What inspired me to become an artist?

I was a child of the ‘70s. A latchkey kid. Even when adults were around, I was often left to my own devices. Except on the weekends. The weekends were different.

First, there were Saturday morning cartoons. I waited all week for the ensuing onslaught of Bugs Bunny and Friends, Tom & Jerry, The Pink Panther, and Popeye. These cartoons were instrumental in helping me develop my attraction to line, shape and color. The exaggeration, distortion and expression of these cartoons was a source of inspiration that I value as much, if not more, than anything I learned in art school.

Saturdays were also when my dad would visit. My parents divorced when I was two years old, and every Saturday my dad would make the long, mind-numbing drive from San Rafael to Campbell. Or to Sunnyvale. Or to San Jose. So manydifferent places, I can’t remember them all. We moved a lot. Fortunately, my dad was a cartographer and not only found me but seemed to know each of these towns like he’d lived there forever.

These Saturdays with my dad were filled with invention and creativity. He took me places that filled my imagination with far-off worlds, epic battles, mythology and make-believe. I remember exploring tombs at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, roaming the halls and winding stairwells at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and navigating the grounds at the zoos in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. There were also miles of amusement parks: Marine World Africa USA, Frontier Village, Happy Hollow, Santa’s Village, Fairy Land and Great America. Not to mention the countless fairs and circuses that came to town.

Visiting these places was like walking into a cartoon universe: the twisted, stretched and dynamic architecture, the saturated colors and blinking lights, the overheating teenagers lumbering around like jumbo-sized stuffed animals. All of it in stark contrast to the overwhelming beige sprawl developing throughout the Bay Area.

If there are two sides to this coin, music is the other—starting with the cartoon orchestrations of Carl Stalling followed by the avant-garde, surreal, mystical and breakneck changes in the arrangements by saxophonist and composer John Zorn. I often speak of music and art composition interchangeably. The way certain instruments come forward and then recede is very similar to the way color and form hold space and balance a design. In turn, art inspires me as a musician. I will frequently move from the drawing table to the drums, and occasionally the piano, while I stumble, reflect and get lost in composition.

My early work is very cartoonish, yet it has evolved over the years into more of a language of fluid lines and bulbous, truncated forms (quite literally in my most current work). I study the spaces in between movements; not empty space but the way one action stretches, twists and turns into the next. Inside these spaces are the bits and pieces, the leftovers, the nobs and toobs, all inspiration for my recent work.


Instagram @williamsmithart



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