July 9, 2017
PORT O’CONNOR - Thomas Williams and his partner, 20-Gauge, a 4-year-old mutt, travel down the Intracoastal Waterway in search of recycled wood. Williams uses the pieces he finds to make artwork.
He finds the wood washed up on the beach and in dumpsters. He also uses old duck blinds and fences. He tries to find colorful pieces for his art. He specializes in making graphic panel paintings and frames and fish made of the recycled wood.
“It’s all trash; it’s all recycled,” said Williams, 45. “It would get thrown away or burnt if I didn’t use it.”
After traveling about 8 miles down the canal, the two get out off a Banana River Skiff and walk to a marsh, where they find an old channel marker lying in tall grass.
Williams carries it back to his boat, 20-Gauge by his side.
Williams, a fly-fishing guide, can’t help himself and stops to walk back to the marsh in search of a redfish. Walking slowly through the thick mud, he casts. The line whistles as it swooshes back and forth through the air. Williams lights two black cherry Swisher Sweets cigars and occasionally curses at the clouds for blocking his view of the fish.
The images of fish he uses in his artwork are ones he or his buddies have caught. He uses pastel colors in his art that some might argue aren’t realistic.
“Somebody might say there’s no such thing as a purple and pink redfish,” Williams said. “But the way the sun hits a fish’s scales and skin... there are a ton of different purples, pinks and hues. I mean it’s every color in the rainbow out there.”
Williams walks back to his boat empty handed. He unanchors his boat and heads back to Port O’Connor.
Returning home, 20-Gauge jumps out of Williams’ truck and heads toward their faded yellow home. Ropes, buoys and pieces of colorful wood dangle from his porch, and wooden fish hang on the walls.
Williams walks to a metal shed and pulls out a small table. There, he plugs in a router and uses the saw to shape a medium-density fibreboard, or MDF, into a fish. The graphic panels he creates are two-dimensional paintings with depth and texture.
He first downloads an image on his computer and then uses an overhead projector to trace the image onto the medium-density fibreboard. He then textures it with modeling paste, uses a router to cut the outline and hand carves the line work with a utility knife. He finishes by using acrylic paint.
The artist graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a minor in ceramics and archeology.
He said painting is the most difficult part for him because he doesn’t have formal training.
“I just start throwing paint on there and keep messing with it until it works,” Williams joked, adding that sometimes he wastes a lot of paint.
He can spend up to 20 hours on a piece.
“There have been times where I thought I’d never do artwork again, and then I just feel the urge,” he said. “I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”