Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Star Interviews: Brian R. Williams


Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month, I’m catching up the sophisticated talent, Illustrator/Designer, Brian R. Williams! Brian and I first become friends back in our art school days, having gone thru the Illustration program at the Columbus Collage of Art & Design together. These days, Brian is a freelance Illustrator/Designer working in Columbus, Ohio, who is obsessed with both art crimes and sasquatches. His artwork has been featured in ARTnews online, Audubon Magazine blog, and Juxatpoz Magazine online (among others!). He has also exhibited in numerous galleries and his work is held in several private art collections. You can view more of his gorgeous artwork here.

Brian & his creature creations.

Q: For many years you represented yourself as an Designer, but recently signed on with art rep group, IlloZoo. (Congrats, by the way!!!) Tell us about your decision to become represented and the pros and cons of going at it solo vs. having representation.

A: Thanks! I decided to seek out an illustration agency because I felt like I needed help getting access to prospective clients. Since college, I have focused most of my energy in building my graphic design resume, but last year I started thinking that I would like to change directions and see what I could do as an illustrator. Illustration is my first love—it was my major in college—but I have no experience looking for and working with clients, so that's why I thought that teaming up with an agency would be beneficial. 

My relationship with an agency is still so new that I haven't encountered a downside yet. But I like that I have the freedom to part ways with them at any time if I ever feel like it's not working. In other words, I still have autonomy over my career, and that's something that I couldn't live without. 

Great Auk.

Q: You have an obsession with famous art crimes, having even taken graduate-level courses in the subject. Dish with us about your fascination and THE art crime that you are most obsessed with.

A: Art crime is the art industry's dirty little secret. I'm fascinated with the idea uncovering stories that museums, auction houses and wealthy collectors would rather be kept secret. Aside from that, I believe it is a serious concern for anyone who works in the industry. Art theft is frustratingly common; good-faith buyers may unknowingly purchase stolen property, and, depending on where they live, they may be on the hook for returning it at their own financial loss. Art forgery is also a concern. It's the more insidious of the two crimes, I think, because it's so much harder to detect. 

There are so many individual cases that fascinate me, but the Getty Museum is among my favorites. The Getty is an object lesson for "what not to do" when it comes to responsible museum practices. In their frenzy to amass a world-class antiquities collection, they have purchased at least one multi-million-dollar forgery, as well as several dozen ancient artifacts that were illegally excavated from sites in Italy and Greece and then smuggled into the US. Italy came after the Getty a few years ago and forced the museum to return many of the artifacts. Their curator of ancient art was put on trial in Italy for her role in the smuggling case, as well as the two men who sold the artifacts to the museum.

For an institution that professes to be in the business of preserving the world's cultural heritage, the Getty did quite a bit of damage by knowingly buying artifacts that were dug out of the ground by tomb robbers, thus encouraging even more plunder. It's not just the Getty though; the Met in New York City, the Louvre, and the British Museum are also on the list of museums that have behaved badly. 

From Brian's Fearsome Creatures Series.

Q: You recently contributed to the redesigned the children’s Wonder Room at the Columbus Museum of Art. Tell us about the game you designed from beginning concepts thru completion.

A: The idea for the game was thought up by Merilee Mostov and Jeff Sims, the two employees in the museum's Education Department who redesigned the Wonder Room. They contacted me with the basic premise of the game in mind, but I had complete creative control over the game's design. The game is comprised of 100 square wooden tiles. On each tile I painted a section of road through the wilderness—sometimes it's straight, sometimes it's curved, and on some tiles the road forks into 2 or more new paths—and the object of the game is to connect the tiles and tell a story about your adventure through the wilderness. Players follow the road through woods, fields, deserts, across rivers, past lakes, over obstacles, through secret passages, and they encounter many different fanciful monsters. 

It was one of the most fun freelance projects I've ever done. When I turned it into the museum, I was sad that it was done! I've been back to the museum several times to play with it.

Laughing Owl.

Q: Your bird drawings are stunningly gorgeous! Tell us about your inspiration and process for creating them.

A: Thanks! For the "Extinct Birds" series, I wanted to personify various species of birds that have gone extinct as a result of human interference. I decided to dress them in clothing that was fashionable during the year that they went extinct in a effort to humanize them and portray them as a casualty of their time. I expected them to be whimsical, but for me, they're somewhat depressing! They remind me of how fragile all of our existences are on this planet. 

I think I love birds for their names as much as for their beauty. "Molokai Creeper." "Choiseul Pigeon." "Lord Howe Swamp Hen." I think they get the best names in the animal kingdom. Before the "Extinct Birds" series, I did a series of drawings of birds whose names could also be used to describe people: Cuckoo, Booby, Chick, Loon, etc.

Q: In addition to being an Illustrator/Designer, you are also an Art Instructor at your alma mater, the Columbus College of Art & Design. What advice do you give your students about how to develop a successful career as an Illustrator/Designer?

A: I think I emphasize professionalism the most. In an over-saturated market, I think the young people who know how to present themselves and their portfolios in a professional manner will stand out in the crowd. 

I also like to tell them that they don't have to wait for someone to hire them. As artists, illustrators and designers, they have the skills to employ themselves—by freelancing, by taking commissions, or by simply creating the work that they love to do and finding a market for it. It's tough work—anyone who tells young artists that it's easy is a liar—but I believe that if they love what they're doing, if they continue to find joy in hard work and if they stay focused on their goals, then they will find success.

From Brian's Fearsome Creatures Series.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: A sunny spot in a coffee shop with my drawing pad and some close friends.

Thank you, Brian, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! XO

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