Some people are simply born with creative spark. Willow Gatewood is one such individual. “I can’t not create,” she told us when she sat down with us in mid-December. “Since I was young, I’ve had a hard time understanding my feelings about the world around me. Art is a way for me to explore that.”
Willow began her early education in public school, but shy and awkward, she struggled to find her way. Her mother took her out of school but, with a full-time career, found it difficult to monitor all the aspects of homeschooling. Fortunately, Willow was eager to learn. Self-driven and possessed of a curious nature, she took it upon herself to design her curriculum, exploring the subjects that interested her most.
At seven she began writing stories, creating characters, and designing worlds. She would draw them, write songs for them, and even create elaborate backdrops and settings, bringing the ideas fully out of her head and into a three-dimensional presence. By the time she was fifteen, she was performing her music in local coffee shops and open-mic nights, and though her shyness threatened to overwhelm her, she found joy in self-expression. “I’m still awkward,” she says, “but I’ve gotten better at hiding it.”
A musician, a songwriter, a poet, a writer of fantasy fiction, a pen and ink artist, and a painter, Willow’s work is interdisciplinary, but also cerebral. When an idea presents itself, then she begins the process of exploring it, imagining it from various angles, and to answer the questions that idea presents.
Less concerned with mediums than with concepts and messages, she chooses whatever method of composition will bring the idea most appropriately to life. Inspiration may come while walking in the woods, or it may be something she happens across in a junk store or in a dumpster. She loves taking recycled things and finding new purpose for them. Often her work combines mediums them, transcends them, and there is often a written or performative aspect to her pieces.
When asked to describe what this process looks like, she recalled a recent hospital stay. During this time, she found herself feeling isolated and cut off. As someone who had grown up in the countryside, she was not used to being kept apart from the outside world, nor from those she is close to. She knew, however, that this feeling was only an illusion, and that there are more ways to connect with those around us than through spoken word or even physical touch. This idea got her thinking about the ways in which we communicate on a microscopic, even microbial level. “As we sit and talk,” she explained to us, “we exchange microbes. I become a part of you, and you become a part of me.”
Holding a degree in Environment and Sustainability, Willow hopes her work brings people to an awareness of our interconnectedness. To that end, she has recently found herself exploring biosonification. Here she takes living things—fungi, moss, various other plant life—connects them to electrodes, and uses technology to translate the natural processes into sound while another program turns the sound into images. As she interacts with the organism, the sounds and images change. It’s a way to illustrate interconnectedness of all living things and thereby introduce conversations about our environment and our relationship with it.
Willow’s work is deeply didactic. Her hope is to drive change toward social justice and ecological sustainability. “We are all so deeply connected, everything we do affects, in some minute way, everything around us.”
OWE Arts & Culture exists to highlight the diverse range of talent among Danville’s creative community and to provide opportunities for that community to come together.