As Outsider Art continues to grow in popularity, it also continues to diversify within itself, and Louisiana outsider artist Willie Willie is a testament to that fact. Over the past eight years, Willie has transformed his life of working in the chemical emissions of Baton Rouge's industrial district into a life of doing what he wants. "I'm finally leading an artist's life," he says. "I consider myself a contemporary outsider."
Willie's creations range from whimsical to sobering, but, as with any true artist, he has a style that is unmistakeable. Most of his unique style comes from his approach to the subject matter, which is part imagination and part heritage. Willie is one-quarter Sicilian and three-quarters Creole, but he is also a self-admitted child of 1960s culture. Willie often imagines the faces and expressions of relatives and locals who he's heard stories about but never met. His faces, birds, flowers, and alligators are usually painted on tin or copper that he textures with a hammer and cuts with a plasma cutter. Another unique quality to Willie's work is his ability to incorporate his framing into the art itself. To achieve that, he fights the South Louisiana heat and humidity to demolish old barns, and he uses the planks of cypress and other native woods to compliment the color and feel of his paintings.
As one would imagine, Willie's influences are largely based around his heritage, but he also cites jazz and the blues as being heavily influential. In addition to music, Willie says that he gets part of his style from the line drawings of his favorite childhood comic books. He says that during the morning safety meetings at the chemical plants, he would get bored and make line drawings on his styrofoam coffee cups. "Those coffee cups are where I started drawing my first masks" The comic strip cups would eventually give him the idea of taking home scrap metal to cut on. When asked what he wants to express with his tin, copper, wood and paint, he says, "Spontaneity and being self-challenging."
Willie's work has been exhibited in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and has been featured in Betty-Carol Sellen's book, Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art. He has been a featured artist at the Kentuck Festival for the last few years, and his work continues to grow in popularity at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City.
The first gallery to carry Willie's work was Gilley's Gallery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Willie continues to be one of Gilley's Gallery's featured artists.