Michael Willis is a man with a technicolor mind. Part of him seems to live in a forever sixties surreal existence populated with cut-outs, newspaper clippings and Rorschach inkings dipped in acid, while the other (more physical) parts are hard at work documenting all that seeps through the cracks in his consciousness. Without quite knowing the size or placements of his works, its rather hard to get a grip on them… tiny 530 x 372 images just don’t do them justice. You need to be awash in Michael Willis, drowning in his hot, bubbly mind-bath. Let’s see what we can do about that…
Your work is a mixture of early 90’s clipboard art, comic book frames, newspaper clippings, T-shirt air brush stylizations, simulacrum lithographs… okay, a lot of things. What’s it all about?
My work follows many paths, but which all start from the same place. I work methodically but always organically. My personal and commercial work both draw from themes in pop culture; music, film, text and design. Everything I see filter’s through me and influences my work, consciously and subconsciously. I like to experiment with different techniques and processes on a daily basis. If you work in the same way using the same medium or style everyday, it’s easy for the work to become stale. I like having a few projects on at a time allowing for ideas to feed into one another, for me experimenting is exciting and this energy translates into the image for people to see.
I’m seeing you all over the Internet lately. Are the stars aligned just right for you or what?
I’ve had some great coverage lately; it feels good when people like what you do. It makes me want to explore all the ideas and make all the things that haven’t yet seen the light of day, It’s a really good motivator.
Your working with Lindsey Gooden on Panther Club, a new multi-disciplinary design project. How did that come about and what is it?
Panther Club came about as a platform to share the experimental work that both Lindsey and I were working on at the time. We had just finished our illustration degrees in Bournemouth and were producing some really great experimental work. The problem was everything that we were making was either getting lost in a pile of paper or was tucked away in some dark corner of a computer.
We wanted to document this stuff, giving it a purpose and a place to exist, so we set up a blog called Panther Club. We originally wanted the blog to be a place just for our work and experiments, but we kept seeing such great work from all spans of time, we wanted share this. Now we like to post a mix of progressive, contemporary design with important lost cultural artifacts of print, music, psychedelia and design.
That’s the blog part, but you may ask what’s the multi-disciplinary bit? Well the most important thing for us has always been the work, books, posters, zines and exhibitions, anything that results in an idea becoming something physical and tangible. We’ve got a pop-up exhibition coming up very soon with some good friends in Brick Lane and Lindsey and I have just bought a Risograph printer. So expect to see the launch of Panther Club Press later this year!
I see a lot of music in your work (although that might just be my synesthesia), any bands in particular play a role in you formulating your ideas?
I listen to a lot of music. My life is drenched in sounds from a lot of different times and places. I’m interested in music that takes you on a journey both musically and lyrically; I guess this comes through in my work. As far as bands go I like older stuff like Hendrix, the Doors, Pink Floyd, David Crosby, Cymande, Velvet Underground, Muddy Waters, Talking Heads and Dylan and more current stuff like Black Moth Super Rainbow, Hercules and Love Affair, Entrance, Fever Ray, Neon Indian, Why? I’ve gotten into mixes a lot recently to, make sure you check out NonCollective.com for some really great, regularly updated ear candy.
What’s the goal… the ULTIMATE goal?
The ULTIMATE goal consists of a number of things, a lifestyle more than anything overtly material. I would like to have a large studio with Risograph and screen-printing facilities. Working on exciting projects, collaborating with good people, put on more exhibitions etc but without the restraint of money. So many great projects don’t ever get to leave the ground because of this. I would also love to have a business selling posters, Art prints and other culturally exciting things a little like ‘East Totem West’ a hippie company in the sixties (although hardly anybody has heard of them they produced some amazing work) and maybe have all this in various locations, perhaps London, San – Francisco and Paris.