A City’s Canvas: Profiles of the Artists of Downtown Winston-Salem

Artist of the Month: Donell Williams

By David Willard

The revitalization of downtown Winston-Salem has been years in the making. From the establishment of great dining experiences that line the area to the various unique shops that now make their home in downtown Winston, it has obviously been very successful. However, the true breath of life that lives in downtown are the artists that have given Winston-Salem the name “The City of the Arts.”

Beginning with this issue, the “Artist of the Month” series will focus on one of those artists, and just what he or she is doing with murals to keep that air of creativity and passion for the arts alive and well in the area. And it is in that respect that this series begins with Donell Williams, a young artist that has made Winston-Salem his home since he was 13 years old. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Donell, 21 years old, moved here as a youngster and fell in love with the arts scene instantly.

Growing up, it was tagging that made an impression on Donell. Much like, but not to be confused with graffiti, tagging is signing one’s name or other representation in or on a public space (walls, bus-stops, alleyways, paved streets, etc.). Unlike graffiti, tagging usually takes less time and skill as it is done in one color with a single can of spray paint or thick marker. “My dad was an artist, tagging in the ‘80s. Once I saw his tag in the tunnel while looking out the window of a train. From that moment on, I wanted nothing more than to leave an impression on things,” says Williams. Fortunately for the area, Williams has done just that.

Williams has a unique style that sets his mural work apart. “I go with a very loose conception of art and just doodle and reference doodles. Aside from commission work, I just have fun with it. It’s playful dark with a surrealism splash,” he continues.

Williams’ favorite work is a good demonstration of his artistic style and flair. “Graffiti Saint is a spray can cracked apart with an angel in the middle of it. To me, it shows the innocence in creativity, although, I would never advocate vandalism,” adds Williams.

Although only 21, Williams has already been recognized as an artist to watch in the area. In 2014, Williams was recognized as Painter of the Year by FCEA (Forsyth County Entertainment Awards). He ranks this as his proudest accomplishment so far in his young career.

Williams seems intent on continuing to make his mark on the community and art lovers in the area. “It’s awesome and full of energy to feed off of. We’ve got a creative hub down there. I feel I’m in the right place as an artist. It’s a growing city with a small town personality,” he adds.

Although Williams certainly seems at home in downtown Winston-Salem, he also sees room to make it, and the community, even better. “I would like to see more funding to explore the creative side of our city’s at-risk youth,” he says.

Donell Williams is proving he is not only an artist to watch, but also a man who believes art is a tool to make things better. “History never repeats itself because of artists always innovating, and showing the gradual change in the world,” he concludes. Ironically, one of the cases in point to this argument may well be the downtown area. That is true because of artists like Donell that continue to shape and define downtown and Winston as not only a city on the move, but also a city deep in artistic expression.