How exciting would it be to find the next major artist at the dawn of his career, when his works were still affordable? How much of a visionary would you have been to have purchased the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollock, Banksy and Baquiat for a song? And, of course, at one time, before they became who they are, those icons’ works were available for a song. We believe we may have found the next major artist, the spiritual and creative cousin of Basquiat. He goes by the name WIJ…
At the tender age of 20, this Arizona-based street artist has already created hundreds of exciting modern abstract impressionist works. Some famous professionals have taken note and begun purchasing his works, including hip/hop star Wacka Flocka and a number of professional athletes. WIJ... integrates all sorts of different styles of art that include Modern Impressionism, Abstract, Pop, and Contemporary. He has managed to create numerous commissioned murals, statues, canvases, and even clothing. We think you’ll enjoy getting to know him--and his creations.
How do you describe/classify your art?
I view my art as a type of modern abstract impressionism. I try to make the viewers of my work stop and really think.
How did you first become interested in art and in being an artist?
I first was introduced to a paint brush back in 2005 when I was 9 years old. My mother showed me how to mix colors and paint a simple desert landscape and from that point on I was constantly creating ideas in my head and transferring them to scraps of paper. Eventually, I wanted to start using more colors and have bigger canvases to express my thoughts more clearly. As I expanded my creativity, people organically started wanting to be updated when I made new pieces and actually started buying them. After about 2 years of painting and working odd jobs (like interior house painting which was the ABSOLUTE worst), I had built up a client base from which I could barely start to support myself with my art. As that happened, I decided to pursue being a fulltime artist because it was and continues to be quite honestly my only full escape from reality. Now being 20 years old, I am able to fully support my lifestyle from the ideas I create.
Any other artists in your family?
My mom was the only other artist in the family. It is rumored that she was painting while she was pregnant with me and that is how I received my creative side.
Who are your influences in the art world?
The first real artist who caught my attention and motivated me to fully engage in this lifestyle was Alec Monopoly. I thought the way he incorporated the graffiti street art style with the luxury abstract contemporary feel was so interesting! Another one of my top favorite artists is Jean-Michel Basquiat. His whole story of just doing what he loved to do and not being told what to do was truly moving. It is really a big reason why I live and paint the way I do. Another big inspiration is an artist known as Gregory Siff. His work is so simple, yet very elegant, the perfect balance of chaos and peace. All these amazing influences inspire me to keep developing and expanding as an artist.
Do you feel that an artist has an obligation to society through his or her work?
Yes, 100%. An artist has an obligation to society! Art makes people feel emotions. They have forgotten how to feel. Whether it is political news or international headlines, an artist can reinterpret whatever it is into something for the general population to have a better understanding. For instance, you may see something about an oil spill in the ocean or the breakout of an epidemic in your country and glance over the words, but if you see an image an artist has created to imply that message or topic, you will probably stop and take a look because some aspect of the work caught your eye. Then, people can have a visual connection to whatever it is (good or bad) and it may hit them harder than if they were to just read it.
What kind of training did you have? Do you feel that training should continue for an artist?
To be honest, when I was in school, I actually failed my art classes, not because my work wasn’t up to par, but because I couldn’t stand following the curriculum. We would have to learn how to shade an object and I would be drawing a giraffe standing in a bathtub with pancakes raining down. So I learned that the best way personally for me to develop was not by taking classes but by connecting with other artists in different cities and really getting cultured in the art community. I take in as much as I can from going about everyday life and applying it to my work.
What’s the deal with the hidden objects and messages in your works?
The hidden objects in my paintings come from my love of finding new things where I least expect them. I love getting calls or messages from collectors months down the road telling me how they just found some hidden object that they have never seen before. I leave small quotes in pieces as well, for the off chance that one day someone is just staring at my work and they happen to see a quote or saying that totally applies to their life at that point in time. You would be surprised how often it happens! The hidden objects in my paintings are really just for my love of the unknown and whatever can happen will happen (Murphy's Law).
You are also known as “WIJ…” How did that come about?
After high school, when I was discovering my love for art, my good friend and mentor, Frankie Carrera, who was a huge inspiration to me through his music, started calling me WIJ and it just stuck! From then on, whenever I was introduced to a new person or client, I was introduced as WIJ.
Several images of Buddha appear in your work. Are you Buddhist? How important is that in your life?
For me, the image of a Buddha brings peace. Whenever I create a new Buddha piece, I really get in touch with how the brush works the paint and how the layers fall on each other and I truly get lost in it. I am not a very religious person, but I admire the ways of the Buddhist religion. Being at peace with myself is the only way I have found real happiness.
Where does your inclusion of cartoon characters come from? Any particular reason you chose them?
While I was growing up, cartoons would make me think of how cool it would be to have a way to get inside all the different cartoons and chill out with the characters for a little bit. So, when I incorporate cartoon characters, it brings me back to the days of sitting up in the mornings and watching Popeye or the Jetsons and thinking how I could possibly enter into their worlds!
Do you find the business aspects of being an artist challenging? How are you promoting your work?
I love the business aspect of being an artist! I am constantly exercising my creative abilities. I strive to push new fresh content on a pretty regular daily basis. Currently most of my work is promoted just from word of mouth and collectors showing off the pieces they have. I’ve done art shows here in Arizona and in Chicago and have had great success. I’m looking forward to the ones to come!
What is the art scene like in Arizona? Are you there to stay, or are you considering a move to a perhaps more dynamic city for art?
Arizona has a relatively small art scene compared to LA or Chicago, but I think that is why I have been able to develop so well here. The people of Arizona have not yet been exposed to as much art as the other well-known art-filled cities. I grew up here in the Arizona desert and it has been wonderful. That being said, I do see myself heading towards one of the coasts in the future. I guess that will all depend when the opportunity arises!
How do you get your ideas for your paintings?
All of my ideas for my paintings stem from some experience I’ve had or some way I’m feeling a particular day. When I walk down the streets here, I look at the way the world around me moves and flows and apply that to my paintings. Not a single day goes by where I don’t get new ideas to act on.
You are extremely prolific. How many works do you complete in a typical week, month, or year? Do you set an output goal?
This past year, in 2016, I completed close to 300 pieces. I really have no schedule as to when I paint, but just know most of the daytime and most nights are spent with a paintbrush in hand. I don't set any output goals, not because I hate having goals, but because I feel that when you are creating something from within, it should grow and form naturally and not be forced.
What is your daily schedule for painting? Are you disciplined?
My usual day goes something like this. My wonderful girlfriend Mallory and I wake up and say hello to our two cats and then it’s a shower and straight to the studio. (If there’s time, food breaks are is scattered throughout my day). We often have the conversations of “Hey, you have been painting for 12 hours. It’s time to take a break and spend some time with me.” But she knew going into our relationship that my days are consumed mostly with painting.
Are there specific messages you hope to convey through your art?
I would say that each piece has a message. Some may speak louder to certain people than others, and that is what I love the most. Sometimes, a person will interpret a piece I did completely the opposite of how I see it. That is what drives me to really get in touch with each piece I create.
Were your friends and family always supportive of your desire to be an artist? Did anyone suggest having a non-artist skill to fall back on in case things didn’t work out?
My friends and family were always supportive of my dreams to become an artist. I do have to say that when I was starting out, my parents encouraged me to get into something other than art to have a fall-back, but I never listened because I was too busy bringing new ideas to light! After a while, they eventually realized that this was my dream and passion and that I was going to pursue it no matter what. They all absolutely love seeing the new paintings I create.
Any words of advice to aspiring artists?
To any aspiring artists out there, I have one message: Do not let anyone tell you that you can't or won't make it. The only way you will ever find out is by ignoring what everyone else tells you and figuring it out yourself. Live your life, go explore places you haven't been, and immerse yourself in the world we live in because this is the only life you have. Make your mark and leave a story.
A genie grants you three wishes:
1. Any venue in the world to showcase your art: The Vatican museums, Vatican City, Italy.
2. Any artist in the world with whom to have dinner: Jean-Michel Basquiat.
3. Any superpower to enhance your work as an artist: Invisibility, so I could paint murals in cities and not be seen or arrested.