If you've ever met artist Ty Williams, you'd remember him just for his searing wit. No wonder, as life on the road punctuates a perspective steeped in his cumulative life experience. He's somewhat of a rooted vagabond who splits time between couch surfing the world over and the snowbird tendencies of living on the east coast.
Saint Augustine, Florida is home during the winter and spring months where Williams lives in a house built with his own hands under the watchful eye of his father. The collaboration was recently featurted in Indoek's drool-worthy ‘Surf Shacks’ book documenting the global abodes of the creative class who also happen to slide sideways.
Williams feels at home just about anywhere in the world, so it's no surprise that much of his art draws on conversational footnotes from surf trips and his subsequent travels. In fact, the two sometimes go hand-in-hand, whether his brush strokes land on the side of a coconut stand in Sri Lanka or a hotel wall in Australia. His patterns have an autonomous energy that add movement to a space without overpowering the environment. Commercially, brands like ACE Hotel New York, Patagonia, Snow Peak, Banks Journal, Buck Products and Public Supply have commissioned him for his whimsical drawings, graphics and logos.
With the sea almost always in sight, Williams took some time between his travels to elaborate on his recipe for creative expression and the endless pursuit to remain a global citizen.
If I was just discovering your art for the first time, what would you hope I take away from it?
I would like to believe that people feel comfort or pleasure in some way. I don't think my work asks very much of people. I don't think I'm addressing too many dark topics. It's relatively simple and that's what I feel we need a little more of lately.
Splitting time between your own home in Florida and family house in Maine gives you access to some pretty inspiring communities. Where else in the world do you feel “at home?”
I have a weird ability of being able to feel at home in any place relatively quickly. I'm potentially the worst house guest in that way. I like other people's spaces and being with them. I love Japan and feel very comfortable there, but it's hard to pick just one.
Speaking of homes, what was it like to collaborate with your father on imagining your dream house you eventually built with your own hands?
I am fortunate that my dad was well enough and willing to even want to take on such a project with me. To be a part of the concept process, drawing on scrap paper, and looking at designs we liked, and trouble shooting what we could afford to build within the confines of where we were building, was an education. I will never have the opportunity to do that again and it is something I think of constantly when I'm there. I'd like to say that I understand the building process much more now, but I know that without a babysitter or person over my shoulder I wouldn't be able to build again. I can't YouTube what we did; it's just not repeatable.
You're on the road a lot. Can you give us a quick summary of your five favorite cities?
Keep them secret or only tell one other person please. Okay fine, tell a couple.
Portland, ME: Unreal food scene, good humans, the ocean and its outer islands.
Brooklyn, NY: I have close friends there and I sometimes wonder if that affects how much I like it, because NYC can really cook me out.
Los Angeles, CA: Surfing, amazing food, nature hikes, plenty of time in a car listening to KJazz.
St. Augustine, FL: My home, alligators, little waves, mellow living, rich history, porch hangs.
Tokyo, Japan: Sensory overload, amazing people watching, ramen, impeccable design, history and sake.
More recently, you've evolved your work to a larger scale. Where in the world can people see your murals?
I have put walls up in Sri Lanka, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, OR, Tokyo, Sydney and Maine.
What do you think people connect with most when they see your art?
I think the simplicity of it is generous to the eye. It also might be nostalgic for them as I have always been inspired by children's books and primitive art. I like to think it's not rubbing anyone too far in any particular direction.
Your worldview is unique and includes lessons from the books you read and the podcasts you binge. Of those, which ones have changed the way you think about life?
Despite all the podcasts, book passages, the meditation retreats and any of the other opinion-shaping content I have been exposed to, it's hard for me to not to attribute much of my current life views to my father's snippets of advice. Besides that, I do love binging some Ted Talks while I paint. I also think I'd like to go on a trip with Joe Rogan, so long as it doesn't include hunting or me having to learn MMA techniques.
I've seen you whip up work in minutes when someone asks for a logo or doodle. Do you ever struggle with a creative block, and if so, and how do you push past that?
I struggle with resistance all the time, but whether it be a drawing or responding to an email, or paddling out when the waves look like total garbage, I like the way I feel when I'm done with it.
What’s in a Ty Williams surf trip survival kit?
Tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic, Paw Paw cream, some pens, a good hat, my huaraches, a good dress shirt and maybe some charcoal tablets.
What are some of the less glamorous aspects of what you do?
I spend a lot of my time traveling solo and even though I like having the freedom, it gets old sometimes. Being a freelance art type-person I am no stranger to missing a meal or eating miso soup for a couple days in between gigs.
If we put you in a zoo for spectators to watch your daily routine, what would be in your environment?
I think I would like a hammock and a futon, and a big pile of old magazines, and a shipping container of Trader Joe’s snacks.
Any parting words, philosophical musings or words of wisdom?
Smile more, be mellow, call sometime.
Visit his website for the expanded experience.
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