Nils Westergard is a 22 y.o Belgian-American street artist and film maker from Richmond, VA. His stencils and murals can be found on walls and in galleries across the US, Europe, and Australia. He has produced music videos and animations which have played in film festivals around the world, most notably his street-animation “Wallflower.” Nils is just coming off his first major European tour, where he was in nomadic production for 5 months.
SAUS just caught up with Nils just after wrapping up his European tour.
Could you tell us a little about yourself, where you´re from, and how did you get started in the urban art scene?
Sure, I’m 22 and from Richmond, Virginia. I got started doing graffiti when I was just a kid, I was also doing theatrical sets in my school at the time. A friend of mine who also worked on the stage (who is still a dope artist) was pretty into stencils. So that sparked my interest and I took it from there.
Do you have a formal arts education?
Yeah, I just graduated in May with a BFA…. In film.
Do you have any favorite surfaces?
I love a dirty, graff riddled, decaying wall. A wall with history and a story to tell. I’m not much a fan of big white walls actually. I wish I could get them dirtier and nastier.
What was your most memorable “street art” experience?
This tour of Europe has been pretty insane. And as a whole that would have to win. But as far as a case-by-case basis goes, my time out on the Navajo Nation for the Painted Desert Project was phenomenal. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place, I was out there with a great artist (Nanook) and surrounded by works from some of the biggest names in the game. It was also the first time someone flew me out to paint, and Im forever thankful to Chip for putting the faith me.
How much does your art affect or influence your everyday life and are there any role models or artists who inspired you?
My art is my everyday life. Since May I have been touring Europe with the sole purpose of painting. Every single day is either painting, cutting stencils, or figuring out where Im going next. Almost everyone I have met out here I have met through some connection to the art I’m doing. I’m inspired by a ton of artists, the ones I meet in person do a lot for me- ROA, Aryz, Gaia, the MSC guys were all pleasures to talk to; Elbowtoe is doing amazing stuff lately- I keep getting blown away by more and more artists. Ive been following Borondo and Ernest Z. of late as well. Outside of street artists (of which there are still so many to name) I’m inspired by many of my friends making work, Matthew Rea especially- and if we chuck music in the mix, always Aesop Rock.
Has your style developed throughout the years?
Definitely. I think it would be difficult for that not to have happened, because I started painting so young- since I have only been making art through puberty and my late teens/early 20’s, it would be impossible for the art to not change with me.
Do you have a message in your art?
Yes. My art is kind of in 2 camps, which used to be nicely divided between studio and street. Now the line is much more blurred. But I have the work I do which I dedicate to my friends, treating them in a way that is normally reserved for people of social or historical significance (or ads I guess.) And then I have my more political/social work, which is mostly about authority. Police scare me, especially in America- I think Ferguson made people think about that, even if it was just for a week.
What are your thoughts on the way the internet is influencing the artworld?
That’s a big question. The art world in itself is so huge. Its changing street art in an interesting way, with more and more people seeing work only through the internet. I grew up on Banksy and D-Face and plenty of others of those pioneers. But I never saw a piece of theirs in person until 3 weeks ago in London. So there’s that…
Which countries have you visited to paint so far and where did you like it best?
Australia, Netherlands, UK, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Belgium, France, and Austria. Each place has its own things to offer. Melbourne was so sweet, but I love Amsterdam so dearly. London was crazy because once you get to Shoreditch its like every step you see some amazing piece. I’m not sure I can answer your question with one place.
Some street artists find it hard to paint in the USA (restrictions…) than in other country. My question is, do you share the same sentiment, and why?
Yeah. Police in America can, and will, fuck you over hard. People do jail time for graffiti all the time in the states, that’s part of the game. In Europe, from my experience, the concept of doing time for murals or wheat-pastes is laughable- some places you can still get fucked for bombing, but even that is generally laughable. And when I say laughable I mean it, people literally laughed when I said you could easily do time for painting in the states.
What is your favorite piece of art you created and why?
That’s tricky. I don’t like my pieces for long; which is good. If you love your stuff so much then you’ll never progress, because you’re already making “great stuff.” For now it is Athena in Graz. But that will be over quickly.
What do you do when you are not creating art?
I spend time with my friends, that’s my favorite thing to do. I like to watch movies (Ive made a point to see one in almost every city Ive been to,) and I play with my bird Paco.
What are your plans in the near future?
No idea. I do a really big wall in upstate New York, then hopefully Boston, and something in DC come November. But I am seriously beat from this euro-tour. So I will be making some studio stuff from the toasty confines of my room, in my pajamas, sipping tea.
Good luck and, of course, we’re thrilled that you are doing what you are doing!