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Richard Wilson, Jr.: Capturing Memories and Connecting Through Art

Richard Wilson, Jr.: Capturing Memories and Connecting Through Art

Richard Wilson, is a fine artist hailing from eastern North Carolina. Inspired by his father’s skillful drawings of him and his siblings, Richard has been painting since the age of eight and has become one of North Carolina’s celebrated artists. With his unique approach and unwavering dedication to his craft, Wilson is inspiring others with his talent and determination to be one of the greatest. 

Wilson’s journey as an artist is a testament to the power of following one’s dreams and being intentional with your gifts and talents. His award winning work has been exhibited in numerous galleries around the world, receiving critical acclaim and attracting a substantial list of art enthusiasts like Hank Aaron, Gladys Knight and Tina Knowles. From becoming the first Black artist to have a painting displayed inside a North Carolina Courthouse to having his art featured on the label of Blue Moon Beer and on the big screen, Wilson is capturing memories and connecting through art. 

Tell us about Richard Wilson growing up in rural eastern NC?
I had a great childhood. I grew up with two brothers and I’m the oldest of three. My mom and dad taught us how to work hard. I remember working on the farm early in the morning and going from the tobacco field to the football field. I also remember summers at my grandmother’s house, she taught us how to be resourceful and self-sufficient and those lessons stick with you. 

I also remember sitting around the table and watching my father draw me and my brothers—it was amazing what he was able to do with a pencil and a piece of paper. 

Did you always know you were going to be an artist?
As I mentioned my dad was an artist, and in the small town we use to live in called Conetoe he painted all the signs in the town. I remember I used to help him paint those things and in a way painting those signs helped me with my graphic design abilities. I actually went to school for graphic design and was, still am a graphic designer. I honestly caught the bug and fell in love with painting from watching my dad make his work look as though it was going to jump right off the paper. I also had a really great support system and people around me that encouraged me along the way.  I remember when I was in the seventh grade my English teacher would always ask me to sign all the certificates because I had nice penmanship and I really enjoyed during it because it was related to my art. One of the proudest moments during that time was when the teachers came to me and ask me to draw Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and other civil rights and community leaders for them and I was so excited to do it. After I had drawn all those great Black leaders and came back to school that next week I was so honored to have my drawings up on the bulletin board in front of the principal’s office. What really did it for me was to see at the very top of the board it read “Featured artist, Richard Wilson,” that blew me away, because they believed in me and they supported me. It was moments like that one that boosted my confidence and really made me feel like I can really do this.

Another moment along the way was when my dad enrolled me in art school. I was 11 years old taking correspondence courses at the Art Institute. It was those courses where back then you did the lessons and sent it back to them to grade, and then they’ll send it back to you. That was another one of those times when my dad and my mom, they supported me and invested in me.  They really helped shape my art career early in life. They not only supported me but my brothers as well, we all were so talented. 

Tell us about a defining moment in your art career.
I would say I’ve had a few moments but when I won my first major show in New York that was a great feeling. I won top prize in the Pastel Society of American International Art Competition and as a small town artist at the time I was blown away. I was living in Tarboro, NC at the time and there weren’t many outlets for my art. It was a small rural town and community—while everyone in the area supported my work it wasn’t much more than local exposure so winning this international competition was an honor. I’ll be honest I just remember how determined I was to get my work in the competition, I even took vacation from my job to just coordinate shipping my work for the exhibition. When I got that phone call that I had won, I just had so many emotions I couldn’t even tell my wife the news, I was just crying, smiling, it was just so much because it was like a weight had been lifted off me. With all the stress of getting it shipped in time, having to pay additional fees because it was a large piece, just all the wondering, it was such a relief. 

I remember going up to New York and receiving my award and prize money. I also remember getting to meet with the founder of the Pastel Society and the President of the National Arts Club taking me and my wife out to breakfast. He was a huge supporter and really helped me in so many ways. He took me and my wife to breakfast and gave me another $500 check on top of the $1,000 in prize money that I received for winning the competition. He also took us to an art supply store and told me to get whatever art supplies I needed. I remember him telling me he saw something special in my work and he told me to use this as a stepping stone. One more thing he did for me was he wrote a press release and sent it around to all the local newspapers in North Carolina, and a number of papers ran that release. That was one of my defining moments for sure because there were over 2000 artist in that international competition—I was competing with artist from all across the global and I won top prize. I knew then I was really on to something. 

Speaking of of top prizes and awards, tell us about some of your many accolades and recognitions in the art world.
Wow, I’ve been so blessed and I believe it’s because I basically stepped out on faith. I have a painting called “Faith Journey,” which is based off me when I stepped out on faith. I used to teach art in college and I remember I was just doing my shows on the side and scheduling around my full-time work, I told my wife I have to do this, I have to try and do my art full-time and she was so supportive. I won’t lie in my mind I was like “you have three daughters, what are you doing,” but I also remember telling myself “you only live once, follow your heart.” I went to an art show that weekend after I made the decision to transition to full-time artist and I made more money from that one show than a full years teaching salary. So when you look at my “Faith Journey” piece and you see the little boy looking back and the little girl looking forward and seemingly pull him along, that’s me. Once I realized fear was what was holding me back from my full potential and I started to face that fear it was like the world had opened up to me. 

Again it’s been a blessing and an incredible journey thus far. I was featured in The Wall Street Journal and recognized by writer Daniel Grant as “one of the most successful artist that you’re likely to meet,” my work has been featured in five movies and a number of TV shows—from Netflix movies and series to one show on NBC, This Is Us. I’ve been commissioned by the University of Georgia, famous art enthusiast like Hank Aaron and was the first Black artist to have a painting displayed inside a North Carolina Courthouse. There have just been so many blessings. Going back to the Pastel Society of American International Art Competition, I’ve won top prize twice now and I’m one win away from being named a Master Pastelist and being inducted into the Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame. My very first time entering I won top prize with my piece “Between Us” that was a painting that feature my oldest daughter and the second time was a piece featuring my youngest daughter—that piece is called “Push Daddy, Push” which also is the cover of a children’s book written by Nacole Powers. So I said I wasn’t going to enter again until I had a piece that I could submit of my middle |daughter and it doesn’t matter if I submit and don’t win, I plan to submit again until I’m able to win with a piece with her featured. Then I want to pass down the originals to each of them.  

Wilson shares details about his painting ‘Jack Johnson’ during our interview in his Raleigh studio.

What do you want people to take from your work?
I want people to know that there is greatness inside all of us, you just have to tap into what’s already there. You have to walk toward it and push and never give up. There have been times that I could have given up but I just won’t let anything stop me. It’s really why I like to tell these amazing stories in my work. Stories like Bessie Coleman who was an early American civil aviator. She was the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license after being denied flight training in the U.S. so she went to France, came back and was an amazing pilot and taught others. She never gave up. Folks like Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Charlie Sifford and so many others—just never gave up on their dreams. Their stories are my story and I want to play a part in telling those stories. 

What’s some advice you would give to other artists? 

Just manage your time, and don’t let anything stop you. Sometimes I overload myself and I thank God I have my family. My wife tells me you need to cut back, you need to take a pause. So managing your time and making sure there’s some sort of balance. 

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What’s on the horizon for Richard Wilson, Jr.? 

Well you can look forward to more work, but my ultimate goal is to open up a gallery some day. I want to continue to share my work with the world and have a place where folks that can’t travel to shows can come and see my work and the work of others. I want a homebase that I can share with other artists and create a supportive, encouraging community like I had. 

What makes Richard Wilson substantial? 

I’m substantial because I listen to the voice inside of me that that says “I’m great, that I am excellent.” I’m substantial because I strive to make my ancestors proud of who I am and what I’ve done. There are so many people that have made major contributions to this world and we don’t hear their stories and I want to help share them and carry on their legacy. They were here, I am here, and there are more to come. 

Visit:   |   IG: @richardwilsonart

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