#ArtThursdays: Willkay x West Contemporary Group Show & Artist Spötlight - Interview 🎨⚡
We are back again with another #ArtThursday review plus a bonus Artist Spötlight interview! 🎨⚡ This time we visited the West Contemporary Editions private viewing of their 'XX' 20 Year Anniversary Group Show. It featured some new prints from our good friend, artist and illustrator, Willkay who we interviewed about the show afterwards 😃
It was a rainy Wednesday evening but we made it to the West Contemporary Edition’s private view in central after a busy day at the Stööki Studio! The event already looked like it had an amazing turnout as it was packed inside the showroom with art lovers and collectors alike.
Taking place at Gallery Different located in the heart of Fitzrovia on Percy Street in London, the exhibition was open across the two floors. The show was dedicated in highlighting 20 of the UK’s leading names in fine art. It was a great mixture of traditional art along with sculpture and digital prints.
The vibe of the exhibition was very lively with the pieces being soundtracked by the DJ playing tons of classics from yesteryear.
The walls of the space were adorned with all the striking colours and compositions of the different artworks that were accompanied by the artists themselves. This meant that any enquires about the pieces on show could be addressed there and then.
Someone who Stööki has collaborated with before (the Q Legacy t-shirt), Willkay, was the reason we heard about the show in the first place. A cryptic message was posted on Twitter that made us engage and wanting to find out more. Willkay is an OG of the #STOOKIMOVEMENT and seeing growth of him as an artist and illustrator has been amazing to see over the years.
Willkay was premiering 3 new prints along with a classic typographical design from 2015, "Make Music Not War". On the night he sold some work as well as creating new connections as a result of being part of this elite crowd. We wanted to find out more about his experience and involvement of this show which is what sparked the additional Artist Spötlight interview that you can read later on in this post.
The name of the show ‘XX’ - which means 20 in roman numerals - represented the selected artists that were involved. The artists that took part are as follows: Alexander de Cadenet, Beth Cullen-Kerridge, Bex Leigh, Carne Griffiths, Chloe Natalia, Day-z, Denis O’Regan, Fin DAC, Gabriella Anouk, Jim Threapleton, Lauren Baker, Mark Beattie, Raul, Robi Walters, Russell Marshall, The Cameron Twins, The Connor Brothers, Wildcat Will, Willkay.
In retrospect the overall event seemed like a success. A lot of red dots were spotted by the end of the night which meant that West Contemporary Editions x Gallery Different have built up their community and network to the right audience that can appreciate the talent of the 20 unique artists that were part of the show.
Willkay - Artist Spötlight Interview:
As promised, here is the interview we did with Willkay afterwards speaking about his experience of putting on a group show, the exciting project he has coming up and being followed by Barack Obama 👀
Tell us a bit about yourself and who you are?
Hi, my name's Willkay. I'm an artist, a graphic designer and now a writer from East London.
Tell us about the latest exhibition you were recently part of?
The recent exhibition that I was part of was a group show put together by West Contemporary Gallery. They collected 20 amazing artists who were part of their collective and we all showcased our work that we thought the public should see. It was pretty amazing, I enjoyed it and there were a lot of amazing other artists that were part of it.
What are the works you showcased at the exhibition?
Well, at the exhibition I showcased about 3 new prints. “Tranquility” which was more about a butterfly theme. I do love using butterflies in my work. “Peace Out” was a print of a cat wearing a bandana with a peace sign on it. The last new print was “Bee Infinity”, which is another graphical print influenced by bees and movement and so on. It’s something that you will need to look at to understand what I’m trying to explain with the names. An older piece that I presented was “Make Music Not War” which is more of a typographical graphic design piece.
What’s the story behind them?
To be honest with you, I feel that I always want my artwork to have a different meaning with the audience, so I try not to dictate what the art means. Obviously it means something to me, but I want the audience to connect with a piece in their own way. I just like giving each artwork really adventurous titles, that’s all.
When we went to the launch, you sold a piece didn’t you?
Yeah, I sold a piece! It had that little red dot which means you’ve sold a piece. It was the “Make Music Not War” print, which was originally created in 2015, but it’s still very relevant. It’s a piece that anyone can relate to, anyone that is creative or makes music or works with sound. It will probably be one of my prints that I will keep releasing for the next few years. I’ll see how it goes.
How did the exhibition come about?
Oh, West Contemporary Editions got in contact a few months prior and asked if I wanted to be involved. It was really straightforward, I feel like certain exhibitions or opportunities come up and I don’t really like to miss them. It was really exciting because I knew that it was going to be a group show full of other exceptional artists so I was like “Yeah, I definitely want to be a part of it”.
How did you feel about putting on a group exhibition, especially with a gallery space?
When you do group exhibitions, they are not only about you, it’s obviously a group exhibition. I think it’s always good to see everyone’s work put together in one area. You see different flavours, different styles. Group shows are great, they are just always great because collaborations are quite normal when you are an artist. In your career at some point, you always collaborate so group shows are always something an artist should do.
Was there any particular way that the works were curated in the space?
I believe they were in alphabetical order or maybe sizing so it might be both. Sometimes that’s up to the curator or whoever is in charge so I’m usually quite open with that. As long as the audience gets to see the work, that's the most important thing.
Describe your experience of putting on an exhibition with other artists. Was there a lot of freedom or any restrictions?
There weren't any restrictions, I was able to present what I wanted. So it was up to me to present whatever I wanted to the public. I always think about what everyone would be showing, so I guess I always try to stay abstract, by not submitting the same work. I feel that the work that I was showcasing presented different skill sets so you could see my illustration abilities, you could see my graphical skills, you could see my colour choices and so on.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere! I would say just generally things I look at; films, music, words, books, the world when I’m out, a word I might hear when someone is walking past, someone might be wearing a jumper, colour - it’s just everywhere. I dunno, I'm just inspired by everywhere. It’s a hard one! You know, it depends on what season it might be as well. I’m inspired by a lot of things!
One artwork in particular that we wanted to talk about was the “Make Music Not War” print. Where was that idea sparked from?
At the time when I came up with it, I wanted to have prints that could be considered timeless. So I thought that coming up with a catchy phrase would stick with a lot of people and minds. I was thinking of a more graphical but yet artistic side of it. So it is a mix of a lot of things. So for me when I work sometimes, I do battle with being an artist or being a graphic designer and you just have to interlink it all together, it gets complicated but at the end of it I always create something that I’m happy with.
What is your favourite piece that was featured in the West Contemporary Editions 'XX' 20 year anniversary Group show?
I would say it’s the “Bee Infinity” print, it was a piece that had maybe about 150 illustrated bees but they were all single layers, so they were all put combined together to create this infinity symbol.
Each Bee had some type of movement so you could tell whether they were speeding or buzzing off.
I think that was my favourite one because I spent a lot of time on it. That’s what happens when you want to create something amazing, you take your time with it until you finish.
How do you figure the composition of your artworks? Is it a lot of trial and error?
Well for me, in my mind I always plan the idea before I start working on it. Once I experiment, I can figure out if it’s working and I just run with it and I don’t stop until I finish it. It all depends even on the music or the mood I’m in to get to the final piece. It takes a lot, as it’s a process and now that I’ve become more of a literature artist, even that’s a process as well but I guess I’ll speak about that shortly.
Excluding the artwork itself, what was your favourite part about putting on this exhibition?
One of the highlights of being an Artist is being introduced to new clients and potential collectors by the gallery. You always learn something from being part of a group exhibition even if you sell or don’t sell. And again there is a beauty about networking that you are given an opportunity to make new relationships that can propel further in your career.
What did you least enjoy about putting on this exhibition?
You have to do your own running around and getting things in order. Making sure that the prints are fine. Making sure that it’s delivered. I guess it’s just the little things that you feel like you shouldn’t do but you do have to do, as it is part of my job.
Was it more of the logistical stuff?
Yeah I guess so, but again that’s just timing. Sometimes you’d have to adjust to it but I don’t find my job difficult so it’s part of the criteria and it comes with it.
What is your opinion on the venue that you showed at and surrounding area?
Funny enough, maybe about 15 years ago, I remember walking past that venue and seeing exhibitions there and wishing that one day I might be in there. So it’s amazing that I can say that I’ve been in there now! And where it’s a certain part of the West End that everyone would recognise, it’s just exciting to know that I’ve had my work in that area so it’s a tick off my bucket list. But there is always more!
Of course! Do you think that you manifested that and then it came to fruition?
I believe I kept on working hard and that timing and being in the right place and time, having the initial conversation made things happen. That’s what happens in Art, you keep working on your crafts and then something materialises!
Are you going to take the relationships forward of some of the people that you met during the West Contemporary Editions 20 year anniversary Group show?
You know what, that’s a really good question. I did think about it and I made contacts from various people in the industry. Having the time to contact and know that it’s the right time to work with them and so on. It’s always good to have contacts, that is another part of the role of being an artist, you always need to network and keep new contacts. Who knows what the future holds.
Do you feel like your growth led you to this opportunity?
I think it’s because I put myself in the industry but I also remembered to take a break and focus on myself. With growth and time, you end up learning more.
My craft has put me in situations where I’ve learnt to lose, win and gain, all sorts.
Everything becomes automatic after that. It’s more complex than it sounds but for me it’s really straightforward.
We wanted to touch on the Museum of London projects you did because those were pretty cool! Tell us more about how they came about because not only did you do the mural on the outside of the building but you had a hand in the Grime Stories exhibition.
After the success of the Grime Stories: from the corner to the mainstream exhibition, I was very honoured to have been selected to create an original mural for the Museum of London, celebrating the city I love. I wanted to offer something to visitors that would make them smile, engage and share an emotional connection to London’s evolution. The mural presents change, freedom and creativity in our great city. Not all memories are great, but I believe it is important to celebrate every part of life and history. I hope it inspires artists all over London and the world.
Do you have any upcoming or confirmed exciting projects that are about to happen?
I would say I’m going into literature, meaning writing, developing characters and soft worldbuilding. I’ve just been enjoying getting into writing. It’s quite complex, it takes time and effort. I feel for me now, I’ve been practising it for 5 years now. Now that I’m going into the sixth year, I’m feeling more confident with it. At the moment, I’ve got my own project I’m working on. I’m meant to be, or should I say, I’m hoping to release about four poetry books this year but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I just don’t have time because at the moment I’m writing a project that is getting published. It’s just time and figuring out a suitable timetable to fit everything in. I think that’s the very complicated part.
How did the literature side of your career come about?
Randomly, I found my primary school reports at my mum’s. There it mentioned that one of my teachers said that I always tried to practise my poetry and how I was always trying and not giving up. So I guess in a way, I always wanted to write but I wasn’t sure how to do it. Then in 2019, I started really practising writing literature and poetry.
I just started slow and then throughout the years, over the next two years I just started developing. I released my first book of poetry, titled Cloned Hallucinations: Thrive, with Oddkingdom in 2021. During lockdown I started writing and I wrote this short story about a situation. It got edited and then I released it and my editor thought it was brilliant and they just told me to keep writing. So now, it’s really full on and once you start writing you can’t really lock the door, it’s too late to stop so you just have to keep accelerating. At the moment, I’m just finding my voice, but there’s so much going on. If you are writing with anything to do with soft worldbuilding and character arcs, it becomes really complicated because you have to do quite a lot of detail and everything needs to be logical and planned ahead.
What is soft worldbuilding?
Soft worldbuilding is when you create characters, you create a town, the background.
You give it life by creating a community all from your imagination. You give the characters a life, explore their heritage, the year they were born and siblings. You know, stuff like that.
Are you illustrating all of the artwork in the book as well?
Yeah! I'm doing double the job so I’d rather write first and understand the story of the characters and do the illustration after. My first major illustration was “Happy Here” where I had to read the poet, Yomi Sode - “Tomorrow As I Am”, to understand the story and create characters from it.
It’s just a matter of understanding what you are doing and what you are writing and then you will be able to illustrate something from it. I'm not finding it hard, it’s just time.
How many pages are the books supposed to be?
So before, maybe about 2 years ago, it was meant to be a picture book with 500 words I think.
It may be a graphic novel or a middle grade book so you can tell how much that is! Then you just have to make sure it is up to industry standards or beyond. You just have to be capable with how you go about it. It also depends on the depth of the story.
Would you say that this is a new journey in your career path?
Yeah I believe it now, I didn’t see it coming so it’s been interesting. It’s intense but I guess I’ll get used to it at some point.
Is literature and writing something that you always want to keep doing along with your artwork and exhibitions?
I have a feeling that I’ll gradually start going into film or something more. I will keep illustrating but I don’t know how long for. I have a feeling that I have a future in literature as well so I am going to juggle it.
Anything else about the book that you are writing that you would like to tell us about?
The book ideas are leading to a graphic novel, It might be a book series as well so at the moment until the idea is clear, I’ll confirm everything in due time.
What advice would you give to any up and coming artists?
I would say always listen to your voice, even at the most difficult times. Your voice will always save you in different ways. Take on advice and don’t give up! It can be a lonely journey but you are not supposed to give up. You have to take it all the way and then eventually you will figure it out and make sure you keep good people around you, who motivate you but they are honest with you at the same time.
If you feel like everyone is telling you not to follow your chosen path, your intuition will guide you Invest in your creativity, it pays off one day.
It can be lonely at times, However, in time, you will attract the right audience, supporters and network.
Where can people follow you and learn more about your work and your upcoming projects?
The best place to reach me would be my website, which is www.bywillkay.com or my social media. I’m on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. It's @willkay_oddking that’s it!
One extra question that we thought of today because we saw you posting about it! Barack Obama followed you, what’s the story behind that?
Yeah that was random! I’m always on Twitter, I love Twitter. It’s just something that makes you laugh, cry and all sorts and what with Elon and what he’s done now with all the verifying, I know a lot of people that are upset and I was like haha! A lot of people lost their verification and you can hear emotion and I'm like, you are who you are, it doesn’t matter…but anyway, I was just scrolling through and I grabbed my phone and thought “What?! Is that him? No, that’s not Obama” let me just have a look and it was actually him. I took it in and was like “Oh my gosh, did he just follow me?” I started having flashbacks of when he became the president and all of that. I was like no way! Because I wasn't looking for him, they found me or he found me. So that was interesting and quite random, who knows what is going to happen? At least now I can DM him hahaa!!!
Did it happen a couple of days ago?
It happened yesterday, Wednesday 26th (April). I followed him back as he found me! I was minding my business on Twitter and then I thought alright, I’m going to follow you back but why haha! To be honest, Americans do like my work so maybe I’ve got a little fan club in America. But Barack Obama following me, that made my Wednesday not gonna lie. That was cool!
Anything else you would like to add before we end?
No, just keep an eye out. I’m one of those random artists, I might just drop a surprise. Who knows! Thank you for having me and to everyone that’s reading, stay creative!