Equanimity is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper. It is the perfect way to describe the feeling one might expect when viewing Todd Williamson’s work. Given the environment the artist works in, the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, his work evokes an overwhelming sense of inner calmness. The colors are intensely balanced, the lines all but reflect the pulse of the viewer…soft and long when relaxed and subdued, while short and energetic when pulsing with the rhythm of life. We thoroughly enjoy viewing Williamson’s work and his roster of exhibitions tells us we are certainly not alone in our admiration of his work. Williamson is the consummate working artist, seemingly never on pause, and always pushing his limits, both professionally and creatively. It is both reassuring and intensely motivating to listen to him discuss art and his process. We certainly encourage our readers to look for his exhibit nearest you, and witness Williamson’s work and vibrant energy for yourself. Without further adieu…ladies and gentlemen, meet West Hollywood-based artist Todd Williamson.
Meet Todd Williamson…
Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Todd, let’s start off with how you got started as an artist. Is it a gift you’ve always had? Talk about how you came to realize art as a professional adventure rather than just a hobby.
A: I grew up on a small farm in a very, rural town in North Alabama. Drawing and art were sometimes the only way to pass the time. I did it so much as a child my grandpa called me “Doodle”. I attended Belmont University in Nashville and received a BA in music with an emphasis in singing. Art classes were electives.
I moved to LA after graduating and filled my first apartment with my work since for the first time I had a space to put them and could not afford to buy anyone else’s work! My friends began taking them from my walls. I eventually had to request that anything that was taken had to be replaced with a larger, blank canvas, and that is how it began. I attended Cal State LA for grad school, going after a degree in education, but only made it through a year of the process. During this time I took art classes both at Cal State and at UCLA having some wonderful teachers like Lisa Adams!
I taught young children with autism and other mental challenges for a few years before starting a small custom furniture company. This allowed me to eventually have enough money to become a full time artist, as I could now see myself through the inevitable lean times that we all go through.
When I finally left my job to be a full time artist the doors began to open and I knew I had done the right thing. My first residency was on an amazing Greek Island for the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts (https://skopartfoundation.org/), and the following year I was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. These, more than anything, allowed me to see the importance of showing my works outside of the US and introduced me to artists and scholars that I turn to when I have questions or need advice even now.
Q: Take us on a visual tour of your studio space. What do you cherish most about your space? Talk about how your creative environment affects your art/ your style?
A: My studio is full of memories and every item in it comes with a story! I love to trade art when I do exhibitions around the world, and my studio shows this! I also have things that collectors have given me after I completed works for them. I have an espresso machine that ILLY Coffee sent to me after I did a small work for their NY offices. I had met their art program director, Myra Fiori, when I attended Louise Bourgeois’ Artists Salon! Such an amazing experience to sit with the 94 y/o artist and have her discuss my art! More artists should do this with young artists!
My studio is kind of a time capsule as well with works of mine that date back to the early 90’s and show the progression of my “style” as it developed.
Q: Your paintings are so incredibly intense and almost vibrate with a energy/life of their own. What materials do you work with when creating your art? What is your creative atmosphere when you create (loud, silent, ambient noises)? Talk about your creative process. Are there different stages or do you just grab the brush and get after it?
A: I work almost exclusively with oils. I need the long dry time of oils in order to create the lines that permeate my work. My studio is in a building behind my house so each morning I wander out after coffee and start my day. My studio is my safe place. I have an old massage chair that holds down one corner that always works out the kinks after some of my larger works! I like to work with the large doors open to the sunlight and to the natural light and air. I always have Pandora going, everything from country to Phillip Glass.
In many ways the music inspires me as much as anything. To me, the parallel lines in my work act similar to the lines in music that hold the notes. Like the staves in music, my lines hold the emotions and the stories that are my work. I often work with a friend from college who is an amazing composer. He creates music as I paint and I paint as he adds to the music using facetime to make up for the vast distance from California to North Carolina! We did a big exhibition together in November in Naples Italy where the exhibition was in a beautiful 17th century villa, the Villa di Donato. The exhibition was a experience of seeing the art and hearing the music which was captured in almost every review of the show. Here is a link to the live performance. https://youtu.be/zjEG9I3iSMo At this same time, I had the great honor of being asked by the Pio Monte della Misericordia to create a work for their permanent collection based on Caravaggio’s “Seven Works of Mercy”. I cant express the honor of them placing my work next to their Caravaggio!
Q: Your piece “Every Day A Memory” is one of, and if I was forced to choose, my favorite piece of yours. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the painting, and also… talk a bit about how you've noticed your style develop since you began creating?
A: Thank you! ”Memory” is a work about reflections and passing thoughts that linger a bit too long in my mind as I work.
When I was developing my style, I experimented with everything from figurative to minimal, to gestural. I hated the way a lot of contemporary work made me feel and searched for a way to control that, while still showing the wonderful craziness of the world that I saw. The lines came as a way to hold the emotions in a way that allowed me to work with them but not be consumed by their chaos. The lines are part of the painting, raised from the paint like breathing points or heartbeats. My work is often as much about removing paint as it is about adding it. I paint, remove layers, add more paint, etc.
Q: An artist of your caliber (and I mean that in a way that honors your obvious respect for the creative experience, and your brilliant body of work) must essentially have your choice of venue and market. How do you prioritize what environments you choose to exhibit your work in? Do you create with an idea of the finished product’s destination?
A: I get asked to do more shows than I can in any given year so I choose with two things in mind. Places I want to go to visit, and cities that are important on my resume! It is more difficult than you think in choosing where to show your work in todays crazy market. On the one hand you have to make money to survive but on the other you need to show in the most important markets around the world, like Berlin. Berlin is a great place to show with an intensely vibrant art scene but, there are a thousand artists for every collector, so sales are not a guarantee. Most artist I know in Berlin have other jobs that keep them alive but the contacts they make are with them the rest of their lives.
I am on the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission for West Hollywood and as one of the only artists on the commission, I work hard to address problems that artists face on a daily basis. We are working to create grants for our artists that can help them survive difficult times as well as creating exhibitions that help the artists to be creative and thrive. I find many grants are not set up in a helpful manner to artists since they take months to even be looked at or they are geared to artists under 35 years old.
In late May, West Hollywood will open up a artists database for all West Hollywood artists as well as a mural artists database, for all artists, where we will help put businesses with artists in an effort to make West Hollywood the true creative city! www.Weho.org We were one of the first cities to fully embrace murals when we teamed with MOCA to do the murals on the Weho library with works by Shepard Fairey, Retna, and Kenny Scharf. We also require a 1% for the arts on all new construction which has helped spark great creativity in the art in our city! I think this is one of the most important things that I do at the moment.
Q:Do you have any current series’ in the works?
A:The series that I have been exploring the most is part of the art/music exhibition that I did in Italy. I am still working the connections between color and music with a series titled, “Frequency” “Light”, and “Grid”. The number 3 also influences my work in a strong way. The parallel lines in my work are always divisible by 3 whether I am doing the lines or the grids. I can see this exploration continuing well into the future and I have applied for several foundation grants about sponsoring this project on a much larger scale where I could use a full orchestra and large scale paintings to show the strength of the connections between the two.
Q:Talk about your experiences with your shows, do you seek out specific events, environments, etc. to show your work?
A: Like all artists, as we grow and age what is required and needed changes somewhat. I am currently working closely with a gallery in Germany where we are putting together a large show that will travel to several galleries in an around Germany and Austria in 2017. I also work with a cultural association in Southern Italy that I work very closely with and have for nearly a decade. They have a strong group of artists they work with in both the US and Italy.
Q: Can you recall and would you talk about your most recent burst of inspiration? Did it come at an unusual place or time? Do you ever put yourself in a particular situation/environment to try and attract ideas or inspiration?
A: I find that a deep conversation with an artist of any ilk, musician, painter, film maker, inspires me more than anything. The act of truly being real and having deep conversations with other creatives makes me feel alive and inspired to take chances and really go after the goals I want to reach. Most recently this happened when a colleague from the Arts Commission dropped by my studio and we had a wonderful instantaneous chat about all things art!
Q: What do you hope that the audience takes away from their time spent viewing your art? What made you smile at your last exhibit? What made you gasp/cringe/retort/etc.?
A:I love having my work in a home that feels something every time they look at my work. For me there is nothing better! I also like new collectors and that amazing transition they sometimes make as they become great art lovers and hopefully patrons for many years! I recently started working on paper in an effort to have works that are affordable for young collectors.
Q:Todd, I am absolutely honored to be allowed to discuss your creative life with you. Being an artist myself I know how deeply personal some aspects of our process are, and also that there are those times we wish we could reach out to our audience and give them a better context of our passion, so thank you for being so open with all of us. I know the audience will all want to know where/when they can see your work currently? What is the best way to find out where you will be exhibiting next (Website, Facebook, etc.)
A: I currently have an exhibition, the Darker the Blue, at Nicole Longnecker Gallery in Houston. (www.LongneckerGallery.com) I have a small exhibition in late August with the Palm Springs Art Museum @ the Saguaro Hotel, Area 35 Gallery in Milan in April 2017, as well as a series of exhibitions in Germany in 2017. My exhibition schedule tends to change and develop quickly so follow me here:
Saatchi Art: http://www.saatchiart.com/ToddWilliamson