by Manu SharmaMar 01, 2022
A work of art is meant to express emotions. When the imagery is completely non-representative of anything recognisable, then the intent of emoting a feeling gets accentuated. Contemporary artist Will Day paints on very large-scale surfaces. His style is intuitive and given the scale, the act of creating his paintings becomes performative. Day grew up in USA and as a child had a hard time focussing on things. He joined Peace Corps before responding to the true calling to be an artist. Day had a close personal encounter with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Day’s wife overslept by 15 minutes on the morning of September 11, 2001. One of the planes went directly into the office where she worked. The act of painting proved to be his only way to be out of the tough emotional turmoil.
A trained architect, Day works simultaneously on multiple canvasses out of a large studio space. “This allows me to find nuances in compositions and discover new styles and techniques,” he says.
I speak to Day about his practice and his intent to make works that convey of healing and hope.
Rahul Kumar: Your paintings are large in scale, creating an immersive experience. How do you make multiple works at the same time and yet each focusing on different nuances of human experience?
Will Day: I work in a very large studio space. I am fortunate enough to create large works because that is what I see. That is my vision, my narrative, and what I really embrace.
I work on multiple canvases at the same time, so I am able to hang different sized canvases on the walls, from the ceiling, on tables and easels, and even roll them out on the floor. This allows me to find nuances in compositions and discover new styles and techniques. I walk on my canvases, I use different tools, and I approach each of these experiences with clear eyes and a full heart because they are not always the same. There is a thread throughout my years of painting about letting go, living in the moment, allowing freedom to prevail and get away from the ego. That is what shows up in these paintings which act like poems and stories that speak with the world.
Rahul: But the complex layering seems thoughtful, referencing deep emotion. Do you plan your work and then implement or is the meaning ascribed after its completion?
Will: Like most artists, I feel something and then I react. What happens is: I’ll wake up, I’ll get what feels like a sign in the middle of the night or early in the morning, then I’ll come to the studio and start painting all day long.
I like when no one is up in the world yet. It is still and quiet. You can hear things that you normally cannot hear if you open your ears to the amazing world that we live in. What that really means to me is there is one thing that ties us all together if you listen. It’s a journey of finding your spirit, courage, love, and experiencing that cycle. That is what these paintings are doing right now.
Rahul: The imagery in your paintings is said to be monoliths of creative freedom, projecting your belief in the sublime powers. How does your close personal encounter with the 9/11 tragedy, when your wife survived the collapse of the Word Trade Tower, lead to your shift from a corporate career to that in the arts?
Will: I was born in New York City, surrounded by monoliths my whole childhood. I thought the whole world lived with amazing skyscrapers, massive parks, and big things happening all the time. I want people to be engulfed by that same ‘larger than life’ experience when they walk into one of my paintings.
9/11 was the wakeup call. I was working on Wall Street. It was a painful turning point. I did not understand the world anymore, but that shock sparked a passion to think beyond myself and live in the world differently. For me, it was to be an abstract painter, an architect, and a creative spirit. I did not know where it was going to lead but I believed and trusted myself and here I am now.
Rahul: You have studied architecture. Does that play a role in how you divide your canvas and create forms?
Will: Architecture plays a very important role in my art practice. Going to Pratt was one of the best things I did as an artist and a human being. I did not know that architecture would play such an important role in my paintings but working on large corporate job sites taught me problem solving and how to put things together in a beautiful way. It was instrumental in opening my mind to telling stories on a different level and gave me a foundation of how the world works in a built environment.
My ideas are built around the layering of emotions, spirituality, love, kindness, and future thinking. I can’t predict the future, but what I can do is be a positive inspiration for the future. My goal is to share love through my canvas. We are all hurting, often crying for help on multiple levels, for leadership in any way possible. Art helps find people’s voices so we can stop listening to fear and start opening our hearts to creativity.
Rahul: The act of creating works in how you do it is almost like a performance, full of gestures and theatrics. Do your non-representational works (loosely called abstract art) tell a story or capture a moment.
Will: Each one captures a story and a moment. My paintings are connected through the spiritual path of love. My intent for the rest of my life is to create a body of work that does not have to be in museums or sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. My legacy is about my intent: to bring healing, hope, and to change narratives of fear into love.
You can see on my Instagram more behind the scenes of me acting my emotions onto a canvas. I am walking, painting, drawing, sketching. I am really diving into the painting. It’s very physical.
The greatest gift in the universe is learning how to give and once you learn how to give you will receive differently. I am creating narratives and stories and I do not know who they are for, but I know they are for someone. I learned if you show up and create what you believe in, you will inspire people when you least expect it.