Five years ago, Robert Peterson was a Goodyear production worker supporting his wife and three children when his doctor told him he needed to have a major surgery. Before leaving the hospital, Peterson purchased a $6 paint set and a $7 double canvas set from the gift shop.

The surgery was successful, and with a new lease on life, Peterson embarked on the career he always wanted. Today, he’s emerging as one of the country’s most celebrated new artists and garnering an elite celebrity following, including Kevin Durant, Alicia Keys, and Miley Cyrus.

Known for his color-saturated celebrity portraits, the self-taught artist has painted everyone from John Lennon and Elvis Presley to Mike Tyson and Jackie Robinson. His goal is to create spontaneous realism portraits by using multiple images combined with live models and his imagination.

His most recent work includes Come as Your Are (Kurt Cobain), inspired by the life and death of one of Peterson’s favorite bands and singers. “With this painting, I wanted to show the late singer sitting on a red chair holding a water gun in a relaxed state as he stares back into the eyes of those who see the painting,” Peterson says.

Earlier this year, he also painted a striking mural of Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook on the side of Friendly Cleaners. “I woke up one day and was like, ‘I want to do a mural of Westbrook’ and found a place to do it and just started doing it,” he says.

Named the 2016 “Artist of the Year for Southwestern Oklahoma” by the Oklahoma Arts Council, Peterson made history by becoming the first African-American to hold that title in the state’s history. His work has been commissioned by Nike, Toni & Guy, and Sol Republic.

“I want to inspire people to do better, to push themselves beyond where they’re at regardless of their circumstances,” Peterson says. “If you believe in yourself enough, others will believe in you, too.”

Watch Peterson tell his story about how he went from struggle to success.


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