Artist Profile: Will Power
Union City, Hudson County
Inspired by Style Wars, the 1983 documentary film on hip-hop culture, Will Power (b. 1969) began making his mark on the walls of his native-Jersey City in the mid-80’s.
“I was the first one to hit White Castle on Journal Square,” he airily recalls. Will remained active on the streets through the 80s—hitting any visible surface with tags, bombs, and original characters. Sometimes he got up with his crews: TFK (The Fresh Kingdom), KOC (Kings of Cremation) and MOB (Masters of Bombing), but often he was on his own. And while a student at Jersey City’s Dickenson High School, Will’s principal canvas was its bathroom walls, the only space that wasn’t thoroughly littered with graffiti.
Following a stint in the military and an 11-year hiatus to raise a family, Will returned to the streets in 2011. But at this point, he emerged as a muralist, fusing graffiti elements into figurative portraits on legal walls. Always conscious of his setting, Will’s principal objective was to “give back to the community.” Forging everything from hip-hop characters to memorial walls, Will garnered love and respect from both local residents and casual passersby. And although his work was far closer to the realm of street art than graffiti, he was invited to join the legendary Ex Vandals crew, the first-ever graffiti crew formed in 1971.
Self-taught, Will acknowledges graffiti as his principal teacher. When living with his mother’s family in Thailand for several years, Will discovered that his great uncle was a celebrated Thai artist. “I guess it’s in my blood,” he remarks. “My aesthetics fuse my maternal Thai roots with my paternal Black American heritage.”
Presently, Will’s main focus is his studio work. “In many ways, what I do on canvas mirrors what I do on the streets,” he explains. ”In both settings I just let it flow. I almost never work with a sketch in hand. But I’m now beginning to use media that I’d never used before. I’m starting to paint with oil and I’ve begun to replace markers with oil sticks.”
And while Will almost always works with vibrant hues on the street, his studio work is generally fashioned with muted tones. The themes, too, have begun to vary, as Will’s deep spiritual yearnings increasingly inform his studio work, while his street art exudes a gritty hip-hop sensibility.
While Will spends an average of four to six hours on a street art mural, he generally devotes as much as three months to each work on canvas. “I feel most at home in my studio,” he says. “And my studio is just about any available space I can find in my home. My studio is my sanctuary.”
Will Power is a featured artist in On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey.
Image Caption: Will Power,1984, Aerosol, 2021, 13 ½’ x 20’. Photo courtesy Rachel Fawn Alban