Roger Adrian Williams is a multiple award-winning artist from Cape Town, South Africa. His work ranges from funky street-style masterpieces to sleek, high-end design implements. By day, he has the advertising industry locked down with witty, colourful and thoughtful illustrative works. Come night time, Roger is up and about adding visual flavour and finesse to audio creations as an animator and video artist under the guise of VJ State of the Art. With international solo exhibitions, awards and clientele stretching from Europe to the far East, Roger is constantly redefining what it means to be a modern-day visual artist.
Let’s jump into it….You recently had a successful exhibition in Cape Town tell us how that came about?
During April 2014 I did a collaborative exhibition entitled ‘Crossroad ‘ in Cape Town with a very good friend from Germany, known as Dee One. Dee’s work has a strong base in street art and he has successfully transitioned his passion for creating public art, to gallery spaces by doing a number of exhibitions throughout the years. The idea was to showcase our contrasting work while using an international platform to address some of the social issues that South Africa is challenged with. We worked with international DJs ( DJ Azuhl and Phax Mulder ) as we hosted educational workshops on how art and music can be used as tools to overcome personal challenges and reach multi-cultural audiences. We were introduced by Germany’s Each One Teach One crew ( whom we’ve both done some work with them in the past ) , who also led the exhibition and played the core supporting role in the project.
Your work has a strong social responsibility theme running throughout it. Is that intentional?
Although it is not necessarily the main purpose of my work, I do feel that exhibitions or work that gets a more public platform, presents an opportunity to tackle some social issues. Projects differ. Some are designed to intentionally address these issues ( especially in a South African context ), and others may have a different goal. I do feel that there is a certain responsibility to ultimately use one’s work or voice as an artist for a positive, bigger purpose. When art can be used to ask questions, challenge perceptions and possibly even inspire change in a society, its definitely a good thing.
You will be in Europe for the next couple of month’s for another exhibition. Tell us more…
The European exhibition was an extension, or follow-up of the South African Crossroad art exhibition. It was held in Amsterdam and featured a different set of solo work, yet still kept the Crossroad title. The reason for this was to continue the momentum that was created with the Cape Town events and to reach an even wider audience with the same message. Part of this was also working with artists and organisations in the Netherlands to help reach more people and connect even more individuals to South Africa and the work that is being done here by artists and musicians. I had the privilege to work very closely with the Amsterdam organisation Manage Your Art, who regularly facilitates projects between Africa and Europe.
You have designed album covers for some of South Africa’s most respected musicians. Tell us more about that journey?
In many ways this has been a catalyst for much of my work as an independent artist, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to my brother, Grenville Williams, for playing a major guiding role in my early music design projects. During my second year as a graphic design student, Grenville had produced and released what was to become a classic South African hip hop album, entitled ‘ Spillage ‘ by Godessa, under his High Voltage Entertainment label. I was tasked with creating the album artwork and this was the first professional project that would open many doors for me when it came to working with some of SA’s leading musicians. By spending much of my time at concerts and music events and creating more and more artwork for different musical projects, I had eventually built up quite a large portfolio of music-themed work, and made some great friends in the process as well.
Your currently also delving into the VJ realm. Tell us more about Reel to Real and what sets it apart from other VJ collectives?
I had always been very inspired by music videos, live events and the general imagery and visual styles associated with different musical genres. Upon returning from a very successful solo exhibition series in Europe in 2012 ( entitled ‘ Alles Roger ‘ ), I teamed up with long-time friends and collaborators DJ Azuhl and DJ B-side, as a VJ in the Reel2Real collective, performing under the name ‘ State of the Art ‘. I think what sets us apart is our approach to video mixing and our combined passion for art and music . This enables us to have a more eclectic approach to our shows, and also allows us to work off of one another’s energy and ideas.
How do you guys operate as a collective?
The three of us have fairly different tastes when it comes to music and visuals, yet we manage to combine these through our common passion for what we do. What makes our process exciting is that we all work on our individual projects, and therefore have more points of view when we get together to create work for Reel2Real. It just broadens our creative spectrum and gives us much more to work with when we combine our ideas and inspirations.
What equipment and software do you currently use and how do you put together sets?
My favourite software packages are Arkaos, Resolume and VDMX. In terms of hardware I work from a Macbook Air along with a sufficient midi-controller. For sets I love combining my own custom animations with generic VJ samples and some oldskool ( and often obscure ) music videos. The different sets also depend on the specific events where we perform.
What’s your view on the use of graphics in live shows, DJ sets, etc? It seems to be a standard internationally.
Graphics at live events almost always enhance the experience. They’re definitely a standard for any performance, but of course need to be used appropriately and innovatively for a performance to reach its full potential. In many cases it can also make or break a live show.
Is there a VJ scene in Cape Town and which VJ’s locally that inspires you?
Cape Town has a very exciting VJ scene, although it could be said that its largely still in a developmental or growing stage. Personally I am very inspired by the work of the Grrrl. As a pioneer of the scene in Cape Town ( and in SA ) and having performed at some big international festivals, her work is always fresh, original and perfectly suited to whichever event she performs at. Its also filled with positive energy which results in guests having awesome and memorable experiences.
What are the skills and training you had to obtain to become proficient in your craft?
I had studied graphic design which was a firm grounding in learning some basics of design. It was however only an introduction and I had gained a wealth of practical experience working for many years as an illustrator in the corporate world, as well as in a freelance capacity. Much additional time spent with self-study and experimentation with digital and free-hand art techniques, also lead to a greater understanding of how to combine different design disciplines ( e.g. illustration, animation, design, visual art ) for specific projects.
You have been commissioned to be the visual director for a stage production? How did that come about?
I was asked by internationally renowned, multi-awarded artist, director and playwright Brett Bailey, to create the illustrations and animations for his radical version of Verdi’s Macbeth opera, which had two showings in Cape Town before touring Europe in 2014. Brett’s version is set in the current conflict raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Working on a project that uses the classic Shakespearean tale to highlight the horrific tragedies in the DRC, was an experience unlike any other. Personally it was very inspirational to work with an artistic genius such as Brett and to collaboratively create the visuals that aided the opera. Much more important though than the striking images, is the vision and ultimately the message of the work which made it one of the most important projects I have worked on thus far.
Where to from here for Roger Williams?
Last year quite a few big projects have been realised. Its left me looking forward to the next few months which have a few exciting new projects and collaborations lined up…
Famous last words….
Thank you very much to the Scratchlab for creating a platform to share knowledge and education about music and art. Best wishes for the new year !