One of the most exciting things that’s happening in contemporary street art is not the murals themselves, but the materials artists are using to make their beautiful pieces. Gone are the days when we have to rely on spray paint alone, and that means a whole new way of doing art on the street has opened up. And while many artists love the materials they use, others from different backgrounds are using new and old materials that they know how to manipulate, and the results can be simply breathtaking.
Take, for example, Herb Williams, an American artist who isn’t content with using paint for his street art. Growing up in Alabama, Williams worked construction since he was able to hold a hammer, and the blue collar work gave him a unique insight into form and materials. The on-the-job improvisation he saw during those years showed him that sometimes the best material for the job is what you have around, and with that idea, he took to art with a different approach.
Williams’ journey led him to school for sculpture, a sort of happy medium between classic artistic expression and his experience with a tool belt. After graduating, he apprenticed with a variety of artists and galleries, slowly gathering the skills and savvy he needed to make a name for himself. It was at these apprenticeships that Williams discovered his preferred medium: crayons.
While many of us fondly remember using crayons in grade school, Williams’ work shows us that that is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their potential. In fact, he calls crayons “the gateway drug” to other means of making art, and it makes sense when you see his different approach to using them. Rather than taking them to paper, Williams makes entire sculptures from the crayons themselves, building unique pieces that embody the wide range of colours that they can provide.
Williams’s sculptures can use hundreds of thousands of crayons to get the look he desires, and involves a laborious process that can take him a significant amount of time to get the look he desires. His process starts by getting the colours he needs directly from Crayola, who supplies him with the multitude of crayons he needs for each project. From there, he unwraps them and cuts them into tiny pieces. Some are left as is the create a mosaic effect while others are melted down and put into moulds to create the desired shape. The result is something at once colourful, beautiful, and nostalgic.
Williams’ pieces are not, however, always appropriate for children, even though they use something we all recognize from our younger days. But that is, according to Williams, part of the point. In an interview with Visual News, he explained that “intriguing questions arise when an object associated with childhood, such as a crayon, is used to address issues dealing with more adult matters, such as sexuality, religion, and social hierarchy.”
Williams work not only shows us that the materials we use for street art matter, but that they’re associations, and not just their physical properties can be an intrinsic part of how we create art. By combining nostalgia with serious issues, Williams pushes the boundaries of what childhood objects can mean in adulthood, and challenge the ways we think about art and our formative years.