Chicago native Arthur J Williams Jr is no stranger to going through hardships. Back in 2014, he was released after doing a seven year sentence for conspiracy to make counterfeit money. He didn't just make a little counterfeit cash either, he made millions of it. So much so that many still believe his bills are circulating to this day.
After his release, Arthur embarked on a career as an artist. He blended his past into what would become a prominent future. By using his skillset as a printer and combining it with painting, he continued his passion but in a new way. A once illegal act, now done in a completely legal way.
Three years into becoming a free man, Arthur opened up his own gallery in Bridgeport, Chicago. Athletes, musicians and actors caught wind of the Chicagoans comeback story and Arthur's client list began to grow. That is, until an unexpected turn hit the world... a pandemic.
"Having my own gallery was a big deal. It allowed me to invest more into my business, rather than split a large commission with another gallery. But the one thing I realized is many people who visited weren't from Chicago. So when the pandemic hit, I knew something in my life needed change. It's funny because about 6 months prior to the world shutting down, I traded some paintings for an RV and it was sitting there waiting for the right moment. Then that moment came."
A NEW BEGINNING
After being open for nearly three years, Arthur shutdown his beloved space, Da Vinci Gallery, named for the pseudonym of the man who brought Williams into the world of counterfeiting. He packed everything he could (including a full gallery of art) into his RV and, with his family, he headed to a friends place in Texas. When he entered the state, he had an eerie feeling of Déjà vu.
In 2009, while serving a prison sentence in Big Spring, Texas, Arthur had to go through quarantine behind bars. This was during the Swine Flu outbreak. Now, nearly a decade later, he was reliving another pandemic. Only this time he had the ability to move freely. With his past experience of a quarantine, he had enhanced determination to make sure that his family stayed safe.
REMINDERS OF THE PAST
For the first couples weeks Arthur relaxed as he witnessed the world around him begin to crumbled. Then a mutual friend approached Williams with an idea. After a few words were exchanged, he informed Arthur that he was building a bowling alley and had interest in a mural for it.
Arthur replied "Well.. where is this place located." The response he got created another wave of unexpected Déjà vu, only this time stronger. The man answered back "It's in Big Spring, Texas." Decades earlier, while driving in that same area, Williams was captured in his first counterfeit arrest.
"Here I was in a pandemic, 25 years later, with a mural request in the very same place that I was previously arrested and went to jail in. It was bizarre."
For the next four months, while the whole world was falling apart around him, Arthur devoted his time painting a 70ft wide mural by hand. He parked his RV at a nearby camping site so his family remain nearly isolated. He painted day in and day out, with thoughts of his next move when the mural was completed. After the first and most significant stage of the process was done, he decided to briefly return to Chicago to check on relatives amidst the chaos of the pandemic.
BLESSINGS FROM HOME
Doing his absolute best to be careful of highly populated areas, Williams stayed with a close friend in Berwyn, Illinois. Word quickly got out of Arthur's presence back home and requests for his artwork started to pour in. Arguably, the most ironic request came from a local bank asking if Arthur would paint the ceiling of their vault; he happily obliged. Realizing the demand was still there for his work, even in a pandemic, Williams decided to host a private show. He displayed a full collection of work he'd created the previous year along with a very rare collaboration with Chicago street artist Rawooh.
A LEAP OF FAITH
The show was a raving success and gave Arthur an additional impetus to make what was about to be the biggest decision of his career. He decided he was going to move to California. He previously found great success while visiting the area and felt it was the right time to advance his career. He packed what was remaining from his art show into his RV. Then headed to the golden state full of optimism.
After staying a few nights at a Fairmont Hotel, he rented a cozy house up on the hills of Los Angeles. Things moved slow for awhile but but Arthur's enthusiasm never waned. He hosted small art shows at any venue he could and even hosted a private event at his house. Williams told the story of his artwork, closing his gallery and traveling across the country.
His inspiring tale was heard by an affluent couple who were deeply moved by Arthur's comeback in life. They were also familiar with his artwork. They offered the rising artist a gallery space they had available in Beverly Hills. The timing was fortuitous for Arthur, since he was beginning to feel the effects of the high cost of living in the Los Angeles area.
"I remember I thought it was going to be a tiny store front in Beverly Hills. When I showed up there... I couldn't believe eyes. It even had it's own parking garage. It was a huge undertaking but I took it seriously and I went in on it!"
THE REBIRTH OF DA VINCI'S GALLERY
As weeks passed Arthur worked on filling his new space, nearly triple the size of his previous gallery in Chicago. He explored new styles of work within his collection and has even begun to add sculptural elements into his art. As California has gradually started to feel more like home to the artist, the wisdom of his move across the country seems validated.
As for what's next in store for Williams, he plans to be more involved in film. He also wants to make sure the original vision of Da Vinci's gallery is carried on to its new location. With plans to feature up-and-coming Chicago artists, he'll be adding some flavors from his previous home in Chicago to Beverly Hills. Stay tuned for updates.