A 1988 Wesley Willis documentary: Artist of the Streets

Here’s a 1988 documentary on Chicago-legend Wesley Willis. He drew ink-pen drawings of Chicago skylines and draped them in color. Later, he became a successful rock-and-roll musician, but before that he loved draping his drawings in color.

Un-fun fact: Wesley had chronic schizophrenia, which haunted him since the day his mother’s boyfriend put a gun to his head and robbed him for $100.

Fun fact: He eventually became a successful musician and well-loved Chicagoan. His paintings would sell for $20 to $40. Before my time, people would say that they saw Wesley at Reckless Records or the Metro or selling art or on the CTA and he’d always greet them a head-butt, so long as he wasn’t having a hell ride (a schizophrenic episode). After a while, a black spot appeared on his forehead; I’d always heard it was a now-permanent bruise from too many head-butts with fans.

These days, I often see Wesley’s paintings around town and seeing them always makes me smile. You can buy one here for $2,500.

Wesley died of chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2003. Here I am writing about him in 2018, posting a documentary about him from 1988. That’s longevity. I have no message for this post other than rock over London, rock on Chicago. “Arby’s. We have the meats.”

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