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From Behind Bars to Behind a Canvas: Arthur J Williams Jr.

From Behind Bars to Behind a Canvas: Arthur J Williams Jr.

The last place most people would expect to ever start a new career would be in prison. However, Arthur J Williams Jr. states otherwise…
“When I got to the joint I had to do something with my time.”

Let’s rewind all the way back to 1992 where this all first began. Arthur became an artist long before he ever realized it. Using his connections, he spent $300 on royal linen paper. It wasn’t going to be used to draw on or even paint on, instead he was going to use it to print money, and when I say that, I mean a lot of money. Growing up in a rough environment, Arthur was mentored by a man known on the streets as “Da Vinci.” A name that was given to him for his drawing skills and abilities as a counterfeiter. Through his teachings, Arthur ventured into a new underworld. He started by printing out roughly $50,000 in counterfeit bills a month and sold them on the black market for 20% of the appeared value. As his mentor, Da Vinci advised, to not let to his operation get too big. Arthur could earn enough to live comfortably in just 4 days of work, giving him the rest of the month to enjoy his life.

In 1996, a rotation of new U.S. currency started to appear. This made Arthur’s business much more complex to operate. The new hundred dollar bills were far more complicated than the previous ones he had printed. With features that included a hidden watermark, color shifting ink, and a security thread. People were suddenly paying more attention to money. Arthur became determined to figure out how to master this new line of currency. It took months of experimenting and countless trials and errors, but his persistence paid off. He created a passable replicate of the hundred bill that could even withstand the counterfeiter detection pen.

Arthur was now was at a new level, having done what virtually no other counterfeiter was able to accomplish at the time. His new abilities brought strong attention within the black market. Requests for alarming amounts such as, a million dollars began to come in. With extreme focus he rolled out order after order, now making 30% of the appeared value for his highly detailed bills. “Art Williams” as some would call him was now living a lavish lifestyle as the top counterfeiter in the U.S.

As life was really picking up, so was Arthur’s paranoia with Da Vinci’s words of wisdom to “keep it small” became just a memory in his fast-paced life.

Arthur printed over 10 million counterfeit dollars during his prime years as a criminal mastermind. Many believe that some of these bills are still in circulation today. As the saying goes: all good things must come to an end and they did for Arthur in a big way. The business bled into his family life. His father became highly intrigued by his son’s accomplishments and wanted in. What started off as father and son bonding, later ended with lasting mistakes. His father wasn’t quite as careful and ended up serving time, later passing away while in prison. A moment that would remain in Arthur’s mind for years to come. With amazing highs came the darkest of lows. During Arthur’s seven-year jail sentence, his son shared a cell with him. Having a father deceased while incarcerated and a son that followed the dark path he left behind, the pain became indescribable.

The primetime series: American Greed, featured an Episode on Arthur’s story while he was confined.

In the midst of all the hardships in federal prison, Arthur found a moment of clarity. He had nothing but time on his hands and wanted to make use of it in some way. He began reading often. “I read a Michelangelo book and fell in love.” He also took a painting class, which activated an emotion that he hadn’t felt since his last days as a counterfeiter. “They asked us to paint a flower and I asked if I could paint old currency.” The instructor told him that it would take too much time to make his idea a reality, but Arthur explained that all he had at this point was time. In one year he created an 1896 silver certificate by hand. Reading became a daily activity. He read as much as he had access to, specifically books about Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci and Salvador Dali. He continued to paint more “In prison you had to look at a dictionary and magazines. There were no computers to get inspirational images from. It would take me 3 months to sketch and 6 months to a year for an oil painting.”

Things began to become more positive for Arthur. His new hobby put him at peace with the past and helped his sentence become more manageable. Thoughts would drift in his head about combining his counterfeit printing techniques with his artwork. An idea he would have to wait on until his time was finished. He kept at a steady pace with his artwork, reading and daydreaming. He was released in 2014, and although he had difficultly getting back on his feet, he was determined to never go back to his old ways. During his first years back into society, he worked whatever job was available, including scrubbing toilets. The days of having a lavish lifestyle again seemed unobtainable. Arthur continued painting and developing his skills as the years went by. The only thing he had known in his prior life was working with his hands and money. On a pursuit to live a comfortable life again he tried his best to take his artwork seriously.

“I believe that work ethic produces what some people call luck.”

Nearly four years after being incarcerated Arthur attended Art Basel in 2017. This became the moment when he realized being a full time artist was possible. His work was well received, with each piece selling for thousands. These were by far his highest sales at the time. The story of Arthur’s past wasn’t spoken of often by him at first, but after realizing it was a big part of who he was as an artist he began to be more open about it. Word began to spread within the art community of an ex-counterfeiter turned artist. Articles on his life began appearing all of over the internet. The following year Arthur began to really gain momentum with a feature in Haute Time on his customized Rolls Royce Wraith.

He began investing his earnings back into his life as an artist. Being no stranger to spending money and taking risks, but this time it was all legal. Arthur now owns a gallery in Bridgeport, Chicago (where he grew up) and more recently partnered on a second location in Boca Raton, Florida. Seeing money as a theme on artwork these days is nothing new but an artist with a direct connection to money and it’s evolution… he’s the only one of his kind. Towards the end of 2018, Arthur’s market value saw a rapid rise with more and more collectors hearing about his story and wanting a piece of the action. He offers his clientele the option to own an original piece, which can be equal parts printed/painted or entirely painted. He also offers very limited edition prints, touching each one up by hand, giving them all a unique appearance in their own way. The majority of his work is priced in the five figure range with some highly detailed pieces even going for six figures. This year he plans to offer some affordable options for his growing fan base.

As mentioned on his Instagram “76% of convicted felons end up getting locked up again. I won’t even tell you the odds of a convicted felon being able to make a living off his art.”

His story goes beyond just art. It’s brought motivation to others experiencing hard times. Between creating new work, Arthur donates a portion of his earnings back into charities; such as the common ground foundation among others. He’s also been a public speaker to the youth, those searching for a positive pathway in life, and he’s even given words of encouragement to NFL players. It’s amazing to think that almost none of this would’ve have happened if he’d never been caught.

“You can’t fear people not liking or supporting your art. It has to be unconditionally you. That’s when you find success. When you can find the wins even in your losses.”

Artist Replete has been lucky enough to work closely with Arthur over the past year, as he’s went from an emerging artist to a name that’s becoming recognized from coast to coast. His current collection of work, which will continue to be updated is now available for your viewing pleasure. We look forward to witnessing Arthur’s dedication for years to come.

For more of a detailed history on Arthur’s life we recommend the Rolling Stones Article: The Art of Making Money. Which later became a complete book: The Story of A Master Counterfeiter

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