Thanks to Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr I had the opportunity of becoming familiar with the talented visual artist, Austin J. Willis. From seeing his work constantly reblogged on my tumblr feed to being featured in Oakland's First Fridays art scene, I decided to track down this guy to talk about his artwork, New York and his big plans for this summer.
Ok, tell me what’s your name, where are you from and how old are you? Just a little intro.
My name is Austin Willis, I’m from Hayward, California. I am 21 years old, I am a visual artist and I specialize in photography.
When did you originally begin taking photos? And when did you realize your passion for visual art?
I began taking photos around November of 2014, that's when I started to take it serious and focus on photography as my medium. I was out and about with friends more often, shooting, because I create on the go. But I began realizing my talents and passion for art at a young age, I just began drawing my favorite cartoons and video games. I actually fell off from art for a while though once I got into high school, I just got super busy with sports and sports became my life. I was running track in college and about a year and a half ago I got a stress fracture in my back so that kind of ended my career. I was pretty lost and confused at the time just because I didn’t know what I was going to do because track had been my life for such a long time. My brother had a clothing line, so I started doing graphic design and creative directing for that, it kind of made me rekindle my passion for it, it made me feel like this is what I need to be doing, what I should be doing. So that’s really how I got back into it, doing graphic design, that’s how it all began.
Do you believe art (music, visual, digital etc…) is necessary for the positive development of youth – if yes, why?
I believe art is necessary for youth development, I feel like a creative outlet is good, it let’s you escape reality when you’re stressed out or what not but it also let’s you express yourself. And honestly, a lot of kids these days need to be able to express themselves especially with all of the negativity in today’s society. Art gives the youth an outlet to let their voice be heard on situations, how they’re feeling or just creating something that’s weird to them but still think is cool, so I think it is definitely necessary.
Creatively where do you gain inspiration? Do you believe your hometown affects the type of artwork you create?
Creatively I gain my inspiration from everything around me, from the sounds I hear, to the colors I see, to the people I meet, everything really inspires me. Like my eyes are always wondering, I’m always on the lookout for things. I’m most inspired by people because I specialize in portrait photography, so I really love meeting new people and getting to know their stories and just really capturing them for them. My hometown does affect my work, we live in the Bay Area and the Bay is a big ass melting pot, so it’s dope being in the Bay like you’re always getting to meet new people or see new things. There’s so much talent out here like you’re always being inspired by someone whether it’s just what they’re doing with sports or what they’re doing with their art or just how they’re helping out with the community so there’s always something going on to inspire you.
I was doing some research and saw that this past September was your first solo show where all your work was exhibited. How was that experience and do you think you’ve grown as an artist since then?
Yeah, so last September I had my first art show at Massive in Oakland, Ca, it was focused on my graphic design and illustration. The turn out was amazing, it was definitely a learning experience, like I would have gone back and changed some things just to make it a little bit more professional and more of a gallery setting in the way I presented my work. But it was a dope experience, I had a lot of people tell me I had the best show at First Friday and what not so it was humbling and also made me hungrier to keep on working so that was really a dope experience. Since then, my work habit has really changed I only do graphic design for clients now, I’m not doing that for myself. Honestly, I just felt like I wasn’t really proud of my work just from the standpoint I felt like I was creating for other people and not for myself. So I started focusing on photography just because I started developing more of a passion for it as I was out and about more, it came more natural to me and I felt like I could truly create for myself. I was capturing people for who they are and I’ve always been a people person, so my work has definitely evolved in that aspect just of the mediums I’m choosing to focus in on and my outlook on trying to progress and become a student of the craft.
So, California or New York, choose one – why?
Right now, New York, honestly I love the Bay Area, it’s home but as of right now I feel like I should be in New York, the art scene is more developed out there to where people are taking it serious.
Ok, how about if you weren’t a visual artist you would be…?
I probably would still be running track if I didn’t get hurt, so I would most likely still be heavily involved in sports and still in school. I actually dropped out of school to chase my passion for my art so if I weren’t an artist I would still be in school, still in sports and a kinesiology major or something of that sort.
I’ve seen a bit of your work on your website. Can you talk to me about the deeper meaning visually and artistically for you when you conduct nude shoots?
Yeah, I'm just trying to go against the social norms and getting people comfortable with accepting their body, like you only have one body so you have to love it. Society twists the image of what we’re all suppose to look like and what the ‘perfect’ image of beauty is and what not. But nah, you just have to be comfortable with yourself. So really it’s just trying to show people we’re all different and beautiful in our own way and showcasing the beauty of everyone’s body without it being full on sex appeal. Really trying to show the true beauty of it, I mean it’s an art form you've got to appreciate it. Like, I’ve done my own nude shoots just trying to emphasize my work and man, I wasn’t always comfortable with my body, so that shoot kind of liberated me but really I'm just trying to embody my work and change people’s lives.
I love your Naturel Melanin series, can you describe to me the ideas/concept behind it?
The concept of the Naturel Melanin series came kind of random, I was just shooting some friends and I was like, let me turn this into a series. It’s really focused on the beauty and diversity of people of color from hairstyles, to their fashion sense to their physical construct and facial structure. I’ve only done two parts so far, I’ve done light skinned women with natural hair and then dark skinned women but I still have about five other parts to do for it, so that’s slowly progressing. It’s been really cool to see how well it’s been received and the comments I’ve gotten from people who’ve said they’ve been inspired to be more confident in themselves and what not, so that’s really dope. But it’s just humbling and makes me hungrier to keep progressing with my work and to just keep on changing lives.
What are your plans for the summer and what do you have coming up?
Hopefully, if things work out I’ll have two shows this summer I’m looking to release a couple of new projects I’ve been working on. Hopefully one will be in Oakland, Ca and then the other will be out in New York. I’m aiming for the one in California to be in the beginning of the summer and the one in New York to be towards the end. So that’s the plan, we’ll see how that works out but that’s it, just keep on creating for the most part, developing projects, keep at my craft and keep on growing, I mean at the end of the day it’s all about self-growth.
Where can people view your work and stay updated with you or what you’re up to?