Had seen Austin’s work but we never knew who was the mind behind the project “Natural Melanin” until Austin decided to share through our tumblr his work. Well, come the exact time to talk to him and get to know a little more about who he is and what moved him to create this project.
Throughout the interview will get to know him or the ninja who lives inside him that in San Francisco finds is daily inspiration. Aw he has natural hair and if he finds the ideal woman aka perfect match with natural hair will undoubtedly be “happy ending” (he’s not on Tinder… or at least we think so!).
Curly Essence: Tell us your journey as an artist (how it all began)?
Austin Willis: Well a long time ago in a far off land there once lived a boy. This boy was wild and had a vast imagination as he wanted to be a ninja or fly dragons. He began drawing all this favorite cartoons that he liked. and rest is history that you see now. (laughs) Nah i had to be dramatic for that, but at a young age i started drawing everything from cartoons to movies to just random stuff. visuals art kinda came natural to me. It served as my ticket away from reality a place for me to get away. When i was younger we used to move all the time, at least once a year. so art was kinda like my reliever. As I got older though my passion kinda faded because I was so busy with sports in high school and beginning of college. I took some classes on graphic design and drawing but was never that same feeling. But then at the end of my freshman year of college I hurt my back running track and it was bad enough that I could compete anymore. I was honestly lost and confused what I was gonna do from that point cause track had been my life for 6 years straight. I slowly started drawing more just to get thoughts of my head. Then my brother Rajaee started his clothing line Devoting Time For Success or “DTFS”, I had some background in photoshop so I took over the creative side of the brand. That right there was the trigger that really rekindled the fire in me to be creative i was having fun again I was happy being able to create stuff and just be the weird person I was. After that i was actually focused on graphic design and illustration; even had my first solo gallery show for my illustrations in September 2014 at Massive in Oakland, Ca. But I was slowly becoming unhappy with graphic design and illustration cause i wasn’t really proud of my work way I should’ve been. I felt that I was creating more for the people rather than myself. So i had began shooting photography more and more because I was just out and about with friends that did photography. It was never a medium I saw myself pursuing, yet here I am now been focused on photography since end of November 2014 and really just becoming a student of the craft. It allowed me to create everywhere i went and the beauty of being able to capture what inspire me and if I wanted to be weird and do some fine art style photography I still could.
How the project was created? And why “Natural Melanin”? What’s the story behind it?
Hmmm how was the projected created. I was kinda of a combination of things. I wanted to capture the diversity and beauty of people of color because I felt society doesn’t capture us the best. I wanted to show how unique and different we could be. The name “Natural Melanin” came from the idea of just showing the diversity of different people of color. We all have our styles and how we do our hair but no matter we all tied together by the melanin in our skin. It started with me shooting natural hair first just I knew there so many different textures and curl patterns so thought it be cool to shoot 5 different women to show that. So I just texted a bunch of friends I knew had natural hair to come by the studio and we honestly were just having fun. I didn’t have a plan how i wanted to shoot it exactly but as it was going it unravelled. After the shoot on my way home though I was like nah this can’t be the only part this project got be something bigger. I want to inspire people. I want to change someone life because this project.
Having natural curly hair make you more attracted to women who embrace their natural hair? Do you think the “back to your roots” movement ends up inspiring you as an artist?
Absolutely, natural hair is a beautiful thing. It see how similar peoples can look but be completely different. The way their curl pattern falls, sometimes it may be kinky in one area but loose in another. Plus I always joke around with my family and say if i marry some one else with natural curly hair they can help me take care of mine. Since I’m really just learning how to properly take care of it recently. Got to say nothing better than happy healthy curls. And I think the movement really does inspire me cause its crazy to see how many people are slowing going to natural hair lifestyle its beautiful. Becoming more confident and we all fighting that social norm about how the industry thinks beauty is supposed to look.
How has feedback to your project?
Words truly can’t describe it, I am truly so thankful for everyone that show support of the project from reflagging on my tumblr to showing love on Instagram. Its been so crazy to see some of the messages I’ve gotten. Some messages were from women telling me how they saw my projected and just wanted to thank me for going against the norms and only shoot people of color. Or how the project helped them be more confident in themselves. Its truly been amazing, it’s like my child just won the olympics. (laughs) The idea that I’ve been getting so much love from the project is just motivation to keep creating more content and keep inspire others.
As an artist what inspires you every day? What makes you move?
As an artist my inspirations come from everything around me. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area so the cultures and diversity here is just a big melting pot, everyday I find new inspirations as I go throughout my day. If I had to list my top inspirations though I’d have to see people number one. Everyone has their own beauty and story to them so I want to be able to show the world that from my point of view and capture people for who they are. Secondly would have to be colors because every color can evoke an different emotion and affect how someone views a piece. This why understand color theory is so important as an artist I think. And number three *laughs* NINJAS, it funny but true I’ve always been obsessed with being a ninja and how they are masters of their crafts and stealthy so deadly they can strike at anytime with deadly force. I’ve adapted that mind set in my work. I want to continue learning and being a student of my craft to be able to master all elements of it. As well be able to stay true to myself and keep creating pieces that I can show the world and keep shocking people with my work and wowing them at any time. My motto is to “Create & Inspire” the plan is to change lives.
Do you have a project in mind for the future?
Without a doubt I am currently working on 2 major projects. One is the end game plan for “Natural Melanin” I got something truly special for people with this project “Natural Melanin” was just the first step towards that project. I’ve completed 2 parts of “Natural Melanin” and I still have 5 parts I need to finish before I move out to the last part then combine all them into that end game product I’m aiming to have that projected finished by Winter 2015 just really want to take my time and make sure its perfect and portrayed how i have it visioned. The second project in the works is a gallery collection I’m building for some shows this summer. The theme behind it is similar to “Natural Melanin” it really focused on details and capturing the diversity and individuality of people of color. The collection will have 3 parts to it 1. Portraits 2. Is some abstract fine art photography that I’ve been developing for a little bit now. This probably going to be my favorite part of the collection because its weird. Im trying to develop something so weird but beautiful at same time. The approach for this part is so unique and twisted. Me personally i haven’t seen anyone that I know of doing anything like it. 3. The last part of the collection will be a conceptual nude portion. Its going to be focused on the details and beauty of the body. We live in a society that shuns or discourages nudity unless its the industry selling it back to use or over sexualizing it. So I really wanted to just show how different peoples bodies can be from curves, stretch marks, scars, birth marks the whole nebula. No one is perform so why keep trying to show that “perfect body” that people need to “have” to be attractive. No that just wrong we need to show people that you can be confident and proud of your own skin.
You can stay updated with all my projects and dates for travels and shows at Instagram/ twitter : Visualsbywillis and austinjwillis.tumblr.com