The instant you hear Chris Wilson’s voice, you know this is a man worn and weathered by hard experience.
Drugs and dabbling in petty crime in the Mission and Tenderloin were his rights of passage. He landed in prison at 16 after being caught in a stolen car.
He was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, he lived in Ghana and Tanzania until he was 10, when his family move to California. Then things fell apart: his parents split, his dad had a mental breakdown and Chris was left to fend for himself.
With a junkie’s rap sheet filled with multiple counts of resisting arrest, overdosing, possession, conspiracy and burglary, Chris did four stints in California’s infamous San Quentin prison before being deported to England in 1998.
Prison, he found, is a place where creativity flourishes in many ways. “I wasn’t part of any bullshit gang, I wasn’t Aryan Brotherhood or anything like that,” he remembers, as he paints in his Brixton studio. “I was freer, I could walk my own walk.”
Some invent gangs to survive, some create art. Chris, for instance, learned from other inmates how to make paint tints from crushing material that were on hand, like Skittles.
Now on the outside, he supports himself as a writer and a painter. He demonstrates for Huck how he creates a create a palette of colours and fashions paintbrushes by cutting his own hair and attaching it to broken cutlery.
“Creation is a place of freedom,” he says.
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