Billy the Artist. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. His name is Billy. He’s an artist. But as simple as the name sounds, the work is anything but. It’s in your face. It knocks you back. It’s a kaleidescope of color and puzzle-like images that celebrate the human spirit. And Billy creates a lot of it using Sharpie markers.
“Create your own reality” is Billy’s mantra. Billy captures the energy and power of the city around him, creating what he calls “Urban Primitive” art. He has been embraced by both the fine and commercial art worlds, with openings at such prestigious venues as the Forbes Gallery in New York, Casa Decor Miami, Art Basel Miami, openings in Chelsea, Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, Orlando, and internationally at The Carib Fine Art Gallery on the island of Curacao. His commercial clients include designs for MTV, Suzuki and Hyundai,. He’s been featured at (don’t hold your breath here – the list is a long one) The NY International Auto Show, LA & Chicago Auto Shows, Microsoft, The New Now Next Awards, Chock Full o Nuts Coffee, The New York Mets, The Sony Music and Film Studios, Woodstock 99, Delaguarda, The Rio Casino in Las Vegas, murals for The Broadway and London productions of RENT, Ducati Motorcycles and a special limited edition bottle design for Mountain Dew.
Billy’s Public Art projects have been sponsored by (exhale here) such clients as Entertainment Weekly, The American Kennel Club, Imodium, The Shubert Organization, Epic Records, Starbucks, Spike Lee/Pizza Hut, BR Guest Restaurants, Bike Nashbar, and Columbia Pictures. Billy has been featured internationally in such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, New York Post, Juxtapose Magazine, and appearances on Fox and Friends, MTV, VH-1, CNN, Discovery, Japan TV, and 60 Minutes to name a few.
He’s has also done artwork for several philanthropic organizations such as The Fresh Air Fund, Covenant House, The Harvey Milk High School, JCC of Manhattan, and his work has been auctioned at Sothebys and Christies.
Okay, just breathe…
It’s amazing to see what Sharpie can create in the hands of a master. Read on to learn (and see) more about Billy and his work:
How did you get started as an artist?
I started painting and selling my work on the streets and in clubs in NYC. It was when I was hired to paint 60 feet of black and white murals for the Broadway production of RENT that my life completely changed and catapulted my career to galleries, public art projects, and commercial gigs around the world.
Tell us a little about your genre. Are there lots of artists who do what you do? Where are they concentrated? What makes your work stand out from the rest?
I call my work “Urban Primitive Pop”—people say if Keith Haring, Picasso, and Peter Max got together and had some drinks, you would have my style. I’m self-taught and believe my work stands out because it represents who I am and how I look at life. My work is colorful and black and white. It may look complicated, but is simple. It is positive and energetic. It makes people happy.
How would you describe your style?
As I said, I call my work “Urban Primitive Pop,” a kaleidoscope of puzzle-like images that get in your face and celebrate the diversity of the human spirit.
How did you come to use Sharpie markers in your work?
I’ve had various sketchbooks for the last 25 years and used Sharpies to create a diary of my life through drawings.
What about Sharpie markers makes them your medium of choice? Is it the variety of tip sizes, colors, other? Please describe how you use Sharpie as an art tool.
I love the variety of tip sizes—I use primarily black Sharpies – my work is either in black and white or the color is always black outlined. In doing projects on the computer I first sketch out the designs with Sharpie, take a digital photo of it, put it in the computer, and then use the computer to fill in the color. All my design concepts always begin with a black Sharpie.
Tell us about some of your own favorite work. What seems to get the most attention or is most coveted by others? Why do you think people are drawn to your work?
I’ve enjoyed working on some of my custom car designs for Hyundai and Suzuki–both those projects, which were for the International Auto Shows, were sketched out, freehand, on the cars with black Sharpie—no mistakes could be made–I liked that challenge and they turned out awesome. The custom design for Mountain Dew also got a lot of attention and was real exciting to do. I think people are drawn to my work because of the energy it gives. They are vibrant, they usually tell a story and they tend to make people happy. I like that.
Can you describe the process you go through to create your work? How many hours does it take? Is it a free-hand approach or do you create a template in advance?
In my color paintings and designs I sketch out the design free hand with Sharpie and then add the color and then go back and outline the painting in black paint. The black and white paintings are done freehand with black paint. My initial design work is always sketched out with black Sharpie—I tend to design and paint fast–it just flows and I like to work straight through with no breaks-it makes the finish more rewarding.
What inspires you?
My inspirations come from people, music, and the vibe and feel of New York City.
What statement are you trying to make, if any? What do you want people take from your art?
I want my work to make people happy and not take life too seriously. Life is too short to be unhappy. Live life for today and have fun. I have two big philosophies — Create Your Own Reality and No Plan B.
Sharpie’s tagline is “Write Out Loud!” Does this apply to your work and if so, how?
Yes, this does apply to my work—I’m all about getting my work out to more and more people. Be bold and not afraid to share your vision and who you are with more people. “Write Out Loud” means to me that you don’t have to shout out loud for people to be inspired, sometimes inspiration can come from a sketch or a design and that can be more powerful than anything. “Write Out Loud” your vision and you can change people’s lives or simply make them smile and be happy.
See and learn more about Billy the Artist here.