Earlier this month I was out in New York. Without any clear plans, I only knew that I wanted to make the most of the trip. So I made it a point to add to my artist series while I was there!
As I often do, I took to social media to ask people if they knew of any artists in the city... Luckily, someone sent me in the direction of Austin Willis. An amazing dude creating beautiful work in Brooklyn.
I made a quick visit to his studio to document his process, and asked him some questions. Check out our conversation below:
Let's talk about where you came from and the journey along the way?
"Well to start my name is Austin Willis, I was born in Hayward, CA. I grew up in Colorado when I was younger, then moved back to the Bay Area when I was 13. I came to New York in 2015 to shoot Afropunk, and my heart started telling me this where I needed to be to grow. Not only as an artist but a human being. So I intentionally missed my flight, ended up living with a friend for the first 4 months, and found my way in this concrete jungle."
How did you become an artist?
"I've been drawing since I was little. I never took art seriously until about 2014. I injured my lower back which forced me to end my collegiate track and field career. From there I picked up graphic design to help my best friend with his clothing brand. Next thing you know I fell in love with art all over and went from graphic design, to photography and now painting."
Finding out what inspires other artists to produce their work fascinates me. So with that in mind, the next couple questions are in that vein....
Who inspires you throughout your life to produce your work?
"My family and friends, the people I get to meet, everyday life. It's all an inspiration and there's always a story to tell. It's a beautiful thing to look all around and always something to find inspiration in."
Do you listen to any specific music to get inspired?
"Right now Soft Glas, Chronixx, Sudan Archives, Denai Moore are a few that are in consistent rotation at the moment."
How do you push the boundaries of your work in order to stay inspired?
"Always having fun with creating. Never being afraid to try new things or play with new materials. There is no right or wrong, so just have fun and create what feels right to me in that moment."
I know from my own experience that being an artist and having the pressure of being expected to create consistency is tough... Theres real life struggles that constantly can get in the way.
How do you balance working a day job while pursuing your art? Do the two ever cross paths?
"Understanding that everything is part of the process, and being able to manage your time to be able to create as much as you need. Plus being an insomniac and only needing about 4 hours of sleep most the time is a curse, but also sometimes a gift."
What has been your biggest fear or hurdle in pursuing art, and how are you overcoming it?
"I’d say not getting caught up in the social media trap of comparing yourself to other artists. We have to understand that everyones path and story is unique to them. Things are going to happen when they're meant to."
Last questions! One about you, and one about others.
If you could spend time with any artist from the past or present, who would it be?
"Even though he’s not a visual artist, Jimi Hendrix would be dope to hang with and create with."
What is your advice to aspiring artists that might look up to you?
"Be true to yourself. Follow your heart and have fun with it. Don’t worry about others opinions, create what makes you happiest."
Thanks so much Austin!
I truly hope you've been enjoying these artist interviews as much as I have!
If you have any suggestions for individuals to shoot and interview, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org