The Most Sophisticated Drug Baron of All Time: Meet Mr Nice by David Rusbatch


World renowned artist and Lomographer David Rusbatch, has completed a series of original paintings and limited edition photographs based on the life of Mr Howard Marks (aka MR NICE). A date for the exhibition is yet to be decided, but Lomography members get an exclusive look at the paintings and Holga created work to feature as part of the exhibition! Plus Howard Marks himself has signed and fingerprinted each piece of work.

King of the Herbs, 2010, oil on board 40 × 70 cm

“The most sophisticated drug baron of all time” – Daily Mirror


Not to be confused with rambling Groucho or bed-wetter favourite 80’s starlet Richard Marx, the following tale concerns a man half camelion half Welshman: Howard Marks. Also known as: John McKenna, Anthony Tunnicliffe, Albert W. Jennings, Ray Fox, John Goddard, Albi’ and Mr. Nice.


My friends had just met an author at his beautiful Tapas Restaurant in Leeds in late summer of 2008. The photo was staged, a little awkward as befits 2 grown men throwing their arm around a solitary 65 year old man, with slouchy wild hair and friendly smile. I was intrigued. Who was this man, my friends were frothing at the mouth about?

A worn copy of the book was thrust before my ignorant face, wrapped and bound up in exactly 466 worn pages. “MR NICE – AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY”, with a typically inauspicious photo of the man himself on the cover. Familiar face, glinting eyes, perfect white teeth, it could have been renamed “Mr Average” , blending in with any other inane autobiography in the dusty shop.

Later I would meet this 65 year old author with the charm and easy manner, to discuss an art exhibition. Little did I know at this stage that he was: “The most sophisticated drug baron of all time” Daily Mirror. He was Britain’s most wanted man. He has just spent seven years in America’s Toughest Penitentiary. You’ll like him

An exhibition had to be done.


After a typical inauspicious start to life, scrambling through life in the Welsh town of Kenfig Hill Donald “Howard” Marks, like everyone else around and before him – was expected to become a miner, rugby player or Tom Jones impersonator. But a distinctly honed intelligence fueled by a fascination at the world, landed Howard on a sought after scholarship to world renowned Oxford University.

The 60’s were here! The Vietnam war was in full swing, LSD was taken like vitamins, and 4 working class lads from Liverpool were being noticed in a band call the Beatles.

Rather than shy away from this brave new world, Howard embellished himself in all things bohemian with a side order of hedonism. His easy charm and homely welsh accent quickly enamored him to the hoards of privileged students who would later use his room as a base in which to “indulge” their various “tipples”. The first time the soft wet paper of the marijuana joint touched his lips, Howard fell in love, once, twice, three times a lady. That small welcoming stub of paper housing a fragrant feathering of beneficial herbs, would go on to define and shape his life like nothing else.


Yes, the young Howard, probably considered the conventional esteemed route out of Oxford riding upon a horse of self esteem and life options. Basking in a glow of self importance and glee, maybe become a banker, politician, go traveling. But somehow Howard ended up becoming a teacher, of which the allure soon dissipated.

By complete fanciful intervention of a Oxford friend, Howard became acquainted with an Afghani drug smuggler. It was suggested he go collect some marijuana to deliver back to the UK for a small nominal fee. Despite obvious anxiety, the deal went without a hitch.


Like the best things in life, Howard was shown a new world all over again. The seed was sown. He was a drug smuggler. It seemed farcical how easy they were able to operate, absent of today’s CCTV and satellite spies. After learning the fundamentals of this cloaked business, Howard s ambitions rose like that of his chemical tinted consciousness’s.

The profits rose yet the dangers remained the same. Money was laundered into innocent businesses as facades for the illegality behind the dusty windows. The deals got bigger, the networks quickly expanding, till the initial excitement dissolved worryingly into day to day normality.


In 1974, Howard was arrested, held in Brixton prison for 3 weeks after a colleague was caught and released on bail. On the run from the authorities, Howard had forty-three aliases, eighty-nine phone lines and owned twenty five companies trading throughout the world

Over the subsequent years, the tendrils of Howard’ s empire extended to Bangkok, Australia, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippines, USA, Mallorca, Holland. Elaborate code names were implemented to evade the police, though one agent “Craig Lovato”, made it his life’s. s duty to capture Howard Marks. The marijuana was transported in rock band’s speakers, Pakistani diplomats furniture, yachts, cars.

Traveling around the world, buying brothels, making deals, flirting with politicians, every man’s luck has a finite quality attached to it, and Lovato finally got his man. Lovato had been tracking him fruitlessly for years, whereby Howard had surmounted contacts with MI6, the CIA, IRA and the Mafia.

Following this worldwide operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison at Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana and released after 7 years of the sentence.


  • Howard’s autobiography “Mr Nice” became and international best seller and cult book
  • Sold out Tours across the country doing one man shows about his life.
  • UK cult celebrity

MR NICE The Film

The film stars Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny and David Thewlis. Directed by Bernard Rose. It opens in cinema’s Oct 2010.

MR NICE the art exhibition- COMING SOON!


The challenge as an artist has been to do an exhibition “inspired by” Mr Nice as opposed to “based on”. The natural instinct was to illustrate parts of the book in chunks, these early works didn’t have enough weight or freshness and were promptly scrapped.

As exciting as the book was to read, the main gluts of the story concerned business dealings, import/export, prison and airports. Visually these don’t translate very well. Annoyingly even a small hint of a marijuana leaf on a painting relegated it to a students bedroom poster feel which I wanted to move AWAY from.

So, instead I concerned myself with the central themes, such as love, pain, travel, money, greed. But the key overriding emotion that burns through the text is temptation. This is a global theme everyone can identify with. So a lot of the paintings are aesthetically tempting in an obvious way by the materials used.

Annoyingly most of the first conceptual ideas failed to allure in an aesthetic sense. So much of the exhibition has been trying to provoke interest on deeper wider reaching levels:

Chess grandmaster, 2010, oil on board 100 × 75 cm


The comforting retro charm and style of the Holga, compliments the nostalgic story of Howards life perfectly. So it was a natural camera choice to evoke the 60’s/70 in which the story is largely set.

Under different and ever changing aliases and disguises, Howard went on the run. These original passport pictures attest to ingenuity and risk he was taking, but proved ruthlessly effective at alluding the authorities. By this stage, Howard was Britain’s MOST WANTED MAN:

So, using a local Howard Marks look-a-like, the above photographs were painstakingly re-staged with the help of local fancy dress shop and photographed using a HOLGA,

Easy to be anyone but myself, 2010, c-type print, 75 × 75cm

Limited edition prints numbered 1-60 are available to order from: or contact:

Get more on David Rusbatch in his LomoAmigo Interview!


written by curzron on 2010-08-16 #art #lifestyle #exhibit #contest #dutch #prints #david-rusbatch #mr-nice #howard-marks #john-mckenna #anthony-tunnicliffe #albert-w-jennings #ray-fox #john-goddard #albi #lomography-nld


  1. openideas
    openideas ·

    One of the best stories here - Oxford really produces professionals =)

    Nice read! Thanks everyone involved =)

  2. kazarareta
    kazarareta ·


  3. mikahsupageek
    mikahsupageek ·

    great !

  4. adi_totp
    adi_totp ·


  5. sushi_9009
    sushi_9009 ·

    haha ... the look-A-like Holgas are great ... i read the book Mr.Nice two times and he was a really simpatico smuggler :))) Nice Nice .... Mr.Nice

  6. plainjane
    plainjane ·

    what a read =)

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