Arthur J. Williams Jr. is best known for replicating the "impossible" 1996 hundred-dollar bill. Now he applies his counterfeiting skills to money-themed art that will be on display at Art Basel Miami Beach.
BOCA RATON — One look at the oil paintings at Arthur J. Williams Jr.’s temporary Boca Raton studio tells you all there is to know about the artist.
He melded Benjamin Franklin’s face with portraits of pop culture icons like Prince and Marilyn Monroe. He hid watermarks you’d find on cash in his canvas. He impeccably replicated hundred-dollar bills with shifting color ink.
Williams makes money.
It’s what landed him in federal prison a decade ago and what has earned him his first exhibition at the prestigious contemporary art fair Art Basel Miami Beach this week.
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Williams is a convicted counterfeiter-turned-artist, best known for reproducing what was intended to be the impossible-to-recreate 1996 $100 note. He served nearly seven years in prison for printing millions in fake bills in the 1990s.
Williams’ counterfeit cash was so convincing, it even duped at least one FBI agent, writes author Jason Kersten, who chronicled Williams’ life in the book “The Art of Making Money.”
“You know what it is: I like the challenge,” Williams said. “I don’t give up.”
Williams reportedly printed $10 million in fake bills during his 14-year criminal career, giving some to charity and some to organized crime rings in Chicago.
While behind bars in Texas, Williams studied painting. His cellmates painted flowers during art classes at the prison. He tried to paint the antique 1896 hundred-dollar bill.
“I was fascinated by the beauty of it,” Williams said. “I’ve always been trying to replicate that beauty.”
Now he incorporates the same techniques and intricacies he applied to making the perfect counterfeit bills to his money-themed oil paintings.
Originally from Chicago, Williams has been living in Delray Beach and working from a friend’s Boca Raton jewelry shop — his makeshift studio — for the past month, preparing for a showing at Art Basel.
A year ago, he was turned away at the door of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach as a hopeful visitor of an Art Basel exhibit at the hotel. This year, more than three dozen of his paintings will be displayed at the hotel.
Williams, whose counterfeiting exploits were the subject of an episode of TV show “American Greed,” had little luck selling his artwork until last year.
“It just wasn’t catching,” Williams said. “But I think I had to go through that to get the best work out of me.”
Last year, Williams’ Chicago home burned down and, by his account, one of his paintings was untouched by the flames.
“Around it, you could see where the fire crept up. It was like something divine,” Williams said. “That’s when I started giving it everything I had.”
He started painting full-time, and eventually caught a break when actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger invited Williams to his Los Angeles home to show his paintings to Hollywood elites last year.
Schwarzenegger bought a painting and helped propel Williams into the mainstream. He sold $280,000 worth of paintings at Schwarzenegger’s home, but much of that money went to a nonprofit that helps establish after-school programs for at-risk youth, Williams said.
Williams held a solo exhibition Wednesday when his opulent work — the latest series includes diamonds embedded into his cash-themed compositions — kicked off Art Basel at The Setai Hotel in Miami Beach.
His works will be on display at the Fontainebleau today.
Source : https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20181206/south-florida-counterfeiter-turned-artist-catches-break-with-art-basel-showing