Divine Animal is the lens through which human potential and strength reflects the nature of our resolve as a species to survive. Willis Gilliard’s photographic artwork seeks to reveal the beauty of our existence as natural beings capable of love, beauty, pleasure, spirituality, community, and storytellers.
In his work, Willis describes his practice as creative journalism – “I like to capture people just as they are.” Through this lens he believes “there is a beauty and authenticity that can’t be forced or created by other means.” His most recent works feature images from the height of the Minneapolis uprising protesting the death of George Floyd. His images frame the strength and spirit of our city and communities standing together during difficult times.
Willis is also working on a new project portraying the strength and importance of black fathers within the African-American community. He looks to confront stereotypes by capturing the love and beauty of young fathers with their children through the classical lens of still-life portraiture.
Willis Gilliard is an emerging photographer based in North Minneapolis. As a professional entrepreneur, Willis’ work includes photo-documentary work including, stage performances, group venues, and studio portraiture. Willis will be joining future programing this academic year as part of our college’s “Stages of Equity” initiative to give diversity a more equitable place within our campus programing. Willis’ work also represents the gallery’s initiative to seek talent among early career artists whenever possible and provide a venue for these individuals to share their work with our aspiring student audience.
How would you describe your artistic practice?
What is your creative process like?
Most of process is getting in a good head space for collaborating with people. Because at heart, I’m a portrait photographer and portraits are pretty social.
What has been a seminal experience that inspired you?
When I was like 10, I would read and watch a lot of national geographic and it clicked to me that somebody had to take all those photos and videos. I was like, that would be fun.
Explain the scope of your work here at NHCC in 100 words.
I’m bringing a mixture of a few different topics. I’ve been working on projects that relate to the world that we are adapting to, like the protest/riots that followed the public execution of George Floyd. But also, a mixture of projects that describe or highlight things that are just fun. Activities that we don’t necessarily do anymore in these trying times of post-covid lifestyle. Some of these moments I would like to highlight because I feel like the world needs to see a lot more of it. As a photographer, I feel that I can give you just a small taste.
What themes do you pursue?
I’m drawn to energy and movement.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Let’s not talk about my grease covered work history
Should art be funded?
For sure. Buy your friend’s paintings and ceramics!
What role does arts funding have?
Keeping your town interesting and cultured, and ready for luxury condos.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Work smarter, not harder.
Is there anything else you would like to share?