William Rock – An Inspiring Interview About Travelling, Making Art and The Eastern Way of Life

Yeshe Walmo bronze sculpture by William Rock

The depth of Oriental culture, the strength of iron and, as I saw in his works, the gentlessness of Giacometti. All that elements – and much more – can describe William Rock, an internationally exhibited artist. His lifelong creative explorations are grounded with a vast knowledge and respect for many diverse cultures and traditions. Rock studied drawing at The California Art Institute and The Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of have an interview with him and this is what he told me about art, life and culture.

William Rock profile photo BW

You have travelled a lot and your art has a sense of “life” to it.  How do you make a work of art that comes “alive” – does it happen through having studied deeply or having specific experiences?  

I think travel definitely opens you up to possibilities in life. It takes you out of your comfort zone and encourages you to be flexible and accepting of other people and cultures. As an artist you travel with a certain curiosity and awareness. You get exposed to different cultures and people and underneath it all there is a realization of a shared humanity. I think creating art that “comes alive” involves similar ingredients; spontaneity, flexibility, curiosity, awareness and focus. Plus master your medium – paint, clay, words – whatever you use – practice it until you don’t have to think anymore as you make your art. Go beyond thought. You become one with the “flow”- this is what gives life to a work of art.

The Leap bronze sculpture by William Rock

Much of your inspiration seems to come from Asian or Eastern art and culture. What are the aspects that resonate with you about Asian or Eastern culture and creating art?  

If an artist’s life experiences has led to wisdom and if he or she is able to get out of the way of the “flow”, the more that the art seems to be created by something much greater than an individual. There actually becomes a realization that there is not an individual. Something universal and greater is creating the art. That’s why so many artists are drawn to Asian or Eastern practices because these subtle inner experiences and territories are addressed in Eastern belief-systems and practices.  Artists can identify with Eastern practices by virtue of their inner creative experience. Artists and mystics have very similar experiences and Eastern practices like meditation, support the artist on the inward journey.

His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizin and William Rock with Yeshe Walmo Sculpture

I see in your paintings that many of the subjects seem to have a deep sense of meditation. How important is the transcendent experience in art and also in your art in particular? 

The mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “artists and mystics are having very similar experiences only the artist has a craft that holds them to the world.”  At the origin of all the world’s great religions is the mystical experience.  As human beings these experiences are available to all of us. As an artist – it is the inner territories of being that interest me. No matter what your belief-system – pursue it deeply. Art is a great vehicle to explore and transcend. I like the Hindu saying; “the truth is one, the paths to it are many.” My path is not the only way and either is yours – it’s just a way – but both lead to one truth. In that one truth is where we find a sense of unity and oneness with each other and with it all. It is a very subtle rhythm. Make art from this space.

William Rock and Huang Xiang

Your painting of Vincent Van Gogh is on the cover of the book “Resurrection of a Sunflower”. It was created with the Nobel Prize nominated Chinese poet Huang Xiang. Can you tell us more about the idea behind it and your collaboration with Huang Xiang?

A big part of what Huang Xiang and I do is trust. We work from a harmonious view and with good intention. When a sense of being separate is removed – there is no room for conflict, there is only understanding. We create from that inner space I mentioned earlier. Out of the hundreds of millions of people who suffered during the cultural revolution in Communist China, he is one of the very few who spoke up for human rights. He stood up for freedom during some of the darkest days of the 20th century and was the first to post poetry on The Democracy Wall in Beijing. He was tortured and spent twelve years in Chinese prisons for his Human Rights advocacy and for writing his poetry.  Huang Xiang and I do not speak the same verbal language or share the same culture yet we have created over 100 paintings together. I do feel very creative working with Huang Xiang because everything happens in the moment. The nature of calligraphy is spontaneity. The art we do is very spontaneous.  Van Gogh was the first painting we did together because Van Gogh was speaking to both of us. Our language is art and so is Van Gogh’s.  We understood him. I feel we all have the potential to contribute to humanity. The people Huang Xiang and I paint manifested some aspect of their potential and contributed to humanity. We can learn from them, they are still teaching us. Thoreau inspired Gandhi who inspired Martin Luther King. There is an ongoing dialogue outside of conventional time. Again it is very subtle and we can listen when we do so with wisdom. Read the letters of Van Gogh and I guarantee he will speak to you. I spent a lot of time with Van Gogh’s paintings in Amsterdam or wherever I found them in the world. They “spoke” to me every time. Huang Xiang and I call our collaboration The Century Mountain Project. You can find more information about it here: www.centurymountain.com

Van Gogh portrait painted by William Rock and Huang Xiang

What type of art are you working on now? 

The last few years I have spent creating sculpture that is cast in bronze. There is a sense of the eternal in bronze. Plus the way the light reflects on its surface really gives bronze an inherent sense of movement and “life”. It took me three years to complete a bronze sculpture of Yeshe Walmo who is a Tibetan Bon Buddhist goddess of wisdom, healing and protection. Bon is the oldest belief-system in Tibet. It is shamanic in origin and dates back thousands of years. Bon has a very specific and detailed iconography of symbols and deities. The worldwide spiritual leader of Tibetan Bon Buddhism, His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin has acknowledged my sculpture as authentic. This is the first time a Western artist has been honored in this way in the history of Tibetan Bon. This sculpture was recently shown in The Maridon Museum in the USA and I hope to exhibit it and my other bronze sculpture worldwide.

You can find more about William Rock and his art at: www.williamrockart.com

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