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Salt-stained art

Mar 4, 2011
by Nick McGregor, '05

Williams’ ocean-themed creations showing up in New York, Japan and even Urban Outfitters

It’s easy to spot the inspiration for Ty Williams’ art: bearded sea captains, smiling fish, flotillas of brightly colored boats, surfboards of all shapes and sizes.

Of course, when you split your childhood between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Maine, an unshakeable fascination with the ocean comes naturally. That fascination, combined with his unique artistic style, has helped land the 2007 Flagler grad several high-profile exhibits, installations and even work for well-known surf companies and retailers.

In 2009, he designed an entire room at Ace Hotel, a hip boutique hotel in New York City, and also hosted a solo show at Nico Café in Tokyo. And in 2010, he co-curated “Out East” at midtown Manhattan’s acclaimed Atelier Gallery.

“Ace was a huge honor, because artists I’ve looked up to like Shepard Fairey and KAWS also did rooms,” he said. “And Atelier I really loved because I got to be the odd, playful guy in the mix doing takes on Hemingway, alcoholism and New England culture. But going to Japan and meeting people who are stoked on what I’m doing with my hands, even though I can’t speak to them in their own language? That’s my greatest achievement.”

But the fun-loving Williams hasn’t restricted his focus just to high art. He’s designed T-shirts for surf companies like Hurley, Roxy, Patagonia and Insight, and contributed lines to mainstream brands like Urban Outfitters and Baron Wells. He’s even translated his growing business knowledge into two appropriately named retail projects: Buoys, a storefront he co-owns in Kanagawa, Japan, and Yacht Club, a T-shirt company based in St. Augustine.

“The retail side is interesting, because you don’t think about how people will interpret your art when you’re drawing it,” he said. “I toyed with the decision — ‘Is it cheapening my art? Am I becoming a brand?’ — but I knew I wanted to be involved with surfing, and since I didn’t like a lot of the industry’s designs, I figured making T-shirts would be a great opportunity to change different parts of surfing culture with my art.”

Williams almost didn’t become a proper artist at Flagler, though. He actually majored in communication, but centered his marketing and advertising projects around creative concepts, while also drawing inspiration from friends in the college’s art program to pursue his own drawing and painting at home.

“I would draw brainlessly after class if the waves weren’t good,” said the lifelong surfer. “But in my early 20s, I realized I had things I wanted to say. Oftentimes surfers get pinpointed as not having much to say, but I think a lot of them do. Yes, I surf, but I also have worries about success, my family, my future. And I have a heart and a brain that work … at least sometimes.”

That quirky sense of humor prevails in Williams’ work, a visually appealing mish-mash of hand-drawn eclecticism, catchy aphorisms like “Daytona 1974” or “Nothing Dies Of Old Age In The Sea,” vintage photos, and even antiquated ads torn from long-forgotten sailing magazines.

“When I moved to New York after college, I was really affected by street art,” he said. “And I liked the imagery I would find in old books. So I appropriated some of it into my work.

Williams’ ability to cheerfully nudge the often-stoic parameters of the art world hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s been featured in publications across the United States, Europe and Japan, and he teamed up with fellow Flagler alumni Jeremy Dean, ‘02, and Casey O’Connell, ‘01, to tackle December’s Art Basel mega-gathering in Miami. After that, the itinerant wanderer will head to Japan, Australia, and then … well, he’s not quite sure.

“I’m open for anything,” he laughed. “I’m single and ready to travel; I want to give my art a go for at least another year so I don’t regret sitting around while I’m young.”

But if there’s one hard truth, it’s that Williams will end up somewhere near an ocean. “Some people run from surfing and the ocean,” he said. “But I can’t run away from the things that made me start drawing in the first place.”Williams’ ocean-themed creations showing up in New York, Japan and even Urban Outfitters

It’s easy to spot the inspiration for Ty Williams’ art: bearded sea captains, smiling fish, flotillas of brightly colored boats, surfboards of all shapes and sizes.

Of course, when you split your childhood between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Maine, an unshakeable fascination with the ocean comes naturally. That fascination, combined with his unique artistic style, has helped land the 2007 Flagler grad several high-profile exhibits, installations and even work for well-known surf companies and retailers.

In 2009, he designed an entire room at Ace Hotel, a hip boutique hotel in New York City, and also hosted a solo show at Nico Café in Tokyo. And in 2010, he co-curated “Out East” at midtown Manhattan’s acclaimed Atelier Gallery.

“Ace was a huge honor, because artists I’ve looked up to like Shepard Fairey and KAWS also did rooms,” he said. “And Atelier I really loved because I got to be the odd, playful guy in the mix doing takes on Hemingway, alcoholism and New England culture. But going to Japan and meeting people who are stoked on what I’m doing with my hands, even though I can’t speak to them in their own language? That’s my greatest achievement.”

But the fun-loving Williams hasn’t restricted his focus just to high art. He’s designed T-shirts for surf companies like Hurley, Roxy, Patagonia and Insight, and contributed lines to mainstream brands like Urban Outfitters and Baron Wells. He’s even translated his growing business knowledge into two appropriately named retail projects: Buoys, a storefront he co-owns in Kanagawa, Japan, and Yacht Club, a T-shirt company based in St. Augustine.

“The retail side is interesting, because you don’t think about how people will interpret your art when you’re drawing it,” he said. “I toyed with the decision — ‘Is it cheapening my art? Am I becoming a brand?’ — but I knew I wanted to be involved with surfing, and since I didn’t like a lot of the industry’s designs, I figured making T-shirts would be a great opportunity to change different parts of surfing culture with my art.”

Williams almost didn’t become a proper artist at Flagler, though. He actually majored in communication, but centered his marketing and advertising projects around creative concepts, while also drawing inspiration from friends in the college’s art program to pursue his own drawing and painting at home.

“I would draw brainlessly after class if the waves weren’t good,” said the lifelong surfer. “But in my early 20s, I realized I had things I wanted to say. Oftentimes surfers get pinpointed as not having much to say, but I think a lot of them do. Yes, I surf, but I also have worries about success, my family, my future. And I have a heart and a brain that work … at least sometimes.”

That quirky sense of humor prevails in Williams’ work, a visually appealing mish-mash of hand-drawn eclecticism, catchy aphorisms like “Daytona 1974” or “Nothing Dies Of Old Age In The Sea,” vintage photos, and even antiquated ads torn from long-forgotten sailing magazines.

“When I moved to New York after college, I was really affected by street art,” he said. “And I liked the imagery I would find in old books. So I appropriated some of it into my work.

Williams’ ability to cheerfully nudge the often-stoic parameters of the art world hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s been featured in publications across the United States, Europe and Japan, and he teamed up with fellow Flagler alumni Jeremy Dean, ‘02, and Casey O’Connell, ‘01, to tackle December’s Art Basel mega-gathering in Miami. After that, the itinerant wanderer will head to Japan, Australia, and then … well, he’s not quite sure.

“I’m open for anything,” he laughed. “I’m single and ready to travel; I want to give my art a go for at least another year so I don’t regret sitting around while I’m young.”

But if there’s one hard truth, it’s that Williams will end up somewhere near an ocean. “Some people run from surfing and the ocean,” he said. “But I can’t run away from the things that made me start drawing in the first place.”

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