American multimedia artist William Atkinson has evolved his artistic practice over time. It first took the form of street art in Los Angeles, where he worked under the pseudonym “Insurgency Inc.” As he transitioned toward formal galleries, the artist refined his practice by combining imagery from pop culture and street art with his day-to-day life in the form of collage. Atkinson’s art remains loud and subversive with a minimalist color palette and emphasis on negative space, which roils the picture plane. His dynamic brush strokes and gestural lines create a jagged framework punctuated with pockets of unedited graphic imagery. Using acrylic, house paint, spray paint, graffiti markers, and re-appropriated imagery, the artist explores themes of social, political, and cultural discourse through the recontextualization of figures and text. While Atkinson continues to utilize elements from street art, his current work examines modes of personal expression rather than an anonymous cultural critique.
WHAT: “Exotic Reveries,” a group exhibition comprising artworks that explore the contemporary notion of exoticism.
WHEN: November 2 – November 22, 2022 Thursday, November 3, 6-8 PM Reception
WHERE: Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, New York
Fine Art Globe caught up with William Atkinson to ask questions about his work and upcoming show at Agora Gallery.
Heather Zises: How have you developed your artistic career?
William Atkinson: I first exhibited my work publicly on the streets of Los Angeles. As I progressed into fine art, I wanted to maintain a foothold in my initial form of expression. Therefore I work across multiple mediums with a consistent tone and voice echoing my early artistic roots. My first gallery exhibitions incorporated found objects with imagery rooted in Street Art. Street Art forced me to create in a single expressive moment. I continue this practice in my current work, making large-scale pieces in one session. While many artists create a piece over days or months, I do not revisit any of my pieces once they are created. For me, the initial emotion has passed, and the energy of that single expressive moment remains contained on the picture plane.
HZ: How has your practice changed over time?
WA: I got better. My early work was about provoking thought and emotion in others. I continue to have this goal, but my current work includes significantly more of my own emotion.
HZ: What is your aesthetic in three words?
WA: Urgent, expressive, and experimental.
HZ: What art or art movements do you most identify with?
WA: Abstract Expressionism, Street Art, and Graffiti Assemblage.
HZ: What types of materials and techniques do you employ when making art?
WA: My work is a combination of Abstract Expressionism, Street Art, and Graffiti Assemblage, which allows me to use many different tools and techniques. The tools I gravitate toward the most are acrylic paints, house paint, spray paint, graffiti markers, and re-appropriated imagery.
HZ: How and when do you title your work?
WA: When I start a piece, there is a source of inspiration (line of poetry, text from a book, song lyric, image) germinating into the final product. Since I create a piece in one sitting and do not edit it afterward, the titling comes after the piece is created. It usually incorporates the initial source of inspiration and wordplay. Sometimes I title the piece immediately upon completion, but other times I spend a day or two thinking about the relationship between the final product and the initial inspiration.
HZ: How does your work comment on current social, political, or cultural issues?
WA: My early work in Street Art strongly focuses on social, political, and cultural issues of the moment. I lived in Los Angeles at the time, therefore, I was having a conversation (albeit maybe a little one-sided) with local residents and their choices. My work skewed heavily toward social commentary with the intention of encouraging people to engage in more critical thought. I incorporated a lot of image re-appropriation into my work to assist with this process. Currently, I focus more on the personal expressive moment. This may still reflect my feelings toward social, political, or cultural issues but in a more abstract manner with more creative filters. I enjoy the freedom of exploring my thoughts and emotions in a way that is not constrained by preconceived notions of what art “should be.”
HZ: What does your work aim to say?
WA: My work does not focus on the “say” of a piece. It focuses on a piece’s “feel” and “energy.” Each piece captures a single expressive moment – a time capsule of energy and creativity. I hope my work preserves these moments and transfers them to a viewer so that they may experience them for themselves or derive a different personal experience from my work.
HZ: How does your work fit into the theme of Agora’s upcoming exhibition, “Exotic Reveries”?
WA: The works in the show focus on the concept of “exchange” between the individual and the public sphere in the modern world. Some people are willing to freely trade their identity for public discourse, while others are coerced into the transaction via the ease of modern communications. In this series, I study the inter-networked feeling of compliance or non-compliance in relation to what is gained or lost, whether it be material, emotional, real, or perceived. There is a focus on how one insulates themselves from this exchange and the feelings it fosters.
HZ: The past two years have been very challenging for humanity due to global shutdowns resulting from the pandemic. How has this calamity affected your practice?
WA: I draw energy and inspiration from my surroundings, so it has definitely altered my process and allowed me to derive new sources of inspiration. Seeing the world, people, and environment undergo such drastic changes has forced me to reevaluate what is important and how we embrace it.