Storytelling is not a one size fits all medium. There are themes, mediums, and of course the visionary. For Fabian Williams storytelling takes place in a variety of mediums. And they all depend on his mood, current events, or his current surroundings. His work almost chronicles his own journey and shows a pattern of growth, resilience, and constant discovery.
Williams says that he doesn’t ever remember not being an artist. It was something that has always been a part of life, even though the canvas may have changed a time or two. After being admitted to East Carolina University, he set out to become an illustrator. But after joining an ad agency, he quickly realized his first lesson in the business of art – you become much more valuable to a company if you are able to move around and contribute to different projects. “My strategy for staying employed was to learn as many creative skills as I could”, he says. At the time he was more of a designer than an illustrator. But he quickly taught himself to use PhotoShop, InDesign, voiceover software, and whatever else he could put his hands on. This gave him the flexibility to work his way up within several different organizations, taking him all the way to the West Coast to work on projects with a diverse set of colleagues that have influenced many of his projects to date.
For most black families, monetizing an artistic craft is rare. Fabian tells us about a time very early on in his career when his Aunt suggested that he remove his face from his branding and marketing so he wouldn’t get pegged as a “black artist”. For most black families, especially those in the South, artistry was a luxury, and it was still an unknown territory. If we were going to allow our nieces and nephews to dabble in the arts, we wanted to make sure that there was a bit of safety attached to it. Williams’ aunt felt as though his emergence as a freelance artist shouldn’t rock the boat too much. And although much of his work today is distinctly “black” and oftentimes political, he thoroughly understood exactly what she was saying, and he eventually realized that it came from a place of genuine love.
And true to form, the pitfalls did come. Williams recalls a time where he was so broke that he spent many days and nights in his Atlanta apartment with no electricity and no food. It’s the visual that many of us see when our loved ones tell us that they want to do anything except get a stable city job. The visual that many don’t see is the artist who bounces back not because of their creative skills, but because of their business acumen. Williams knew that in order to succeed that he needed to approach artistry from the angle of a business owner. He needed to network, create a following, and he needed to be willing to take chances. He knew that he couldn’t wait for people to give him money; he had to create great works of art and know that the money would come. This is when he learned how to strategically monetize his efforts and energy, and eventually went on to teach at local schools and universities, showing other young artists how to create a business minded approach to art and storytelling.
Williams says that his circle was always encouraging and never let him quit. “I believe that the work I’m doing now is because for black people, we have to see it. We’re not shown these things because once we start doing these things, it’s over”. He says that allowing himself to be visible has influenced other young artists to create a profitable career in the arts. Williams says the common school of thought for many of the white decision makers was “We don’t see Black people as an efficient creative”, and reminds us that the thought is crazy because all black people do is make stuff”.
Fabian Williams has worked with some of the best designers in the world. And some that are just now discovering him consider him to be one of the best in the world. But ironically, Williams feels as though he is still very much creating what his future looks like. After going viral on social media for his internationally recognized mural of Activist and Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, Williams has been in high demand and has been commissioned to create murals of famous black activists such as Stacey Abrams and Hosea Williams. His latest work of art is an extensively designed mural that spans the campus of Morehouse College.
Although he sees a lucrative future for the work that is allowing some people to finally discover his brilliance, Williams sees an open possibility for the future of both creating and teaching future generations of storytellers and artisans. His view of the art world as a whole is that the possibilities are endless because the future is literally and figuratively an open book.
For more information on Fabian Williams visit his website at www.occasionalsuperstar.com