At 29 years old, muralist Cory Williams is a self-made millionaire. He pulls out the dollar bill from inside his wallet as proof. Sure, the money is augmented with six zeros in black sharpie, but for the emerging artist it’s a start and a promise. It’s also a reminder of his first piece — a drawing on salvaged wood — that he sold as an artist at what he describes to be the lowest point in his life.
Williams spent a year homeless and living in the student art studio at Florida A& M University, unbeknownst to his teachers and colleagues. He found the untouched planks in that studio and began sketching a portrait of NelsonMandela, drawn starkly in black and white charcoal and graphite pencil. The man who bought it didn’t offer much money, but it was enough to give Williams the confidence he needed to get back on the right footing. In 2011, he graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and minor in agronomy, the study of plants and agriculture.
“For years all I did was create and paint, going over old paintings, and working small jobs to pay the bills,” says Williams. “It was a real struggle, but within that chaos I learned so much about myself. You endure pain to become stronger, humble, and patient because then your work will speak for itself.”
His first gallery showing was in his childhood living room. Recognizing her son’s burgeoning skills, his mother orchestrated the event one morning, waking him up early to get dressed in his finest clothes. He awoke to see his sketches and drawings hung up on the walls, and distinctly recalls the sparkling water set out on the table with family friends milling about in support. Born in Saint Kitts and Nevis and growing up in Miami, Williams was first inspired to sketch his father — a bodybuilder and Caribbean graphite artist — as a superhero.
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