Sitting coolly in a corner booth at the Roxy Hotel, Arthur J Williams Jr. (aka: ‘Artorius’) discusses his story that ranges from South Side of Chicago, to being a wildly successful money counterfeiter, to being a successful artist on the verge of attaining greatness.
He has been in the public eye for his crimes that could truly only be executed by a genius. The artistry that it takes to perfectly replicate the “impossible to copy” 1996 watermarked $100 bill is beyond imagine for even the best trained artist who attended to the top art schools in the country, let alone for a poor kid who had practically nothing.
THE KNOCKTURNAL: What were your passions as a kid? Did they make you into the artist you are today?
ARTORIUS: For me growing up on the South Side of Chicago with a single mother, my pastime was survival. My first crime was when I was 12 years old breaking into parking meters trying to feed my brother and sister. Sure, I played sports – football, basketball, soccer – but my passion was survival. But this was all the family in the projects.
Arthur‘s experience of life was nothing easy to say the least. Being beat up, being shot at, losing friends – all marks his earliest memories. But instead of making him cynical and bitter, it gave him the deep passion for humanity which carried throughout all of his professional bandit career.
ARTORIUS: Sure, we hit the malls! We got the shoes, the jeans, coats and before long we and our friends and family had so much stuff. Then we were sitting there thinking what else are we going to do? Given going to the Salvation Army I thought “why don’t we just buy kids’ stuff now – nothing for ourselves, nothing for our family. Just kids stuff.” Clothes, diapers, toys…I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands we spent and would just go and drop it off all over the country!
I imagine this scene perfectly as he tells it. Arthur and his few mobster friends wandering the aisles of a Toys R Us shooting Nerf guns at each other and filling their shopping carts with childish glee as they pick and choose between G.I Joes and Hot Wheels Racers. Why not both?
THE KNOCKTURNAL: So was all this donating a way to clear your karma?
ARTORIUS: I never felt it was wrong. I still don’t really. I took blank paper and I was smart enough to make real money that could go through the banks. I used a lot of it to help people that grew up like me. As long as I didn’t sell drugs or hurt somebody with violence, I was in the clear!
Arthur today still “makes” money. But not like that. His latest paintings are a rendition of the major themes that have always been a part of his life, namely, money. Ben Franklin appears in much of his as does the $100 bills that bought him his prison sentence.
ARTORIUS: I still get to print money! I’m literally doing the same thing I went to prison for. Think about the irony in it! I’m still making money. The only difference is now it’s not going to put me into prison. And I’m making some really cool things.
And he’s never static about his work. Artorius shifts his style quite frequently wanting to push himself further and further. Just as a great artist, like Picasso, works through the different periods of his life.
ARTORIUS: If you look at my art now and compare it to what I was doing two years ago, it doesn’t look anything like it used to! I’m always trying something new and I’m not scared to go away from the things that are making me money just cause they’re making me money. If I get sick of it, I’m done with a series. I move on to something new.
If you like what he does, then I suggest you buy into it soon because a the pace Arthur creates, he’s bound to leave behind a legacy of limited copy editions. He is truly a prolific and virtuosic artist that the market is now keeping a close eye on him. A-List celebrities attend the events he throws for his art, where hundreds of thousands have been made (thousands given to charity) – clearly the money is once again flowing for Artorius.
THE KNOCKTURNAL: But is it all glamour, splendor, opulence? Does your work propose a different ethic on money?
ARTORIUS: Look at this piece here. You see the negative side and the positive? In my work, I try to express the balance of it. My art represents the both sides. Money can do great things. It’s a tool. But American culture is all based off the People Magazines, the Stars Magazine of the world. Reality TV. Everyone is shown this extravagant lifestyle. If we’re doing a 9-5 that speaks to us. It tells us, “If I had that I’d be happy…” No! You want something to make you happy? Find a hobby.
For Arthur, painting is his hobby. It is something he has been doing since he was fifteen years old, and, if the record shows anything, he is damn good at it. But his point is larger. The story of Artorius shows that dedication, desire, and determinism will set you free if applied in the right way.
ARTORIUS: At this point in my life I am financially all right. (he says with a smirk, as he flashes the waiter for another rum). I feel free without a cage around me anymore; without a guard or a boss telling me what to do; and what do I do with my freedom now? I paint. I painted when I got home work from cleaning toilets after I got let out of prison. Not because anyone was paying me or I thought I was going to get rich but because it is what I like to be doing. Just painting.