If you've been to Little Haiti, chances are you've seen his work: fat, glistening, cartoonish acrylic depictions of everything from hair grease tins to roast chickens to his trademark soda cans, which sport the brand "Serge" in place of Pepsi. "I don't want to say I'm the best muralist in Miami; I like other people to judge for themselves," says the Haitian-born Serge Touissant, taking a halfhearted stab at modesty despite his paint-splattered T-shirt reading, "If it ain't Serge, it ain't right!" "They say I'm the best. And I'll paint anything. Other guys, they'll just do letters, or the same paintings over and over. I can do anything you want to pay me for."
Indeed, Touissant is eclectic: The 45-year-old has adorned a botanica with icons of Joseph and Mary, a video store with portraits of Third-World superstars Omotola and Dezirab, and a car wash with a Mercedes SUV — all within 50 yards of each other on NE Second Avenue.
Not surprisingly, Touissant began his artistic odyssey by doing graffiti. His family migrated to Corona, Queens, in 1976, just in time for the teenager to experience New York City's great subway train spray-paint-bombing heyday. He was arrested three times, he says, and ordered to take a white paint roller to his work. Eventually, he quit the pastime.
Touissant came to Miami 14 years ago to visit his uncle, who owns Little Haiti's Bortan's Fabric. Bored, he volunteered to paint a woman's face on the storefront — and his work in progress piqued the interest of neighboring Haitian storeowners. "The first guy asked me if I lived in Miami, and I told him: 'Of course,'" Touissant recalls. "Before I was finished with my uncle's wall, I had 15 business cards." He never returned to New York.
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Today, Touissant charges about $200 for storefront murals that take him two hours to finish. The father of four has carved his own unique niche into the American dream. But the ex-bomber hasn't lost a gentle disdain for authority. In October, after Miami-Dade Department of Transportation officials ordered him to remove the portrait of Barack Obama he added to a Martin Luther King mural they commissioned from him on an I-95 overpass, he carefully whitewashed Obama's face to leave a crystal-clear silhouette of the candidate. "Yeah, that was a message," Touissant says, laughing.