RJ Williams, a prominent graffiti artist and multidisciplinary creative based in Sydney, has carved a fascinating path venturing into the world of art. From his early days designing t-shirts at the age of 12 to navigating the intricate world of graffiti, RJ’s journey reflects a deep connection with creativity and a commitment to living a life driven by passion. In this article, we delve into RJ’s artistic origins, his perspective on making it big in the graffiti scene, and the unique projects that have defined his career.
Starting Young: A Journey through Illustration and Design
RJ’s creative endeavor began at a tender age, fueled by a constant desire to make art. “I was drawing all the time as a kid, all the time.”, he reminisces. Growing up with supportive grandparents who encouraged his artistic pursuits, RJ often found himself sketching on paper tablecloths during family dinners. The significant moment that started it all for his creative career was at the age of 12 when his illustration made its way onto a production tee for a company called Hound Dog. This marks his introduction into the professional realm. Through snowboarding adventures and collaborations with tour companies, RJ’s early experiences exposed him to the ups and downs of the creative industry. He reflects on the large amount of money that was made of him during the early years. However, these complexities laid him the foundation for navigating through the art world, offering valuable lessons in resilience and understanding how artists are treated.
Graffiti: The Late Introduction and Fine Art of the Streets
While RJ’s involvement in the art scene dates back to his early teens, his shot to fame in the graffiti world came later, in his late 20s. Living in the mountains limited his access to traditional graffiti spaces, but a trip to the United States, particularly Los Angeles, sparked transformation. Witnessing the vibrant street art in LA probed RJ’s interest, leading to his eventual immersion in graffiti.
Creating an iconic character in collaboration with fellow artists like Porky and Riz, RJ eventually found his unique style. The fine art of graffiti, as he described it, extends far beyond the painting itself. It involved finesse in navigating the streets, evading authorities, and even finessing the court when caught. RJ sheds light on the unseen challenges, emphasizing the craftsmanship behind the graffiti that may go unnoticed by those not deeply involved in the culture.
Rules, Recognition, and Changing Dynamics in Graffiti
As a veteran of the graffiti scene, RJ addresses the evolving nature of unspoken graffiti rules. He cautions against misinterpreting traditional guidelines set decades ago, stressing the significant changes in the graffiti landscape. In a world where graffiti can attract a diverse range of individuals, from genuinely passionate artists to those with a more sinister hidden agenda, maintaining integrity and respecting the unwritten rules become crucial. Reflecting on local legends in his neighborhood and city, RJ pays tribute to those who influenced him. “Rest In Peace Gane 2, let’s leave it at that,” he says, acknowledging the impact of those who shaped the graffiti scene around him.
Graffiti as Therapy, Community, and Escape
Beyond the artistic aspects of graffiti, RJ delves into the profound impact of graffiti on individuals. Besides the ‘high risk, high reward’ mentality, graffiti serves as a form of therapy, an escape from chaotic circumstances, and a means of building a community of like-minded individuals. RJ emphasizes the authenticity within the graffiti community, where individuals have overcome adversity, providing real-world answers to those seeking guidance.
Darlinghurst’s New Skateboard Hub: World-Famous Westsyde
Transitioning from the world of art to broader creative endeavors, RJ Williams stepped outside his graffiti box and played a pivotal role in the establishment of the World Famous Westsyde. Originally based in the inner west area, this skateboard hub found a new home in Darlinghurst, courtesy of the City of Sydney’s creative spaces program. The move to Darlinghurst not only brought a change in location but a shift in dynamic. As RJ explains it, “Being here has already given us better access to our market. This space is awesome, and we are surrounded by other creative spaces.” The Oxford St shopfront featured a custom-built indoor halfpipe, implementing a unique atmosphere where customers don’t just make a purchase and leave, but instead spend hours immersed in the old-school skate shop vibe.
Balancing Artistic Creation and Commercial Success
As a creator deeply involved in various artistic pursuits, RJ often shares insights into the delicate balance between making art and navigating the commercial aspects of the industry. His early successes, including collaborations with renowned brands, positioned him in the limelight. However, RJ’s approach to self-promotion differs from the norm. “I don’t have that animal in me that is constantly sending out decks and begging for work,” he admits. His unconventional perspective on self-promotion, while not a judgment on other’s strategies, reflects a personal ethos.
Amidst these reflections on the commercial side of art, RJ acknowledges the physical toll his creative pursuits have taken on his body. Two surgeries on his lower spine in the past 12 months have prompted a shift in focus. RJ shares, “I’m not seeking anything that requires heavy lifting machinery, or giant laborious days out in the sun.” This shift in physicality hints at a redefined approach to his future artistic projects.
Legal Battles: The Unlikely Clash with Madonna
One of the more controversial and yet, intriguing aspects of RJ William’s career involves a legal clash with none other than Madonna. The story unfolds when RJ noticed similarities between his symbol and an ad promoting Madonna’s perfume in London. He said that the “M” logo used on the singer’s new Truth or Dare perfume bears too much resemblance to the symbol he had been painting and using on clothing for the past eight years. The logo was trademarked previously, and this infringement raised the question of integrity on himself as an artist. RJ turned the table but released a cease and desist, orchestrating a press release that garnered global attention. Within a week, his symbol adorned a massive banner near the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles California, leading Madonna to cease the use of the similar symbol promptly.
Current Projects and Future Endeavors
Pursuing a journey of healing after his recent surgery, RJ still provides us a glimpse into his ongoing and upcoming projects. Despite the challenges posed by nerve damage in his spine, he remains involved in a project at the Alex Hotel in Sydney. The hotel’s patience and understanding have allowed RJ to work at his own pace as he heals.
The Current State of Graffiti in Australia: An Artist’s Perspective
When questioned about the current state of graffiti in Australia, RJ Williams currently nestled in the bush for his healing process, humbly refrains from making any definitive statements. The current state of graffiti is not for him to say but he notes that graffiti is more accessible than ever before. Despite this accessibility, challenges persist, with many failed gallerists attempting to transition into muralists and potentially overshadowing authentic graffiti.
Looking Forward: A Healing Artist with Diverse Projects
As RJ navigates the complexities of healing, both physically and creatively, his projects continue to unfold. In addition to the ongoing project at the Alex Hotel, RJ is in the midst of testing a new snowboard and developing clothing ideas for outdoor activities. The challenges posed by recent surgeries have prompted contemplation of building a studio and a personal retreat. This project promises cabins and serene spaces for creativity. This venture, expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, reflects RJ’s commitment to creating a space that goes beyond his immediate artistic endeavors.
RJ Williams’ artistic journey unfolds as a tale of creativity, resilience, and adaptation. From the early days of sketching on paper tablecloths to becoming a notable figure in the graffiti scene, his experiences reflect a dynamic engagement with the arts. The establishment of World Famous Westsyde and his involvement in the Darlinghurst skateboarding hub showcase a commitment to growing creative communities. The legal tussle with Madonna adds a fascinating layer to RJ’s narrative, highlighting the gray area of art and commerce. As he grapples with physical challenges, RJ’s approach to art and life evolves. Ongoing projects such as the Alex Hotel collaboration and the ambitious retreat plan proves that nothing can stop RJ from moving forward. In RJ Williams, Australia has not only gained a graffiti luminary but a creative force with a story that transcends the streets. As he heals and explores new artistic frontiers, the tale and contributions of RJ Williams continues to unfold, leaving behind an indelible mark on the canvas of Australian art.
Check out our interview:
How Old were you when you first started exploring your creative side?
RJ Williams: I was drawing all the time as a kid, all the time, so I guess as long as O can remember I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid and they’d always encourage it, we’d go out to dinner and they would always request a paper table cloth so I could draw on it, I was 12 when my first illustration made it onto a production tee.
Let’s talk a little bit about your art. So, you do graffiti? Do you fuck with fine art as well?
RJ: Ya from time to time, several years back I did a posthumous collaboration with Helmut Newton, that was definitely more in the fine art realm, I have a love of working with basically any medium, and challenging myself with new materials to work with, like when I created the process to paint orchids for acid flowers.
When did you first start getting into art and graffiti?
RJ: Art was always there, my family don’t really have a huge background in the arts, so there was never any push in a particular direction, to be honest, I think graffiti became appealing through hip-hop, and skate culture for me, in the early 90’s there was a lot of cross over stuff, Nick Ripz was a huge influence in that regard, and American magazines.
As a creative, your natural impulse is just to make stuff, but then getting it to people and selling it is another skill set. How have you found the balance between these two things as a creator trying to live off his art and creative work?
RJ: Yes and No, I’ve had some huge successes and worked with some huge brands, but I don’t have that animal in me that is constantly sending out decks and begging for work, likewise I don’t have the drive to constantly shill my work, I find that behaviour is embarrassing, but I get it that’s what a lot of people have to do to survive or to get their name and work out there, so I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle it’s just not for me. Beyond all of that my body doesn’t like it anymore, I’ve had two surgeries on my lower spine in the past 12 months so I’m not seeking anything that requires heavy lifting machinery, or giant laborious days out in the sun, in short a proper mural from me will be very rare in the future.
You used to snowboard. Can you tell us about that and how it affected the way you look at the world?
RJ: Ya, I was there at the beginning of snowboarding really taking off in Australia, I still stay engaged with the community although the back injury stuff has made snow time super limited, looking back at it that period it was nothing but creation, whether it be new graphics, new industrial design, video and television production, event management, sales marketing, so ya as a small kid I was just immersed in that.
Do you really see a difference between street art and fine art? And where would you place yourself in that? in that? You know, that middle ground?
RJ: I’m a creative, from fashion to florals tangible or digital, Graffiti is just a small part of what makes me tick, but when I’m doing graffiti that’s what it is Graffiti, everything else is something else.
What do you personally think about the traditional rules of graffiti?
RJ: They’re there for good reason, I respect those rules wherever I can and in turn, the community has always treated me well. Can 100% guarantee any young people starting, fuck around, you will find out, just be humble don’t fuck with anyone.
Who were some of the local legends in your neighborhood and city growing up in art and graffiti?
RJ: If I start saying names, I might forget some and feel shit, Rest In Peace Gane 2 let’s leave it at that.
Do you prefer painting on canvas or in the streets?
RJ: They both have a time and place, but it will always be the streets, that feeling of getting your stuff out to thousands of random people you most likely will never meet is pretty cool. painting in the street can be way more social too, out in the sun with a few beers and some beats having a paint with the lads is the grouse.
What is the current state of graffiti in Australia?
RJ: Not really for me to say, I’m deep in the bush at the moment, healing from my most recent surgery, what I will say is it’s more accessible than ever before, but we still have issues with failed gallerists wanting to become muralists and take away from real graffiti, be it spots or opportunities, and that sucks.
Legend has it that you once sued Madonna for copyright infringement. Can you tell us about how that went down?
RJ: Was weird a friend texted me a bus stop ad from London where she was using a similar symbol to mine on a perfume she was trying to flog, I sent a cease and desist, then a press release, next day I was in every news outlet on the planet, which was pretty funny, by the end of that same week we had the symbol up next to the Hollywood sign on a 100×50 foot banner, needless to say, she stopped using the symbol immediately after that.
What are some projects you’ve got going on right now?
RJ: I’m healing, the nerve damage in my spine was serious. Beyond that I’m halfway through a fun job at the Alex Hotel in Sydney, they’ve been super patient with me not being able to do too much at once as I heal, and have let me just chip away at it, I’ve got a new snowboard I’m testing, some clothing ideas for outdoor stuff I need to work more on, and like I’m old now so I’m thinking about building a decent studio, and my own little retreat out here in the middle of nowhere, it’s gonna take at least 12-18 months, when it’s done there will be guest cabins and what not, I think the majority of my subconscious creative mind is engaged in that project at the moment, but I have a list of a million things I wanna work on once I have a proper space again.
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