Search

Former armed robber tipped to become top British artist

13:00 10 January 2014

John Costi during filming of Johnny Gets Beaten Up.

John Costi during filming of Johnny Gets Beaten Up.

Archant

At the age of 19, John Costi’s life was on the brink.

Having taken part in a string of armed robberies on bookmakers in East Finchley, he was sent to Feltham young offenders institute in Middlesex.

Facing the daunting reality of a six-year sentence in one of Britain’s most violent youth prisons, things suddenly became very serious for John.

However, a fateful encounter with an art therapist early on in his sentence would prove decisive in setting him on a journey of redemption.

Now 26, having graduated with a first class degree in fine art from world-famous college Central Saint Martins, he has been recognised as one of Britain’s most talented new artists.

John, who grew up in East Finchley and now lives in King’s Cross, is one of 40 artists profiled in The Catlin Guide 2014, which is considered the definitive look at the best new art talent.

Among the work which captured the attention of the guide’s curators was a film by John, titled Johnny Gets Beaten Up, exploring the aftermath of a violent attack which recently left the artist with multiple fractures to his nose, jaw and an eye socket.

He said: “I was beaten up in High Barnet. I was on my way home and I was set upon by a group of men who stamped on me, bottled me and kicked me in the head.

“The film documents the recovery but throughout the film it’s clear it’s more about the transition from being in prison – where violence happens every day – to being in art school for three years. I softened up. So I was a bit down about the attack.”

John set off on a criminal path at an early age, selling drugs aged 13 before progressing to armed robberies.

It was during his time at Feltham that his artistic talents were discovered by an art therapist, who then asked him to decorate part of a new hospital wing at the prison with graffiti art.

He was subsequently rewarded for his work by the prison authorities who “downgraded” him to an open prison in Ipswich. There, he began supporting adults with autism and Down’s Syndrome while on day release.

In the end, he was released from prison after 30 months. He then enrolled on the three-year degree course which culminated in his inclusion in The Catlin Guide.

He said: “If I didn’t have the opportunity [from the art therapist] that fell into my lap, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“When you come out of prison with no support structure you go back to old habits which would have been crime for me.”

John now works full-time for prison arts charity the Koestler Trust, supporting offenders through art, as well as working on art commissions from curators at his very own studio in King’s Cross.

So have coming so far, how does he now feel about his past?

“It’s quite a strange feeling,” he said. “I have to face it and acknowledge that I did wrong but I can’t let that prevent me from going forward.

“But sometimes I don’t want to enjoy myself too much because I do feel bad about the things I’ve done.

“The more time that goes by the further I get away from the person I used to be, the less I remember him and the closer I get to the person that I know I can be.”

0 comments

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories

Police are appealing for witnesses after the death of a woman who was hit by a coach in Camden.

A City boss from Hampstead likened to the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ has been jailed for a year after sexually assaulting two women.

A pedestrian was hit by a car in South Grove in a road traffic collision this afternoon.

13:27

Welcome, hope and tolerance have been the three key messages for students learning about refugees.

Yesterday, 17:30

Camden Council has claimed a “major victory” after Airbnb announced today that it will limit entire home listings to 90 days a year in London.

Yesterday, 16:53

Haringey has the third-highest proportion of homeless residents in England, new figures have revealed.

Yesterday, 16:31

In the first of a series written from the Greek town of Thessaloniki, currently home to more than 20,000 refugees, a trainee journalist from Kentish Town writes about her life as a volunteer

Yesterday, 15:24

A pair of Barnet schools believe the future is bright after announcing a “strategic partnership” on Monday.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now