About four years ago, I was a regular at a music and art function held every other Wednesday night at the now closed Sambuca Jazz Café on Piedmont Avenue – home of Atlanta’s grown up restaurant/bar scene. From the beginning, I was in my element. The soundscape was dominated by young instrumentalists and vocalists doing funk, soul, jazz and a little hip-hop, or any combination of them all. They jammed alongside several visual artists live painting mostly musical themes on canvasses or nearly nude models.
Fabian Williams was one of them. The event’s hosts introduced me to the talented group. Williams, who always secured a spot near the front left of the stage, looked me squarely in the eye, cocked his head back, grinned and said, “Interview me.” So I did.
Enter Occasional Superstar – Williams’ brand persona and key character. When we first sat down for an interview he was in one of those contemplative moods not unusual for creative and writerly types. Once we dived into the art conversation, he turned up like he had an amp in his back.
When I listen now to the audio of that talk, I think I sounded like a little kid at her first magic show. The unintended oohing and ahhing embarrassed the hell out of me. The cool part, though, is that it reawakened my love for art and taught me a lot of new things. I’m from Pittsburgh, the city of Warhol – one of the coolest cultural districts in the U.S., if not the world. By writing about Fabian, I also realized – and I told him so – that I was honoring the memory of my high school friend, Javon Thompson, a brilliant young artist and writer who was tragically gunned down during a home invasion in 1994.
By reconnecting with the arts in a new way, I felt powerfully inspired. I can’t draw worth a damn, but just being in the same space with Fabian and his peers was cathartic. I’ve done some of my best writing alongside painters.
I was very shocked to learn that I was the first to write about him. He not only had a house full of paintings, but video, illustrations and a deck of face cards featuring hip-hop stars with two-sided, but different images. After, about forty-five minutes of conversation, almost as an afterthought, he talked about the art battle.
Performance art. My last experience with performance art was in high school at a warehouse where some kid rode around a dim light on a tricycle, wearing a tin foil mask while reciting a poem. Weird shit.
The World Wide Arts Federation, Williams’ promotion vehicle, was anything but. He took the best of everything – from classic paintings, to video, hip-hop and, yes the Ric Flair days of WWF pro-wrestling -and put it in a crazy, never-done-before kind of mix. Dude sings, he acts, he’s loud and he’s badass, but he has an inner humility that helped him keep it all under wraps until it was buffed, polished and fit for public consumption.
Now with Last Man Standing, the 10th battle, Williams wants the baddest to take home some cash. In the past art battles, like my personal favorites, Paint, Sketch or Draw Blood! and The Art of War of Art, participants “won” crowd favor by virtue of applause. This time, there is a diverse panel of judges, who will see that the last man or woman takes home $1000. If I could draw…
Anyway, if you’ve never been to an art battle, this is the one to watch. Over the years, I’ve written over half a dozen articles about Williams’ work. My editors at Creative Loafing Atlanta chose him as a staff pick for Poets, Artists and Madmen in the 2011 Best of Atlanta issue. They invented the category, “Best Local Art Beef” to describe his brand of painterly mayhem.
Like my favorite music journalist, dream hampton, who introduced hip-hop’s critical thinkers to Jay Z, I wanted to readers to see what Fabian Williams is up to and reach the unanimous decision, that this kind of performance art should be as much anticipated as a new album from a classic MC.
Last Man Standing Takes place at the Stuart McClean Gallery on 684 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, Suite A-1 30312 in the historic old fourth ward.