William Day is an American painter known for his large-scale compositions of colorful shapes and energetic marks. Now living in Boulder, Colorado, Day can often be found in his studio working on multiple pieces at the same time. His process leads him to create paintings in a series, each one focusing on different nuances of the human experience. His works are comprised of textures and complex layers demonstrating his interaction with a canvas in a moment. These series of paintings – HOPE, WATER, HEALING, NOIR, WONDER, AWAKENING, and ARCHITECTURAL – all nod to certain periods of Day’s life that bring years of intensity, joy, spirituality, conflict and resolution to the canvas.
Day begins each new work by rolling unprimed raw canvas out on the floor. Primarily working with oil and acrylics, he creates textures and layers with various tools, discovering relationships between the colors and the unexpected structures. His paintings, which tower above their viewers, are monoliths of creative freedom projecting to the world Day’s belief in the sublime powers of color and form. Inspired by hope and beauty, burgeoned by his own personal struggles, Day is an artist whose eyes are fixed firmly on the horizon. After September 11th, 2001, when Day’s wife Aimee, survived the collapse of the World Trade Towers, Day left a career in finance and studied architecture at PRATT Institute, which ultimately lead him to becoming a painter.
His architectural impulsivity carried over into his style of painting with expressive actions of manipulating his implements, often those associated with construction. Day’s work has been published in LUXE Magazine, FORBES.com, WHITEHOT Magazine, and has been a TEDx Speaker. His art is featured in both private and public collections throughout the United States, Europe, and North Africa. He exhibits at galleries in Boulder, CO, Greenwich, CT, San Francisco, Los Angeles, CA, and New York City.
Emerald Arguelles: How did you start painting?
Will Day: It’s a tough question because I’ve always been creative. I remember being a little boy at four years old and creating art and sitting in front of the easel with my mom in the art class and that was fun to me. That seemed normal.
I remember specifically, when I was thirteen, in seventh grade, and I was in Ms. Kay’s art class in Connecticut. She gave us this awesome assignment with watercolors, and I created this watercolor that looks like Monet’s water lilies and the world stopped for the first time in my life. I’m an athlete, I’m a very hyper guy with ADHD, so it was wild to have the world stop and for me to say, “Wow, I actually liked that.” That was my first epiphany that creativity can ground you, can calm you, can allow you to share your beauty. You don’t have to compete with the world. Everybody has beauty. And that painting is still in my studio here as a reminder.
You asked when I started painting, well, I realized I knew I could paint and I could be creative. I didn’t see myself as an artist. I saw myself as someone that likes to express myself through color and shapes. But I put that aside for a long time.
Then the next real epiphany hit me when I went to Tunisia in North Africa with the Peace Corps. I realized I was totally alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I thought, What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to save the world? I’m American hanging out in North Africa with a different language, culture, religion, history.
EA: It’s like inspiration overload.
WD: The Peace Corps was a great way for me to find balance in the human spirit, and that’s when I started really painting and being creative. Every day I wrote poetry, I painted, I did murals, I photographed, I wrote letters. I couldn’t get enough of this energy that felt like it was downloading through me, connecting me to a culture that I really don’t know. It’s that basic principle of just being human.
But I still wasn’t ready to be an artist. I came home from the Peace Corps, and then I went to Wall Street. That’s what I knew. I grew up around New York City. I thought that’s what we do. I’m that type of guy. It’s extreme. You go from the Sahara Desert to Wall Street.
EA: I was in the Marine Corps for four years, and it was interesting to say the least. I remember being in Europe, and I thought, I love it here. I got so much inspiration from how people lived, and people in Europe are extremely peaceful. They don’t have this crazy ambition to be the greatest person in the world the way that we are here. So I remember getting out of the military, and I didn’t want to conform to any damn thing anymore. I felt this individualism to take my creativity to new heights. So I definitely relate to that, seeing that we’re not that different. Most of the time we’re raised to think America’s the greatest country in the world, we’re this, we’re that, but at the end of the day, we’re all people with dreams, hopes, we’re just normal. There is no big difference between all of us.
WD: I appreciate that, because I think you’re touching on the idea of freedom. Wherever you show up, whether that’s being a Marine, or a Peace Corps volunteer, or a school teacher, show up and do the job. You and I learned something from those experiences, so then we could be our true authentic selves in later life.
EA: I love that your journey wasn’t linear, that it was about finding all these different pockets of things you were interested in. Understanding and knowing when something no longer serves you, realizing I’m done here, I’m going to move on to something else—I think that’s great.
WD: I think it’s important to learn how to respect what is serving you in the moment. To go back to your first question, when did I start being creative? I mean, it started at birth but at birth, we’re not tuned in yet to that energy and that level of consciousness. Once we start doing that, it not only shines on the things in front of us but you inspire the people around you: your partners, your family, your teachers, your coaches, whomever. It becomes this massive network of love and joy, which I never thought I could experience.
EA: No, that’s definitely true. I think making art to any degree, any type of visual art, is a type of peace you can’t get anywhere else. And you make it, so there’s a beautiful sense of pride. I wouldn’t choose to be anything else. I feel bad for people that aren’t because it’s beautiful.
WD: Well, I think the universe is seeking change. It’s about accepting all these diverse opinions and forms and shapes—whatever you choose to be. That’s just as creative and that’s being courageous. We as creative people hopefully have an open mindset to say, let’s look beyond and remember we came here to share our creativity to really raise the vibration of the world around us.
EA: Yeah, that’s beautiful. That kind of segues into my next question. Do your work titles all correlate with certain periods of your life? Is there one that has the most significance to you?
WD: Well, the answer to that question changes. Right now, it’s the most recent series of work that I’ve been dealing with. It’s called the Hope series. Without being so cliché, it’s about connecting with people and the world around when you least expect it. How do you conquer fear? How do you still be courageous in this time of change and uncertainty?
Obviously COVID was a place of massive destruction and darkness and reflection. I didn’t realize I had a lot of that inside me. I came to my studio every day last year. No one was on the road here. No one was driving. I have this massive warehouse, and I was totally alone. And I was like, What is going on? Had it triggered a moment in my life that I felt abandoned?
I grew up in the 70s. My parents were the first in our neighborhood, in our county really, to get a divorce. No one did that. I come from a family of alcoholics. I don’t judge them, I’m not mad at anybody, but COVID triggered all this and I realized it’s still in me. I was pissed off, I was angry, but by coming to the studio it enlightened me to sort of say, you have a choice. You have a choice to be pissed off and angry and hold on to that, or you can figure out how to move through it. So I painted.
One of my favorite pieces I painted is called “Metatron.” People are like, who’s Metatron? I didn’t know either, folks. I thought I was pretty spiritual or tuned in. Metatron is one of the most powerful archangels in the universe. Some of us say angels, but it’s up to you, whatever you believe. I believe if you choose to search for love and joy, it’s going to come in a lot of different ways. I’m open to anything and I’m always learning. So that really changed the game for me. I felt like a new person.
EA: I think COVID opened up a lot of things for me personally. I get cabin fever very quickly, and I have to be out. I remember going through Georgia, North Carolina, all these different places, and finding hiking trails. It was so peaceful, because there was no one out there. There’s no COVID in nature. Everything was open, and it was great. But it did bring up a lot of things for me and abandonment issues that I still have that are so easily triggered. It’s a process. There’s a lot of things that I do identify with in what you said, but abandonment has to be the biggest thing. And during COVID, you’re by yourself. So all these things you can distract yourself with kind of stop, and then you have to sit there, reflect, and go through it.
WD: Yeah, that’s what’s important. I would say, hopefully your time in nature was able to at least give you some sense of peace. Harmony or recognition are things we all need to work on.
EA: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of forgiveness and a lot of kindness with how we kind of navigate through the world. I think we’re very hard on ourselves. COVID confronted a lot of stuff for a lot of people, but it’s great that you were able to find this light out of it and beautiful work out of it as well. So for my next question, how has your environment inspired you and your work?
WD: I think living in Boulder, Colorado has really inspired me. I grew up in Connecticut and I lived and worked in New York City for a long time. I remember 15 years ago getting off the plane for the first time in Colorado and driving to Boulder. I felt so open with all these amazing trees. I never could see above me before, and now I could see up into the universe.
That openness is always around me if I walk out the door. I love the vastness of the mountains, the sky, the four seasons, which are crazy. It dramatically influences how I emotionally connect to my paintings, my narratives, and all the collections I create. So without me knowing it, it transcends me to a higher place of peace, love, inspiration, and challenge.
EA: I think that’s so significant. I’m from New Orleans originally, but I live in Georgia. I’ve kind of bounced around a lot, but I’ve always been in the South. And then when I was 10, right after Katrina, we moved north and I’m like, Why are the leaves changing colors? Why is it snowing? There’s a lot going on. Then I remember living in New York—I think I’m Southern at heart, but when I got to New York, I thought, Where the hell are the trees? Why does it rain so much? Where’s the sun?
WD: I mean, I love the buildings, but what am I supposed to do, hug a building?
EA: And there’s no space for yourself whatsoever. It’s the perfect place to be depressed, but it allowed me to do so much more internal work on my mood. In New York, I think you have to work to be happy. You have to work. You can’t rely on the environment to do it.
WD: That’s a really good point. Because people are often like, I’m going to live in New York when I have millions of dollars. That’s not realistic. So you’re saying, you’re trying to set up New York to be this place. If you have a lot of money, you’ll be happy. Well, it doesn’t work like that, either.
I went to get my Master’s in architecture. I practiced in Brooklyn and I was able to experience New York City from another creative point of view, besides working on Wall Street. I was able to step out and look at the city after 9/11 because, like how you went through Katrina, which was devastating, it’s one of the things that still plays into my narrative.
I worked on Wall Street, my wife worked on Wall Street, and she worked in Tower Two in the
World Trade Center on the 70th floor where the second plane went into the conference room. She survived. I bring this up, because we all have dramatic, different stories.
It was a shocker. I saw New York City, the city I was born in, get destroyed. At the same time I was leaving Wall Street to become a creative spirit as an architect. So I started shifting while for a lot of people it was very hard for them, because they were still in this world that had just got knocked down. I was knocked down, but I was transitioning into a creative spirit, to raise a new vibration of innovation, community, and starting over again. The best thing you and I can do is be as authentic and raw as possible and not hide anything. What is it they always say? Hear quickly, speak slowly.
EA: I think there’s something to be said about the choice that you made. Because I think people respond to trauma differently and to events like that. The choice to make the world a better place, I think that’s beautiful. I think that really speaks to your work as a whole. And it’s always these different ways to try to make the world a better place in whatever avenue that you decide to go in.
WD: I do believe that we as creatives make the world a better place. I try, one painting at a time, to change the world. I love what you said earlier. It’s not like I’ve got all the answers. There’s a lot of us. No one is better than anyone else. We all have different narratives that need to be shown and shared, which I can learn from, because I didn’t go through that.
EA: I think that’s a beautiful learning lesson for everyone. I wanted to ask what inspires you to work in large scale?
WD: I think that’s always a good question. I mean, all of my work is large scale. When I first started painting, I felt restricted by the frame, and I don’t think creativity is about restricting. So when I first started, I went massive. I don’t feel restricted anymore.
I still see some of the influences in my life from artists when I was younger. I would often go to museums with my family, and I remember this story about how Jeans-Michel Basquiat used to go with his mother into the Museum of Modern Art, and I get goosebumps thinking about him. I remember doing the same thing with my mom and my stepfather and my family and we walked to those museums. I would get in front of Monet or Picasso or Pollock, and I thought it was bigger than life. The energy that they are all conveying made me want to paint big. I want people to feel like they can walk into your narrative, your canvas, and feel engulfed by your love and your story.
There’s something that’s so timeless with a painting that’s twice the size of a human being.
EA: Speaking of Basquiat, once I got to New York the first thing I wanted to do was go to the MoMA and see his work. There’s no way to describe how big it is. Of course, I’ve seen all of his work on screens all of my life, but seeing it in person made me appreciate him as an artist so much more. He took so much time to do this, and now I can sit here with each piece and take so much time to go through each image. His work is absolutely amazing. And with Picasso, same thing. But working in large scale is such hard work.
WD: Oh, it is. And remember the times, like Basquiat did not have massive warehouses. He was on the streets. He had a very different creative flow than Piccaso. But they were very emotional painters, which is what I love so much about them. Obviously, they had a lot of suffering and trauma, but there are very few people who can express it on a canvas and transcend time. Basquiat was certainly one of them, and, of course, Picasso.
EA: I think artists that work in those emotional extremes are always the most successful. And one that kind of comes to mind is Francis Bacon. His work is very dark, but he taps into that to an extreme, and then the work that comes out of that is absolutely beautiful. So I think whatever emotion that is and pushing it to the extreme, there’s great work to come out of it.
WD: That’s why we have to allow our society to play in that realm again and give freedom to different voices. We can go on and on but some of us don’t talk about these other artists that were just as powerful. I’m always amazed why their narrative was different.
EA: I think it’s the political realm of it. When I first started getting into photography, it was very hard for me to find Black female photographers in the way that I can find white males. It begs the question of why isn’t this perspective discussed? And why are they only like two or three Black female photographers that kind of garner all of the attention. It’s very political to a certain degree. And unfortunately, there’s so much work that’s required to find those things, but when you find those gems it’s great.
WD: Right. And as we shift into what I call a Renaissance right after the COVID, it’s really for you and me to take advantage now because the old system is gone. It means that the people who really are innovative and creative will have their time to shine and it’s going to be different.
EA: Yeah, and I think there’s been so many creatives to kind of disrupt the system, and shake up what art is and how it should be shown. It’s a beautiful process to see how it is changing.
WD: So I have to add, the artist Kehinde Wiley is a game changer. I didn’t really appreciate him until understanding his message and these portraits of these amazing men and women and how he shifted the narrative of who’s considered beautiful, for instance. He’s courageous and capturing a spirit that probably people have never seen or heard about, without me getting too descriptive. It’s so powerful. I’m just proud that there are people, no matter where you are in your walk of life, who can stand tall and go for it and shine. He’s definitely one of them without me knowing him. As an artist and creative spirit, I appreciate that journey. I want that too. I want someone to be able to say, I can’t believe Will took that courage, right?
EA: Yeah, I think it’s hard for me to describe Kehinde’s work because it’s such an emotional thing, what he does. But I correlate so much with his story and why he started painting. It’s something I agree with, but he kind of took this thought, pushed it to an extreme and it worked so well for him.
And a quick story. I was shooting in this beauty salon for this series of work that I was doing, and this hairstylist and I were talking about work and art and he goes, I used to date Kehinde. So he used to date him and apparently Kehinde and David LaChapelle were friends, and Kehinde told him he should come along on a shoot. The hairstylist went and then David LaChapelle told him to hop in this photo and now he’s in this picture in David LaChapelle’s photobook. That connection was very wild and that’s about as close as I’ll get to Kehinde.
WD: You never know.
EA: Right? It’s a great story.
WD: What I appreciate about that story is if you’re open to receiving something, there will be more. I’m all about that story. I want to put myself front and center like that just like you. To receive divine miracles and fun stories that will really inspire people around you. We’re sharing that fun story here and hopefully will inspire other people to be their true selves.
EA: That’s beautiful. Lastly, I wanted to ask, what do you want viewers to know about your work? What do you want them to take away from it?
WD: When they look at one of my paintings, I want them to learn how to be free, non-judgmental, and have a sense of exploration. Each of these paintings are manifestations and stories about healing and love. I’m not the only artist that talks like this. There are many of us. We all have different sides and stories and experiences to share, but I think when someone really looks at one of my paintings, I want them to feel healed.
EA: That’s a beautiful service that you give. You making work for the betterment of everyone, I think that’s absolutely beautiful and incredibly selfless.
WD: I do this stuff because I love it. I want to pass this narrative on to the next generation, my grandsons, my granddaughters, my great grandkids. It’s not a dynasty. It’s a legacy of love. I want them to know we’re not seeking fame and glory. I think we’re seeking authenticity and originality, to express ourselves in ways that are really going to bring about something positive.
To view more of Will Day’s work, please visit his website.