Willie Saint James
December 26th, 2017
Willie Saint James is a Nom d' Plume I created in 2010 to offer affordable art to all. At its inception I promised to reveal my true identity in December of 2017. Below is an explanation of my experience.
Part of me wanted a marching band and confetti canons to accompany this announcement. But, in the end, I decided a simple post here would suffice. When I began this project on April 10th, 2010 I had no idea what it would become or what it would come to mean to me. I made the first 8x8” Willie Saint James painting as a last-minute birthday gift for a woman who has since become a very dear friend and inspiration to me personally. But, the most significant change since creating Willie Saint James has to be the loss of my father. In 2010, he was alive. He was a regular visitor in my studio. It was rare for a day to pass without his stopping by to help or to sit and talk as I worked. If you have a Willie dated 2010 - 2013, it was framed by him. For the most part, my father didn’t quite “get” art as a whole. Although not adverse to risk himself he worried about my choice of life’s work. Ironically, Willie Saint James would eventually help him see who I truly was. When I quit my last job in 1997 he asked me what I was going to do for a living. I said I had no idea except that I wanted to get paid to be me. He came back quickly with a very genuine: “How the hell are you going to do that?!” I said I didn’t know but I wanted to follow my ideas and whatever luck would be bestowed on me. He wasn’t comforted by that response either. Shortly after that, a month into my under-employment, I was mistaken for another artist by a woman in a yoga class. She put her hand on my shoulder, and said: “Thank god I’ve run into you. Are you still doing decorative painting?” I said: “Yes, I am.” A small lie that lead to a very lucrative and liberating career as a decorative painter. From 1997-2005 I followed that one vein begun in that Boston yoga studio. In the Spring of 2005 I decided to leave decorative painting behind and become a “serious painter”. I had been making paintings on and off since 2001. But, in July and August that Summer I committed myself to the studio for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. My paintings began selling. Within a year I would have my own gallery in Newport, RI. By the Spring of 2007 I was invited to be part of the Art Party Show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This ultimately lead to their acquiring a painting for their permanent collection and the attention of many collectors. The momentum of that initial two-month commitment in 2005 had changed my life. But, the most memorable moment for me came in 2012. While packing a huge order of Willie Saint James paintings and preparing for my first solo show in New York my father, holding one of the sky-scapes, took a moment, looked around and said: “You did it. You did exactly what you set out to do in Boston.” I am reluctant to display such a personally profound moment so publicly. However, it is precisely that moment that best illustrates what painting has meant to me because it was a true connection. As human beings, there is no thing as important as to been seen and recognized for who we truly are. Looking back, I realize every painting I have ever made was a bid to connect and communicate. When my other work started to sell and rise in price, I saw many people who supported me early on could no longer afford to buy my paintings. I had always made the imaginary landscapes as part of my creative process. With my growing popularity, I abandoned making them thinking it was incongruent to sell one piece for $50 and another for $10,0000. Unfortunately, without them my work suffered. So, I created Willie Saint James to offer an affordable alternative without reducing the perceived value of the other. To date I have made over 17,000 8”x8” paintings. While I can hardly look at one of these small paintings without thinking of my father and the knowledge he knew the truest part of me, I know also thousands of people look at them every day and experience a similar connection even if they don’t know me at all. For all of those who have reached out to me and shared photos of the paintings hanging in their homes, I am grateful.
I live in Los Angeles now. I recently opened a studio at 2308 Hyperion Avenue a few blocks from Walt Disney’s original studio. I am in the finishing stages of illustrating my first children’s book. I continue to make paintings and “get paid to be me.” Not a day goes by I don’t think of my father. He’s gone now but not a single thing I make is free from his influence. He was the most generous and genuine person I’ve ever known. He taught me how to be ME. He showed me the most important thing in the world are the friends and family that surround us. AND, he had a pretty high regard for the friend you may make tomorrow because he saw every stranger as a potential friend. Today would have been his 85th birthday.
Thank you very much for the most wonderful experience of my life to date.