Exonerated after 45 years in prison, man's paintings showcased

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Richard Phillips spent over four decades in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Now that he's free and showcasing a painting talent he developed while behind bars.  Phillips was freed a year ago for a 1971 murder in Detroit when his conviction thrown out last year.

"I would rather die in prison than admit to a crime I didn't do," he said.

Phillips, instead of getting caught up in what he calls the insanity of too much idle time as a prisoner, escaped into his art, teaching himself along the way.

"You only get one shot at this," Phillips said. "So you might as well enjoy as many of those days as you possibly can."

Released and given new trial after 45 years, man says he is not angry

Of more than 400 watercolor paintings, about 50 to be displayed for the public at Ferndale's Level One gallery.

"I never really thought I would be free," Phillips said. "So I was just doing them to pass the time."

But as Phillips' attorney fights the state for compensation, right now Phillips has received nothing and is forced to give up these paintings.

Exonerated man was willing to die in prison rather than admit to crime he never did

FOX 2: "What's your income?"

"I don't have an income right now," he said. "This is my income."

Phillips' paintings are whatever inspired him at the time. Sometimes it came from a photo in a newspaper or by his favorite artists.

"I wanted to do reproductions of them but I wanted to do it in such a way that it would be incorporated into my own creation," he said.

And sometimes the inspiration came from very dark and lonely places.

"It was created in a harsh environment," he said. "But it goes to show you that beauty can come from something ugly."

While some paintings already have some interest, the opening reception is this Friday evening from 4 to 7 p.m.  the paintings to be displayed for about a month.

Each piece is a tender part of Phillips' soul, who is the longest serving person wrongfully convicted in US history. 

"So if you own one of those paintings, you own something no one else has," he said.

>>> Level One Gallery is at 22635 Woodward Avenue in Ferndale.