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Noah Williams on His Found-Object Masks

Ogun, found objects and mixed media, by Noah Williams. Winner of the Eleanor Boudreau Jordan Award for Best in Show

Found-object art — the reuse of items as art materials — is all about seeing things in a different light.

Artist Noah Williams, who once worked as a garbage man, has honed that ability to see an object’s future life. Ogun is the latest of his masks to win an award at The Art League. We chatted with Williams about how his masks come to be and where Ogun fits in with the others:

How did you first get into found object sculpture, and why have you stuck with it?
Noah Williams: I first began creating sculptures from found objects a few years after I graduated from high school. I worked as a garbage man for awhile. My observations of rusty metal, nails, bottle caps took on a whole new meaning when one windy day, the swirl of debris gave me a vision of what could be created with the simplicity of found objects. I continue working with found objects because there is always a challenge of how I will use a new collection of scraps, as well as there is always an endless supply of refuse. Every sculpture will be totally different depending on what I have collected.

Noah Williams discusses his 2013 exhibit at The Art League, “One Man’s Trash”

Where do you find your materials?
I pretty much find everything on the street, driving around and things just catch my eye. Crazy, I have an eye for things people just walk right by.

What do the masks mean to you?
I love reading about African culture and the significance of why and how the various art forms are used. Masks are believed to represent a spirit of the ancestors that possesses the wearer of the mask. I believe while I am creating these masks, I am tapping into the the strength, love, and wisdom of my ancestors. When I am working, I go into a meditative state of consciousness. I can feel the power of my ancestors communicating with me, giving me strength, wisdom, and the love that I need to carry on their spirit for the future generations.

How is this mask different from the others?
The spirit “Ogun” comes from Yoruba, he is a warrior and a powerful spirit of metal, tools, and weapons. This spirit mask represents the fortitude, strength, and motivation we need to embody ourselves when the doubts of daily living are overwhelming. Each mask that I make has its own meaning and symbolism. I was specifically drawn to to interpreting this spirit into a mask because he also represents the ability to clear your spiritual path and helps you to progress.

Ogun (detail) by Noah Williams

What’s your favorite found object to work with?
I love working with metal. The variety of textures, colors, and patterns that can be created with metal fascinates me. While creating Ogun, I was specifically inspired because of his symbolism of also being a spirit of metal.

What’s your creative process like, from an idea to a completed piece?
When I find scraps of metal, shells, fabrics, or other found objects, I lay them out in front of me. I usually get a vision of what I’ll create. I will begin with a base made from chicken wire and then reinforce it with strips of metal, shaping it as I go. There are multiple layers of wire, metal, and fabric that are woven into the the base with wire. Once the mask is sturdy and shaped to my liking, I then begin weaving shells, bullet shells, bottle caps, hair, and whatever other found objects I’ve decided to incorporate into the design of the mask. There maybe as many as six or seven layers of materials built up on the masks before I decide it’s finished.

Amazon Piranha by Noah Williams, from his 2013 exhibit “One Man’s Trash.”

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I can remember loving to create art since I was very young. I was always encouraged to spend my free time drawing or painting instead of looking at TV. In my senior year of high school, I realized that I was very talented artistically after being being selected to be in an honors class. I have been working ever since to stay focused on my dream of becoming a successful artist.

What are you working on now?
I am working on an exceptionally large mask at the moment that will not only incorporate found objects, but paintings as well. I haven’t done a lot of painting lately, so I’m playing with concepts of how I will incorporate my paintings into my sculptures.

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