What kind of music goes with a video of sitting on the toilet naked while eating peanut butter out of a jar? That question — back in the late 1990s — ultimately led St. Louis artist Brett Williams to the sound sculptures he creates today.
While at the School of The Art Institute in Chicago, Williams launched what he calls the Brett Commercials, a video series that includes “Brett Lives Alone,” featuring his bathroom snacking against a whistling-clanking soundtrack.
“I make things most people don’t. I kind of push the limits,” Williams said.
Time and the rising prominence of reality TV eroded the relevance of Williams' artistic commentaries on self-promotion. But the music Williams created for the spots endured. Eventually he paired his sounds with animation in a continuous loop, as in his 2012 “Memory Old and New” which showed at Bruno David Gallery.
Now, the video’s given way to just the sound, or more specifically, to sound-making. One noisy project under construction in his mid-town studio in the Pace Framing building is called “Consonance and Dissonance.” It consists of a rotating cable pushing around a dangling microphone that clangs against metal pot lids, “like a flaccid phallus.”
“It wants to do something but it can’t really quite do anything,” Williams said. “It’s the Hollywood leading man kind of thing, the futility of macho behavior.”
Here's a look at Williams' "Consonance and Dissonance," along with another piece exploring "the whole idea of people wanting to be rock stars." (Story continues below.)
Growing up mostly in North County, Williams was the kind of kid who yearned to know how things work. He’s still tinkering as he figures out how to create the electronic components of his sculptures.
“Taking them apart, breaking a lot of stuff, spending a lot of money,” he said.
It’s a job that can make him feel like the lonely Maytag repairman. “People don’t understand what it takes to do this. It’s not like painting or sculpture,” Williams explained.
Williams' work has also been exhibited at the Luminary and the Contemporary Art Museum. But his art is not well-understood by many in St. Louis.
“It’s still kind of stuck in the '80s when it comes to video and sound art,” Williams said.
It’s not easy to be ahead of your time, Williams said. Or to make it as an artist. His part-time teaching at St. Louis Community College and occasional art sales help Williams and his wife, photographer and STLCC instructor Jamie Kreher, pay the bills.
St. Louis is more supportive of artists than it’s ever been, Williams pointed out, with growing opportunities for grants. If only he could find an interested collector.
When Williams showed recently in Chicago, he connected to someone who knows someone who might want to collect his work. That kind of networking and a 2012 writeup in “Art in America” magazine help a lot.
“If I can get this work seen outside of St. Louis first, then maybe I can get some traction,” Williams said. “People like what they like, and they don’t know what to like until you tell them they should like it.”
Making art transforms artists. It can also revolutionize the world around them. St. Louisans such as Dail Chambers, Peat Wollaeger, James McAnally and William Burton are making their mark with clay, spray paint and outreach.
This is the second in St. Louis Public Radio's STL Art Game-Changers series. Look for more STL Art Game-Changer stories next week and in the weeks and months to come.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NFowlerSTL