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From prisoner to prolific painter: Julio Osorio nominated for global art award

PUBLISHED: 14:25 21 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:32 21 November 2018

Julio Onsorio discovered his talent for painting as an inmate at Wandsworth Prison.

Julio Onsorio discovered his talent for painting as an inmate at Wandsworth Prison.

Archant

After an altercation with a bouncer outside a central London nightclub in March 2012, Julio Osorio was handed a five-year sentence in Wandsworth Prison.

His Tree of Life painting has been nominated for a prize at the Global Art Awards.His Tree of Life painting has been nominated for a prize at the Global Art Awards.

Born in Colombia but a UK resident since 1983, Osorio was working as a photographer at the time. His incarceration naturally threw his life in to a state of disarray.

“I had a photography studio at the time and obviously I couldn’t create or do anything with a camera while inside,” he tells me.

“Finding myself there – well, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. My first attempt to get out of my cell was to go to an introduction to art class.

“I had never painted before but from my very first lesson in prison, I dived straight in. I didn’t want to waste my time and art helped me to get my mind off where I was. It was very therapeutic and I found that I didn’t think about anything else apart from what was in front of me.

Onsorio, of Liverpool Road in Islington, also includes animals as his subjects.Onsorio, of Liverpool Road in Islington, also includes animals as his subjects.

“After my first attempt at that art class I thought: well, this is it. This is what I’m going to be doing from now.”

Osorio’s rise in the art world ever since has been remarkable and profound. The Liverpool Road resident – who had his first piece featured in an exhibition even before his release from jail in September 2014 – has gone on to work full time as an artist. A solo exhibition, titled Little Things That Matter, told his story as an artist at a Soho bar throughout September of this year.

Osorio’s career highlight to date is arguably having his painting – The Tree of Life – nominated for the Best Newcomer prize at the Global Art Awards. Held this week in the plush, glittering surrounds of Dubai’s Five Palm Jumeirah Hotel, it’s a fair bit different to the prison cell where Osorio first developed his talent.

“The Tree of Life is the last work I painted before I was released in 2014,” he adds.

Osorio's Purple Haze is typical of his colourful and abstract style.Osorio's Purple Haze is typical of his colourful and abstract style.

“I’m over the moon (to have it nominated). Usually if you’re in prison it isn’t to rehabilitate, it’s to squash you, to demean someone and say ‘you are in prison, you are an outcast and that’s it.’ I was determined to come out as something different.

“I was one of the first prisoners to ask an art teacher if I could have an easel in my cell. I had to ask permission from the governor – once he said it was okay I spent about 15 hours a day painting.”

Osorio’s paintings are colourful, sometimes abstract and often feature animals. He has lived in Islington for 22 years and harbours ambitions of working with at-risk young people, helping them to discover art as a creative outlet.

“I would love to something like that, as you see a lot of youth projects disappearing. I’ve got the background of being in prison; hopefully I would be able to warn young people away from getting in trouble. I’d love it if I could use my art to help them find some inspiration.”

Some paintings, like Floating Truth, offer a political or environmental message.Some paintings, like Floating Truth, offer a political or environmental message.

For more information on Julio, check out his website or his Instagram.

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