WILLIAM WAY AND THE “BIG ASS” PAINTINGS:
ON BRAVERY AND ABSURDITY
ON BRAVERY AND ABSURDITY
a RR22 production by Emma King
paintings and photos by William Way
“Led Zeppelin” (2018) oil, spray, latex, target bag 57” x 68”, “Big Tongue Painting” (2018) 53” x 64“
Emma: So, the paintings are down now, they’re somewhere, they’re at your house?
William Way: Yeah, I just rolled them up.
You took them off of the stretchers?
For easy storage?
Yeah, exactly. I was paying like $500 a year or something in Texas to store them; which is not that much really.
Here it would be...?
Here it would be like $500 a month or something. Yeah, I rolled 'em up.
That’s cool. That’s so smart. My grandmother’s a painter and all of her paintings are on the stretchers, they don’t come off.
Well, if you have the space it’s great. I’m about to move.
You’re about to move?! Where to?
In like three days.
I’m going to clown school.
Oh, of course you are! That’s awesome! Cool. Are you taking your paintings with you?
I wanna do a show out there. I wanna do a show called “Puppies.” I wanna put a big square of grass on the ground and then put a white picket fence around it and then hire like twenty puppies.
Pay them minimum wage, please.
Yeah, then you get to just like come play with puppies.
That’s awesome. Are you gonna be there dressed up as a puppy?
Nah, I’m just gonna be chillin’, playing with puppies.
I’ve experienced something like this at my college. During study weeks they would get all these little baby horses and dogs and cats. Then you have 500 suicidal academic teenagers descend and the puppies are like... I think that it's bad for them. I think you have to throw the puppies out afterwards.
Yeah, disposable, yeah.
Just kinda wring them out.
Fuck, you’re probably right. My dog got really fucked up, I moved him to Montreal when he was 14. He was a super happy dog but then he got around the weird dark city vibes and people would fuck with him.
At 14, that’s an old dog.
Yeah, he was old. But it changed his brain. When he left there he was an asshole and he started biting people and stuff. But he was the sweetest dog his whole life.
Wow, starting biting as an old man, that’s a look.
That’s a look. That’s a vibe.
“4 Miles Davis” (2018) 65” x 59”, “Deer Painting” (2018) 59” x 58“, “Jesse” (2020) spray, acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”, “Love” (2018) spray, latex, oil, porno 67” x 58”
Could you introduce yourself in the format of a fairytale story? It starts “Once upon a time.” It can be your real story or it can be the story that will effectively convey who you are up until this point.
WW: That’s hard.
It can be just a scene too. Maybe it’s just the puppies.
It has to be fairytale oriented?
The only requirement is that it starts with “Once upon a time.”
Ok. Once upon a time… there was… uh… a Christian Bisexual Vagabond. Uh… he lived his life in bondage and then found freedom.
Nice. The end?
Or, no, that’s the beginning. I don’t even know if I identify as a bisexual. [Laughs]
[Laughs] It's fiction, so… Everything is fiction, so…
I just think “Christian bisexual vagabond” is a funny bio.
Somehow that does capture you for me.
I don’t know if I am Christian either.
You don’t have to be any of these things but their meeting point is maybe next to you, or something.
[LAUGHS] Yes, similar.
“Vagabond” sounds very accurate though. I definitely feel like a vagabond.
I think of that as somebody who carries their things on their back or is always moving. Never at home but always at home. Very outside kinda vibes.
[Laughs] Yeah, We outsiiiide.
Yeah, y’all outside!
“Africa” (2018) latex, oil, spray, porno, plant matter 61” x 67”, “Fake Adderall” (2018) latex on canvas 50” x 62”, “4 Miles Davis” (2018) 65” x 59“, “Deer Painting” 2018 (59 x 58 in.)
WW: But we in the cave too.
Oh, in the cave! Everywhere is the cave. That gives me a totally different new way of understanding “vagabond-itry.”
Yeah, I hitchhiked from Frankfurt to the southern tip of Portugal. And I can be a real homebody. I mean, I love to go on adventures but I’m an introvert so I open up and then I get fucking exhausted and I have to go pull the curtains and watch YouTube and stuff. It was amazing how much I could still find that place in my tent. I could still chill the fuck out. In my tent, while hitchhiking, I could still have those days. I could just close the tent door at a gas station or in a field and feel like: “I’m in my house.” Just cuz you can’t see anybody and nobody can see you. You can do whatever you want in the tent. [Laughs]
[Laughs] At the gas station.
[Laughs] Maybe not at the gas station.
That’s good. What stresses me out about camping is that I feel like I can't get that space. It’s like: “I’m in my own space in the tent but I’m such a little white box square person…”
You get used to it. You have to break yourself in. With any type of traveling you just get used to a certain level of discomfort and then it's not that weird anymore. Then you can be comfortable while being uncomfortable.
That’s funny cuz that’s still true if you’re living in a house or apartment. You’re always going to be a little uncomfortable.
Yeah, or your life probably sucks.
[Laughs] Yeah, always.
“4 Miles Davis” (2018) 65” x 59“, “Deer Painting” (2018) 59” x 58“, “Jesse” (2020) spray, acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”
WW: Since I was 19, I was moving constantly and it was actually a challenge for me to move to New York. I’ve been here for two years which is one of the longest stays I’ve ever had anywhere since I was 19. It got to a point where the traveling started to be like running away, because you're always there. You can go literally anywhere in the world and it’s the same shit because you are the filter of the whole experience. You carry your limitations and your blocks and your anxieties… it's the same place. It became more of an adventure to stay here. I like to do this thing where right before I leave I’ll do all the challenging things, open all the challenging boxes. I can majorly experiment with my life right before I leave. I just light the fuse and then dip.
Like, you can actually be the person you want to be, or be different.
Just for the last two weeks in town.
This is the zone you’re in?
I actually don’t feel that much like that right now. I was trying to train that habit out of myself. I mean, it’s still in me for sure.
You don’t want to do the last minute blow up?
Well, the blow up always works out, it always goes well! So why wouldn’t I do that at the very beginning and enjoy the spoils?
You’ve been trying to do that here?
Yeah, trying. not always successfully. It’s difficult.
You have to be… brave? Push yourself? I’m thinking a lot about saying “yes” and “no” because for a year I was just saying yes to everything and I got myself into situations I felt genuinely uncomfortable in. So I became curious about what it would mean to say “no” to myself. I feel like this is similar to what you're saying, but in this way that’s like: I’m going to say “no” to acting in ways that I know to be self-sabotaging and saying “yes” to spreading those things out and doing the things I want to do when I want to do them. It’s about having a control over your motivations.
Usually impulsivity is a positive thing for me but I have been going through a moment where I am having to learn to control it more. I started getting in fights with people. Not good vibes. It’s dangerous and it doesn't always…
Doesn’t always go where you want it to go?
I went through a period where all impulsivity got a pat on the back but recently I started to pull back- there’s certain types of impulsivity that are less good. I also used to hold myself very strictly to this ideal of bravery and it was very oppressive. It was really freeing to let it go.
What was oppressive about it?
It was obsessive, it was OCD.
Is that how you find yourself in a fight, cuz you’re like, “I’m gonna be brave?”
No, that's just being swept up by emotion. Just like, I’ll get an urge to scream in the street or take my pants off, and if I didn’t do that thing…
You’d be like, “I’m not brave.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Or “You’re never gonna live the life that you wanna live.” I had a series of mushroom trips that got darker and darker. I was getting into this headspace where I felt like I was the only conscious being.
“World Tour Fantasy” (2018) oil, spray, latex, glitter 86” x 60”, “Jewmaica” (2020) spray on plastic 37” x 14”
WW: And I was surrounded by dream people. I had a matrix trip where I was God and I had somehow found myself in some prison and the only way to break out of it… There was some grove in time where I acted predictably and that’s how I stayed in the prison, so I had to pick up this mug and toss it against the wall to free myself.
You have to break the simulation, essentially. That’s true, it does work, it gets you into a different reality.
It’s also just a new overlord. I don’t want to free myself from the overlord of this simulation only to be put in the hands of the overlord of bravery. It’s just a new boss. I prefer the love and self acceptance boss. Now, if I don’t feel like being brave, I just go: “That’s cool, you can do it later, man.” Being compassionate with yourself and having a light touch actually increases bravery in my life- that’s true bravery. That other type of bravery never accumulates to a feeling of strength, every time it is equally scary. Stepping deeper into love and self-compassion allows me to take peace with me through all moments.
It’s the tool that fits every situation. It takes bravery too but in a way that feels more innate, as opposed to trying to perform an external definition of bravery.
I’ve done big acts of bravery and as soon as you do them that voice says: “Okay, next thing.” It doesn’t even pat you on the back. So, it’s kind of a lie. I think you break the simulation with love, not with bravery. That’s my experiment right now.
I think so too. It’s hard though. I feel the need to retreat and this specific definition of expansive love that I am trying to manifest in my life takes a lot of energy and openness. My physiology, my mind, is used to having these openings and closings. When the closing happens, in my mind I say, “You can close while still letting the world be its open self,” but it becomes this thing where I have to say no to everything. The world can’t touch me and I can’t touch the world. It feels very punishing of myself and others because I think that’s how to world thinks of introversion.
People judge introversion.
And I do too when I am experiencing it.
You have to give yourself infinite time to be in that closed state. I think you can trust it, though.
“J” (2020) acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”, “Tracy” (2020) acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”, “Malcolm” (2020) acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”, “Led Zeppelin” (2018) oil, spray, latex, target bag 57” x 68”
“Malcolm” (2020) acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”
So, in your paintings there’s angels, porn, you’ve got plastic bags in there. It feels really American. I was thinking about what that iconography of Americana means at this specific time and how that aesthetic can be triggering. Why we enjoy to see it is maybe because it is triggering and it opens up this more complex conversation. The way you were engaging with it reminds me that there is this overarching racist story but the reality is very different. The people who actually uphold this reality, making this place their own, living life… no one really fits into that racist story. I felt that you were presenting that aesthetic in a way that celebrates the reality of this place. Does that resonate? What draws you to those colors?
WW: I was getting really into flags. I’m super crazy about the Jamaican flag and those colors. I was looking at a lot of African flags and thinking about doing flag paintings. I guess red, white and blue are in there, too. I made the paintings in 2018 before I went to India for the first time. I was blue-balling myself for two years over this big trip I wanted to take, feeling like it would be some naive American kid’s world-tour fantasy. The world as seen from what this American kid thinks it looks like from the viewpoint of not having been there yet. That’s what I saw when I hung it up.
Your friend was telling me that you painted them really quickly.
Yeah, I made around 40 of them in two weeks. I don’t know what I did with the other twenty. A lot of them I put in this outdoor storage unit with no air conditioning and they molded or warped. I think I burned some. 20 remain. I was trying to make those paintings for two years and I got really frustrated. On my 24th birthday I had an existential crisis, I felt like I had been wasting my life for the past two years. I literally didn’t do shit but think about this art show. I was on a run and I felt like god told me that my life wasn’t going to progress until I had an art show. So I put my full focus into that but I was being really precious with everything I made and I hated all of it. I still kinda do. I hate my work. I was burning bodies of work all the time, I was throwing shit away, Nothing was good enough. I was trying to live up to ideals of my favorite artists. On my 24th birthday, I was like, “fuck this shit, it’s time for me to go.” I thought I was gonna go to Thailand but first I have to do this art show, and it ended up taking two fucking years. I had this quarter life crisis and I was like, “fuck this shit, I’m making these paintings now.” Literally that day I took all this fabric out, all these tarps and all this art stuff I had accumulated. I was living at my mom’s house in the forest at the time. I put all 40 of them out in the forest and I finished them in two weeks. I was totally unprecious, like, let them be bad.
That’s why there’s leaves on there.
Yeah, they all stayed out in the rain for weeks. They were straight on the dirt.
Did you cover them at night?
Where was this?
Ore City, Texas. North East Texas. The pine forests.
That’s interesting because they seem so urban to me, there’s so much happening. Were you coming from here?
No! My life was so boring at that time. I hadn’t left the house in 6 fucking months. And I don’t hang out with anybody when I’m out there.
Wow, so that was just all you.
And maybe the internet. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Just you and the internet in the forest. I was noticing that your buddies were touching the paintings a lot, which seemed like the right thing to be doing.
I was fucking pissed. Yeah, we got in a big argument later.
I’m just kidding. [Laughs]
Well, I appreciate the vibe that was set. I feel like music was a part of that and where you live- that’s just what’s happening.
I fucking hate art shows. I’ve been going to them since I got to New York and trying to get jobs and shit. The worst place on earth to me is an art show. I like looking at paintings but I’d rather go when nobody’s in there. But yeah, it was a good vibe. It was like a party. I don’t think I added anything out of the ordinary to it, it was just a bunch of good people with good intentions. That’s what’s creepy about the art shows, it feels like a corporate fair and there’s like 15 people waiting in line to talk to the artist. It’s a creepy, opportunistic vibe with a bunch of dead soulless old people.
Not being able to touch the art is kinda the crux of that because as soon as that rule is broken, the artist become less of a god, which I think is appropriate. That makes it all the more amazing to me because this real human made these things. Why did they do that? People get high on this idea that the art object can't be touched.
Maybe I should continue that theme.
If you were to tell people to do that I think it would not work as well.
I am glad they felt entitled to, because they were, they were for sure. Those things have been through so much. I’ve literally shot them. They’ve lain in the fucking dirt. They’ve been through so much, the least of my worries is somebody touching them.
Why do you burn stuff you don’t like?
I don’t really do that anymore but at the time I was trying to be a “good artist.” I think I have become a lot better of an artist recently because my dreams to be a painter and a famous artist were crushed by time.
Because you’re so old?
Cuz I’m so fucking old. [Laughs] From 19 until 25 I was obsessed with proving to people that I was valuable. I had so much to prove and it amounted to so little and I was having not that much fun. I spent a lot of time in that ambitious mindset. I hate who I am in that mindset, I don’t like how it shuts me down. It gets me up in my head, out of my heart, out of my body. There is nothing for me there, but there is something attractive about it. I would burn the paintings because I was trying to be a great artist and now I’m not trying to be a great artist. I am willing to be a bad artist. I’d rather be a bad artist who is having fun and showing people work. For years and years I wasn’t completing the process, which is really the best part, the social part and the part where you actually finally share the thing. I have like 15 art shows in storage from all my second guessing and now I want to show them all. It was fun to show old work because I could disconnect from it and look at it objectively. The week before I put those paintings up I was like, “wow, these fucking suck, I’m so bad.” But I got them all up on the wall and I did eventually really end up liking them. But not as a personal thing, just like “whoever made these, those were cool paintings, good job.” But it wasn’t me.
“Flamingo” (2018) latex, oil, spray 48” x 58”, “Bob” (2020) spray, acrylic on canvas 24” x 30” , “Africa” (2018) latex, oil, spray, porno, plant matter 61” x 67”
That’s good, I feel like that’s the ultimate goal. The little blue ones, were those made at the same time?
WW: “Jesse?” Oh, yeah.
And “Bob?” The corona virus butthole?
Yeah, I just felt like that little guy was named Bob. Me and my freinds were going to go sell clothes at Washington Square Park and a couple days before I made ten really stupid paintings in like 20 seconds each. That’s one of my favorite ways to paint. Those were my favorite.
Do you know Cy Twombly? The painting that has the lady with her pussy out and its’ spraypainted orange? That one has a lot of white in the background. The way you activated the white background reminded me of his work. I was looking at the white background in your painting and trying to figure out why it’s not obnoxious. So much painting is obnoxious. Your humor and your struggle makes it not feel like that. And you have a bunch of repetitive elements, like the hands praying and the little angels.
Yea, those are stencils.
I like that. In one of the paintings it says “love” on it a lot and I feel it fits into a larger conversation about the reproducibility of love. When you’re writing the word “love “over and over again, for me that has everything in it about what it means to love multiple people in a lifetime. What does it mean for you to engage with stencils and reproducibility?
I would love to make giant series of machine-made reproducible objects but the problem is I make thirty and then one person buys one of them and then I have twenty-nine to give to my mom. So maybe one day. The cool thing about Warhol’s work is that its not that easy to create 9 giant stencils for an enormous screenprint. I want to make stuff like Warhol but if you’re just gonna make one of them, that’s a whole lot of work for one piece. With reproducibility, I think it’s great. One day.
“Love” (2018) spray, latex, oil, porno 67” x 58”
“Led Zeppelin” (2018) oil, spray, latex, target bag 57” x 68”, “Big Tongue Painting” (2018) 53” x 64 “, “Flamingo” (2018) latex, oil, spray 48” x 58”, “Bob” (2020) spray, acrylic on canvas 24” x 30”
But it’s cool because you engage with it in a unique, one-off way. Which feels more honest because if you’re looking at a moment of someone’s life, within that moment there are a bunch of things that are reproducible: like, they have their phone again, but it’s still a unique moment.
WW: I don’t philosophize about reproducibility a lot. One of my earliest experiences painting was being at my dining room table when I was three with a bunch of Halloween stamps. I think that’s really me in my element, playing with colors. I don’t care about content much- it’s more about design and colors and having fun. It’s a lot of work to make one stencil, so I can’t get too into it or I’ll get distracted. I have to keep it fun for myself or I will lose interest and move on to something else. I have to make it easy.
So meaning is really not a goal?
Meaning comes later. There’s as much meaning in the work I intend meaning for as there is in the work I don’t intend meaning for.
That’s what was cool about being so detached from the work, I got to go, “Oh, this is what that guy was trying to convey.” But that’s not what was going through my head. When I made those paintings I called them “The Classic Rock Paintings” because I was listening to so much classic rock.
I really wish galleries had music playing. It would give a context for meaning.
That’s what alienating about the museum environment: you have no say. It’s like a dictatorship. It’s not even the artist dictating the experience, it’s just the rules.
It’s a little fetishy, “Don’t touch, Don’t touch!” There’s a guy in a suit waiting there.
I had a big freak-out at a museum in Bilbao. It’s what I was talking about with the bravery shit. Richard Serra made these tall, twisting, giant brass walls that go in mazes. I was feeling that rage about how creepy it was. The work was fine, but I was feeling so imprisoned by the museum environment. I was hiding in the mazes and screaming and then everyone else started to scream. There was a little rebellious moment and it felt really good.
I can see the security guards running through the maze trying to find you. It sounds like a really good horror movie, from the perspective of the security guard. There’s something in the art, the art is alive! I think that’s the worst job ever. That would be interesting to interview a gallery sitter. Maybe they would have some crazy insight about what the art means or the meaninglessness of life.
There would probably be days where you’re like, “art is meaningless.” That’s what is weird about painting: you get out of it what you bring to it. There have been times that I’ve been to museums and it’s been a spiritual experience and there’s times when I’ve gone on these huge artistic pilgrimages to see my favorite painters of all time and they were great paintings but they were just objects. I just loved making my paintings. I don’t understand the purpose of what I am making, but I love to make them.
What helps you sleep at night?
Not drinking. I got COVID a month ago, so I stopped doing any drugs for two weeks and it was really nice. Your whole life changes if you start getting good sleep. I think it’s really important to go to bed sober.
Lastly, why are you becoming a clown?
I was lying in bed one night and I was like, “what should I do with my life next?” When I was a little kid, every time my teachers would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up I would always write “clown” and “artist.” I’ve been doing the artist thing, so I want to respect the child and do the clown thing. Also, I feel like I’ve been playing the clown role my whole life. I’ve had to grapple with humiliating things and it’s given me a sense of humor, but it’s not always fun. When I was 13, my cousin caught me trying to suck my own dick. What do you do with that? And so many things like that have happened to me throughout my life that I feel chosen. It’s a good role to play but it’s also a role that’s hard to accept. So I’m going to sink my teeth into this role and try to embrace it. I think it’s a spiritual role. Like “Absurdity Shaman.”
William Way (he/him) is a painter and a vagabond, he alternates time between going on adventures and working on art projects, he is currently studying acting at École Philippe Gaulier, a French theater school in Étampes, outside Paris...
Find him on insta @williamway1234....
Some of the paintings are for sale on dolfinrecords.com
: interview by thuja :