Willis, Wesley

Wesley Willis, a local Chicago icon who achieved cult-like status, was best known for his live performances and quirky, offbeat songwriting. But Willis also developed a following as a visual artist, creating poster board pen and marker drawings of Chicago cityscapes and street scenes.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1989, Willis claimed to use art as a way to silence the voices in his head. His drawings and music were an integral part of his self-medication. After he had been signed to a record label, his artwork was used for the more than 40 albums he recorded. Willis forged connections with his many friends and followers through “head bumping.” It was his version of the handshake, and he would initiate most conversations with the gesture, which resulted in a large callus forming in the center of his forehead.

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