Will’s work has been in the spotlight since the 1999 publication of Scrawl, the book that according to the Stolen Space gallery “documented a new movement in street art, graphics and illustration”. Since then, his career has diversified to the point that he is now equally in demand as an acclaimed artist, illustrator and animation director. He also takes on commercial work for a huge range of clients, and has recent shows in New York, Budapest, LA, Philadelphia and Warsaw to his name.

He’s a busy man, and we’re stoked to be working with him at Looking Sideways. We caught up with Will to find out more about his background, how the whole Scrawl thing came about, and how his work has been developing.

What were your early art influences? How did you get into painting and graff?

When I left college in Bristol I got a job at a call centre with Mr Jago. We sat there and doodled for about a year. I took these drawings and started looking for illustration work. One of my best friends Steff Plaetz was living there too and he was painting canvases straight out of college.
I had been doing flyers. There was a clothes shop in Bristol called Alterior run by a graffiti artist called Dicy and Dave Smeaton. All the artist took turns to show canvases in the window. This was my first attempt at showing canvasses. I also went and painted outside occasionally. But I knew it was more fun to be doing that than sitting in front of my computer so I pursued it, and it led to a lot of live painting shows and travelling over the years.

Tell us a little about Bristol and the Scrawl Collective thing. This is where most people – myself included – first became aware of your work I guess…

It was a good time to be in Bristol. Maybe its always a good time there. There were alot of artists coming up and moving there. It was where Banksy started, and I guess this had a hand in making people pay attention to Bristol.
One day Ric Blackshaw came and visited us. He had been living in Manchester making house music when a mate asked him if he would be interested in putting a book together about a new wave of graffiti, comic and music related art and illustration. He was making his way around the country joining the dots (this was pre internet) and it went from there. I dont think he expected the book to be such a success but it was, and from there the Collective was born. A number of us started to get work and travel through various jobs that came from the book. I went to Japan about five times and made four animated commercials for VW. Good times….

Can you describe your work/style? I realise this is a bit of a nightmare question for most artists.

Well I try to evolve what I’m doing, but I guess the main thing is that its narrative driven and figurative with a fluidity and movement to it.

Will’s beautiful Pan Am, exclusively available as a print and original in the Looking Sideways shop

What’s your favourite medium to work in? Has this changed over the years?

I like to use acrylic and spraypaint together. I like the way they react against each other. I use a lot of water. I’m starting to use oil paint a bit more too.

Four On The Floor

You’ve work in many fields – street pieces, murals, gallery pieces, mainstream commissions. Any favourites?

I mostly work indoors, so in my studio, or at home, or at the animation studio I work at sometimes called Th1ng. I paint outside occasionally and I really enjoy that when I do. I should motivate myself to do that more. I like to work in different places. If I’m in one place for a long time I get distracted.

I look at lots and lots of different things. I drink it in and piss it out….

- Will Barras

Has skate or boardsport culture affected or influenced you?

I’ve always taken notice of snowboard and skateboard graphics, I was really inspired by that period of time when Dave Kinsey put his art on the Burton boards, which I think was in the mid 90s. There were some cool boards around. I was riding my BMX in Bristol a lot around this time as well. I also designed a skateboard for 50/50 in Bristol about 10 years back and I was so happy to do that. Thats the best thing I ever did really. It was a big ambition to get some art on a skate or snowboard. I think I took a lot of inspiration from watching skate, BMX and snowboard videos, trying to capture this movement.
All of these things from the artists to the riders, filmakers and the music on the videos. All of these people are influencing each other.

Are you working in any other artistic fields?

Animation. Its always commercial work, but I really enjoy this now.

What are you working on at the moment? Any exciting projects, collaborations or commissions?

There are a few things going on. Some group shows, a show in Cologne at the end of the year and hopefully one in Zurich next year.

What artists or designers inspire you?

There are too many. I love Syd Mead’s work, and Moebius, but I look at lots and lots of different things. I drink it in and piss it out….

Great Party Yeah

Do you own or collect work by any artists?

I’ve got a lot of small things I’ve collected and swapped with people over the years. My favourites are a drawing from Blami, a painting by Jeremy Fish, a drawing from Albert Reyes and a metal canvas by Word to Mother, which I swapped with some pasta art I made which he really liked….