Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Merriam-Webster defines “Ascension” as, “the act of rising or ascending; especially: the act of moving to a higher or more powerful position.” Brittany Williams believes the word describes her experience of stepping into the world of art over the last five years.
Brittany, known for her local work with Wall\Therapy, is an athlete-turned-artist from Rochester, NY. She describes herself as “an athlete first,” and graduated from the University of Maine after a four-year stint with their Division I basketball team. Once it became time to decide what was next, Brittany was faced with the choice to go pro, or to try something new. The signs were clear, and luckily for the local art community, Brittany chose to pursue a life in art.
Brittany didn’t pick up drawing in college, but it wasn’t until then that it became a serious career path. She says, “I was a pretty active kid growing up. Art was something I did as a hobby. If I couldn’t go outside, couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t play my games, I would just draw.” She would draw out of magazines or the Democrat and Chronicle, copying the people and characters. From then on, she continued drawing in her free time, and took available art classes like illustration and AP Art in high school. At that point, though, drawing was still just something Brittany considered a hobby: “All the kids in my class were really good. I looked up to them and they pretty much inspired me to push my art further. I still was doing the same stuff -- celebrity art and athletes -- while they were doing actual pieces that meant something to them.” But at the time, Brittany’s art meant something to her, too.
During her last year of college, Brittany was going through a stressful time, struggling with the decision to play pro and the losing streak her team was going through. So, she went to the bookstore and bought herself some cheap craft paper and colored pencils. She says, “That was my stress reliever. It took my mind off of basketball. It was my little sanctuary; I would be in my room, doing these drawings, and I started to really build up a portfolio.” Brittany put some of her work on Facebook and got a positive response from family, friends, and similar pages. Finally, during her senior banquet, her coach suggested that she show some of her work. Brittany explains, “I was a little nervous because it was just something I did on the side. But I did, and everyone was amazed by it-- they didn’t even know. In the athlete questionnaires I would always say ‘I like to draw,’ but people don’t pay attention to that. They only care about how many points you score per game.”
To Brittany’s surprise, two women inquired about her works, a Michael Jackson piece and a piece about child soldiers she had done for a class. She had no idea what to charge the ladies, and asked for a mere $25 dollars. Luckily for her, the women ended up giving $75 for each piece. Brittany says, “Boom. That was it. That was the push for me to do art. That’s my new path. And from there, it’s just been smooth sailing.”
It took some time for Brittany to convince her family and friends that this was the right choice for her. She says, “It was new to them. They encouraged me to keep going, but they didn’t really understand because sports and art don’t mix. It’s usually one or the other.” After assuming she would continue her basketball career for so long, it was just new to them. Brittany continues, “I mean, in the black community, period, being an artist isn’t pushed like that. When we don’t see ourselves in it, we don’t know what it is.” Her main goal, though, was just to convince her mother. After years of taking her to galleries and showing off her work, Brittany thinks her mother now understands: “She’s my number one supporter, so making sure she understood was my number one priority. Now she even gets on me to get me painting when I’m not doing anything,” Brittany laughs.
Brittany completed her Wall\Therapy Mural the Summer of 2015. Prior to that, she hadn’t really picked up a paintbrush outside of the classroom. She had no knowledge of how to prep a wall, or how to measure her work on a large scale. She just sort of went for it. She says, “When I first saw it, I was overwhelmed. I thought it would be some small corner or something! I would ask other artists, ‘What do I do?’ And they told me to just do my best. Their encouragement really helped me figure it out.” Brittany’s primary goal was to get people from the community love it as well, and she’s had a fantastic response.
Traveling to Berlin the following year with Wall\Therapy and Urban Nation was another major accomplishment for Brittany. There, she experienced her first time abroad, and her first chance to paint with aerosols- something she had always wanted to try. She, again, looked to other artists for advice: “They knew that I wanted to learn, and were willing to help me out,” Brittany explains. She continues, “It was an amazing experience, but the food was probably the best thing about the trip. Like, it was amazing.”
Looking back Brittany says, “It took me a long time to get to this spot, but I’m pretty glad about the decision I made. I would be miserable if I did an extra four or five years playing basketball. I would’ve never known that I could get this far, or that I had this much talent.” Brittany now works as an assistant coach at Roberts Wesleyan College and for Roc Paint Division in addition to making and selling her own work.
We will be celebrating the opening of Brittany’s first solo, Ascension: The Works of Brittany Williams, on Saturday May 13th from 6-9pm. Refreshments (and fun!) will be provided.