Friday Artist, Willie Little, Nevada City
What is your career and your current job title? I am a self-employed artist (multimedia installation artist and storyteller) who does a variety of work that fosters my creativity. The work ranges from conducting personal history workshops in area public schools (I have conducted workshops at Bitney Springs High School two years in a row), free-lance displays at specialty shops, producing commissioned arts pieces and traveling my installations and exhibitions to museums around the country.
Describe in a sentence or two your art. My work celebrates and embraces my history. I have always been drawn to the passage of time recorded by history – or by traces of decay like the richness of organic decay found in rusted steel or in farm implements. Overall I would say the work truly celebrates the extraordinary nature of the everyday – the unsung (people and things often taken for granted).
How long have you been working in this discipline? I have been working on the discipline all my life … The sum total of my experiences are all evident in my work – from my early days as a child growing up on a tobacco farm in Eastern North Carolina to my life now as I live in Northern California.
What do you hope to accomplish? Some of my artwork often tells a story. With the more-abstract pieces like the work at Julie Baker Fine Art, my goal is to seduce the audience to see the beauty of the “organic decay.” That way, the audience has the freedom to see the infinite, see themselves or even draw upon their own history.
Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive? Much of the work I have created has a cultural and historical context inspired by a childhood memory of growing up in the rural south. In 1996, I produced an installation, a re-creation of my father’s grocery store-turned-illegal liquor house, “Juke Joint.” It includes a replica of the 1950s/1960s 350-square-foot shotgun shack and studies of the colorful “patrons” of my father’s place of business. The installation is a slice of rural life. The installation has traveled around the country since 1997. Last year, it traveled to the Smithsonian Institute’s Arts and Industries Gallery. Over 305,000 visitors passed through to see it in three months! My goal in creating the work was to tell my personal story, but I found that my very specific story became a more universal story. People from various backgrounds and races thought I was telling their story. Since then, my overall goal is to produce work that seduces, inspires and enlightens those who are open to the experience.
Where do you want to be with your art? Last year, the pinnacle of my success was to have the Juke Joint installation travel to the Smithsonian. I am scheduled to participate in an International Assemblage Show in Berlin, Germany, this September. If I could look into a crystal ball, I would like to see my work collected by museums and collectors from around the globe, see myself making a living solely on the work I produce, and – this is the biggie! – I would like to see my cultural and historical work become a part of the greater discussion of contemporary art and life in this century.
What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? The most favorite part of my endeavors is hunting for found objects when I am working on a project for my own or for “personal history” workshops with students. The found objects simply find me. When I am in the “zone,” I can potentially find them practically anywhere like at flea markets or in the trash.
What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? My least favorite is having a constant lack of funds to keep producing work. It can be tough. However, the emotional rush I get from seeing a completed project makes it worth the sacrifice.
Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? I would not wish this career to my worst enemy. The constant rejection can be overwhelming. The sacrifices of financial stability are not for everyone. I only recommend art as a career to those who are committed to it for the long haul. The glamorous mystique of “the artist” is only an illusion, a mirage. But if you have a trust fund, then have a go at it.
Willie Little’s works are in the “Lazy Days: Revolving Group Show” on display at Julie Baker Fine Art (120 N. Auburn St. in Grass Valley) through Oct. 23. Viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and, for August only, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Call 273-0910 for more information.
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