was convinced that he’d have a better chance at life if he was raised in the institution rather than in her care, so she registered him to move in to the orphanage. Shortly after moving in, however, the staff decided to move him to their partner location in Port-au-Prince, St. Joseph’s.
At his new home he was enrolled in classes in art, dance, drumming, and piano. He immediately fell in love with all forms of creative expression, especially painting and drumming, and his natural talent was evident from the start. At school he started getting in trouble because instead of taking notes on math or history during class he was always drawing in his notebooks instead. He remembers one teacher in particular who punished him with a severe beating for his drawings in his notebook. He remembers as he was getting the beating he told the teacher that someday she’d see he was going to be a great artist and she’d regret beating him. Sure enough, years later he ran into that teacher in the street and got to prove to her what he’d become by showing her photos of the paintings that he’d created and sold and the success that he’d built for himself. He credits that success to his mentor, a painter from Petionville named Ralph Elan. Blaise was introduced to Elan while living at St. Joseph’s and started taking painting lessons from him. Elan is the one who began teaching Blaise watercolor painting and then later on, acrylics. Blaise really took to the watercolors and remembers the first one that he sold at the age of 15 to a foreign visitor to the boy’s home. It was a market scene. After that he started painting more and more and everytime visitors came to the orphanage, he would display his watercolors and sell to them to make some money for himself. Eventually others at the home, including the staff, were seeing how much money he was making from his art and it caused some to get jealous of him and that started to make life more difficult for him as they would intentionally leave him out of activities. He didn’t understand why, just like in grade school before, he was being punished for being talented. He was just pursuing his passion and people hated him for it. But he didn’t give up because he knew it’s what it was what he was meant to do. He wasn’t going to let anyone dim the light of his gifts. It only encouraged him to shine brighter. It was the rift in his relationships at the boys’ home that eventually sent him back to Jacmel where he returned to live with his family now as an adult.
He found his strength to press on not only through his art but also through his faith. He said that he would often go to the Bible to find encouragement and guidance. Still to this day he says that much of his inspiration comes from the scriptures because just as those words have a powerful message of how to live, he hopes that his art can also draw viewers closer to God and speak to them in inspirational ways. He does this through a variety of styles, in fact, he says that he doesn’t have any one style. He believes that just as God speaks to people in different ways, so must his art. Art is supposed to be a tool for people to solve their problems in life so different kinds of art can speak to viewers in different ways depending on what they are facing in their life at that moment. That is why you will see Blaise create art that could be described as abstract, or realist, or surrealist, or other styles. He tries to stay versatile. He also wants to make art for a greater purpose than just to sell it. So he wants viewers to find meaning within the work whether they’re rich or poor.
One of his favorite subjects is children because of his own upbringing in children’s homes he has had a very personal look at the different problems that the children of Haiti face. He says that Haiti is a country of more problems than solutions, but he wants his art to be a weapon with which he can fight for greater solutions and justice for those who don’t have a voice of their own. That includes the children that need better access to education and health and so much more. It also includes the merchant women that often are portrayed in his work because they are the most humiliated and disregarded even though they are one of the most vital parts of Haitian society.
Blaise’s concern for the children extends beyond the canvas, however. He now goes back to Trinity House regularly and teaches the children there painting and drumming. He knows that every kid deserves a chance to pursue their dreams and believe in themselves no matter who they are or where they come from. For that reason he’s earned the nickname, “Pastor” from the children for his compassionate approach to working with them. He knows that the work that he will leave behind as an artist may inspire one of them to become the change that their society needs. He knows that everything that he creates will have a life of its own even beyond his own life and that motivates him to keep working. Throughout his life he’s had to fight to prove that his talent was something to embrace and not to resist. Now he’s not taking any opportunity for granted knowing that the future will be brighter if we help others to shine their lights brighter too.