Richard Wilson is a prolific artist who can create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that will stand out in any art show, contest or crowd. Up & Coming Weekly recently sat down with the authentic artist to discuss making history, his favorite work of art and the moment his passion for drawing began.
How did it feel being the first African-American artist to have a portrait displayed in a North Carolina courthouse?
I was commissioned by The Phoenix Historical Society in Tarboro, North Carolina, to do the portrait of George Henry White, the last former slave to serve in Congress. I was grateful to do it and we also had an art show to coordinate with the unveiling of the portrait of my work. After the unveiling, Mr. Knight [of the Historical Society] was interviewed by the television station and indicated that not only did they make history that night with the portrait, but the artist made history as well by being the first African-American artist to have a portrait hung in any courthouse in North Carolina. I was shocked when I heard that. I was a young budding artist at the time and I was just trying to get my name out there and thought this was a great opportunity for people to get to know who I am. It got my name out there and the show that we did right after that, I had a few of my pieces sell before the show had started. That was an honor for me.
Please share your story of how you began drawing.
I started drawing at the age of 8 and I remember watching my dad because he was an artist. My dad used to paint the signs in the town that we lived in and I would help him paint those signs. One thing that was really vivid in my memory was I remember sitting at the dinner table and my dad was drawing me and my brothers while we were sitting at the table. It was so realistic and I thought it was so amazing. It sparked something in me and I started doing it myself and have never stopped.
Do you have a favorite work of art and can you tell us why?
That is a hard question because all of the girls in my paintings are my daughters and all of the boys are my nephews. One of them is a piece called “Between Us.” It is a little girl and boy standing by a tree. This piece is the one that actually put me on the map. I was determined to get my work shown to the world so I took vacation leave to send this piece to New York. There was an international art competition in New York called the Pastel Society of America and I entered the contest. The president of the society called to congratulate and tell me that I won one of the top awards which is the National Arts Club Award. I was floored when I heard this. I won $1,000 and a certificate.
Tell our readers how your Facebook Live Art Shows came about.
I started this because what I normally do is travel all over the country doing the top arts festivals in several different states. I travel as far as Colorado, Florida and New York. Right when COVID-19 hit, all of my shows started canceling. I had to figure out a way to reach my clients so I decided to do this Facebook Live Art Show and sell my prints. That is how that came about. It has been going very well. When I first started I didn’t think about the fact that I had to do a lot of shipping because when I go to the shows I take the artwork in the van and sell it right there on the spot. Now I am getting a lot of orders so I have to package stuff up. I am doing a lot of shipping and I’m not complaining about it, but it is just another thing added to my workload. Once I get back on the road I will continue to do this because it has allowed me to reach people that I was not reaching at my shows. Social media is one of the things that I was lacking in because I was traveling all the time and just selling my work from place to place. I was trying to do a little bit of social media to try to reach people, but now I am able to reach a lot more people online than I did before.
I’ve gained some new collectors since I’ve started doing the live show. I still have a website and a lot of people that I’ve seen at shows, I still have them on my mailing list. I have 15,000 people on my mailing list that I generated from doing shows over the years. I’m networking with more people now than I did before.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the piece “Faithful Journey.”
It is based off of my life. It is about me stepping out on faith to become a full-time artist. I was actually teaching an art class at Pitt Community College. My goal has always been to do my art full time. In 2014, I told my wife that I had to give myself a chance to do this because you only live once and I have to step out and go for it. So I added more shows to my schedule to compensate my teaching salary and the very first show I did after I quit my job, I made more money that weekend than I did teaching for a whole year. That opened my eyes and that is what “Faithful Journey” is all about because the little boy that was looking back was the voice that was speaking to me right before I told my boss that I was going to leave my job to do my art full time. The little girl pulling the little boy along was that voice that started telling me that we were going to be alright, let’s go! I never looked back and I have been full time ever since. It has been the best decision I have ever made.
Wilson’s art is being featured in Cool Spring Downtown District’s Art Alley until Dec. 31. Located at 222 Hay St. in downtown Fayetteville, the Art Alley is free and open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information on Wilson and his art visit www.richardwilsonart.com/
Above photo: "Faithful Journey"
Below clockwise: "Going Up Yonda," "Between Us," "Stretching Ballerina," "Bessie Coleman"
All photos courtesy of Richard Wilson