Interview: Pierce Williams, founder of Radioactive Future Underground Art Collective
by Chris Parnell
Abraham Lincoln High School
San Francisco, CA

CP: How long have you been a professional artist?
PW: I started getting serious about making art and doing art shows in 1999. Before then, I was always interested in art, but didn’t really save much art that I made, and participated only in a few events. I started out doing sculpture, then I began designing silkscreened prints and clothing. My friend Joel Mielke taught me how to silkscreen print in 2002.

CP: How did you start out producing and showing your artwork?
PW: Back in 1999 there weren’t a lot of options available to me to show my art, so I began producing my own art events. I attended several large group shows and got excited about the creative energy I felt there from the other artists. So then I began producing my own group art shows, and from there, the rest is art history.

CP: Have you received negative reviews of your artwork or events in the press? How do you handle that?
PW: For my shows, the press has been entirely positive, which I’m happy about. The highly esteemed Robert L. Pincus of the San Diego Union-Tribune called one of my art shows “an energetic sampling of works.” I feel that my main purpose with my shows is to bring together artists of different skill levels and styles, to push the art scene forward. I describe my art events as a sampling of different styles and forms of art, by local artists that I have a great amount of respect for, and am honored to work with. My events have always been more punk rock, DIY style than fine art establishment style. The great and supportive people that come out to my shows know what to expect from a Radioactive Future show. It’s been the same ever since the very first show in 2000.

CP: How do you choose the artists that show their work in your events?
PW: I show only work that fits my personal taste. I don’t like much abstract art at all and prefer representational. Something I’ve been criticized for is showing work that isn’t as high quality as the rest of the work in the show. This is because, in every show since the beginning, I have shown emerging artists along with the professionals. You just can’t expect someone who just started out to make work as good as someone who’s been doing it for 20 years or more. But it’s important and rewarding to me to keep showing emerging artists, because not so long ago I was an emerging artist, and I remember how hard it was for me to break into the art scene. I’m glad to be able to give those starting out a chance to show their stuff.

CP: Is there a meaning or purpose to your art in general?
PW: The main theme to my art project is a dark vision of the future. I think the planet is in serious trouble if we continue in our present state. Environmentalism is very important to me, and I wholeheartedly support Green and renewable energy initiatives, and recycling. I’ve done several anti-war and political pieces, from which you can clearly understand my beliefs if you see them.

CP: Who are your favorite artists?
PW: There are a lot of artists that I like. In the local scene, I like Mary Fleener, Perry Vasquez, and Yuransky the most. I’m honored to show with all of the artists that have been in my shows. On the national level, there’s only a few that I like. Damien Hirst and Edward Kienholz are some of them.

CP: What difficulties have you faced in the art world?
PW: Far too many to list here.

CP: How would you describe the San Diego art scene?
PW: The San Diego art scene is very fragmented. There’s mostly artists doing their own thing, and gallery owners typically only show their friends’ artwork. It’s almost impossible for someone who’s not connected to break into the scene. There have been only a few groups trying to bring the scene together like I have, unfortunately most of them have gone out of business, and my group is one of the few that is left.

PW: Have you received any hate mail? How do you handle that?
BP: I did a very highly charged political art tour in 2004 called “Machine Gun in the Clown’s Hand” that generated several angry letters, and I expected this. The imagery was very controversial. Additionally, I have received hate mail from some artists I’ve had to stop working with along the way. It’s part of doing business and being in the public eye.

CP: What has been your most personally rewarding experience as an artist?
PW:Several of the emerging artists I have worked with have thanked me for showing their work for the first time, and acting as a mentor to them. This is very gratifying and one of the most important reasons that I do group art shows.