As a kid growing up, rarely one dreams of becoming an artist, let alone a painter. In our early years, at the beginning of our lifelong journey, we dream of becoming someone famous like a president, or a space explorer. The same goes for Michael Williams, who was born in 1986 in South Florida. Michael was like any other kid, having no worries about the future and definitely making no concrete plans for his future career.
Little did he know that at the age of 22 he would begin a journey of becoming one of the best contemporary painters, whose artwork would be held by collectors around the globe. Yes, that’s right, Michael started painting at the age of 22 while attending the University of Central Florida, from which he received his BFA in painting. His large-scale watercolor paintings, which combine contemporary realism with minimalist sensibility, will have you mesmerized from the second you lay your eyes on one of them.
When I first saw Michael’s work I instantly become a huge fan. Right away I wanted to learn more about the artist who, with a stroke of his brush and some watercolors, made this plain canvas look straight back at the audience as if it had a soul (become alive). A few days later I was sitting with Michael at one of his studios in the Art Center on Lincoln Road in South Beach. To my surprise, he was absolutely down to earth, very polite, and a fun human being, which made this interview a blast.
You were born and raised in South Florida; have you ever wanted to move to a different part of the country?
Yeah, about four years ago and it almost lasted for two years, where it was just about every other week I was kind of visiting new places with an intent to move, to leave Miami, to leave South Florida. So I traveled to almost every major city in the US and went outside the country just to feel things out, with the intent to move out of Miami. And after two years of doing this I realized that, while I liked a lot of places, nothing really stuck in terms of how beneficial of a place it would be for my career and a place where I could see myself living. It did not hit those two big goals for me in the same way that Miami has.
When did you realize that you have this creative, artistic vision?
It was pretty much the last year that I was in college. I was actually looking to go into architecture. And from there I took some smaller art classes and really ended up enjoying them. It was mainly drawings and illustrations. And that was what started to pull me into this new career. Then I started taking real studio classes. And then I ended up taking a painting class. When I was taking that class I had the luxury of having 24-hour access to my studio and fully took advantage of it. I was there almost every day. So in those couple of semesters I realized that if I could continue to do this, it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in my studio, and I wanted to be painting.
Did you learn how to paint like this through classes or did you always have it in you? Are you one of those artists who can pick up a pencil and draw something amazing on the spot?
I was always terrible at just picking up a pencil and drawing. I am a little more methodical. I like to think things out, approach everything from a different angle, as opposed to being just completely fluid. My style is that I learn to do things on my own. In school I was working more abstractly. I was doing really large, abstract pieces. And later I taught myself to paint the way that I do.
Your mother is a doctor and your father is an accountant - not exactly artistic professions. So, did they support your career choice?
My parents have actually always been very supportive of any decision that I’ve made. They’ve always been supportive of me being an artist. In anything that I’ve done they’ve always seen the drive. And that’s what they look for. They’ve always backed me 100%.
When you first started in the art industry, what were your biggest challenges and obstacles?
I think the largest obstacle for me was actually getting my work out, finding spaces and people. I knew I was creating great work, but the idea of really finding a venue or finding spaces to really show them .
Have there been any moments in your career when you wanted to quit painting and do something else?
Actually, it wasn’t too long ago, about around the same time I was thinking of moving. I wasn’t able to support myself with my art. Right before I moved into the Art Center, I said to myself, “I am going to make this work, I am going to put full effort into it.” And a lot of things came my way just by doing that.
Has your style changed over the years? And if it has, then how?
Absolutely! When I was first painting I was doing these large, abstract pieces about 14 feet by 12. They were more focused on texture. I was also working with acrylic paints. They were ending up getting a little bit flashier, so from there I was looking for a new medium. Then I had a commission to do smaller watercolor pieces, and from there I realized I can figure out a way to take this to canvas and to take it to a larger scale pieces.
Who is your biggest critic? Are you always satisfied with your work?
Definitely, I would have to say myself. I am not always satisfied with my work. For every piece that I make I throw out one or two. I throw away a lot of paintings. Even if people tell me that it is great, but I am not happy with it, I would have to throw it away and move on. I don’t dwell over paintings.
Who is your biggest fan? Who admires you the most?
That would have to be my parents. My mom and my dad admire my work the most.
Going back to when you started and knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would actually put myself into a community a lot sooner. In the beginning of my career I wasn’t focused on being in the artist community. I would definitely connect with artist communities a little bit more.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming an artist/painter?
I think it is the same thing that I would have changed in my career early on. Find an artist community, be a part of a larger group. I think it is really helpful. You learn a lot and you find so many great connections. It’s one of the important things to be around like-minded people.
Michael spends most of his time in his studio, always working, always creating, but even an artist who truly loves his craft needs to take a break, so to recharge Michael chooses to go to the beach and, if weather permits, surf.
If you are interested in seeing Michael’s artwork then you have a few options; go to his website www.michaelwilliamsartist.com or you can stop by his new studio, which Michael and few other artists opened up right on the outskirts of the Wynwood district. The new place is called the Laundromat Art Space www.laundromatartspace.com