Type and press Enter.

How Rudy Willingham Uses Paper and Pop Culture to Redefine Street Art

From guerrilla marketing to guerrilla art, spray paint may no longer be necessary

Back to the beginning

Rudy Willingham is not only known for his released tracks and revolutionary ad campaigns, but for redefining the world of street art. His interest in art all began as an effort to promote his music. One thing led to another and his art took off even more so than his music did causing Willingham to switch his focus. And though art may be a priority of his today, he mentioned new songs are still on their way!

Educated in both marketing and electronic music production, Willingham says that he draws a lot of similarities between his street art and love for music. “Street art is visual DJing,” said Willingham. Both deal with merging items together whether that be synths and samples, or paper cutouts and real world objects.

“Street art is visual DJing.”

rudy willingham

Commonalities are even present between his street art and marketing background. “When I worked in advertising, I was always pitching street-art style guerrilla marketing ideas to clients. So it seems like street art is a complete 180 from my background, but it’s actually quite similar.”

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Willingham expressed his gratitude towards the city for being such a spark of inspiration for his work. It’s photogenic qualities and supportive community has really allowed his art to take form. “It’s the perfect combination of nature, art scene, and a vibrant business community,” said Willingham.

Reimagining Street Art

Rather than having to sneak out late at night to spray paint, Rudy opted for the more innovative and dare I say, non-traditional approach to street art. Using paper cutouts instead of paint, Willingham has been bringing smiles to his neighbors’ faces for years–with the obvious exclusion of the inescapable few Karen’s he had referred to. Paper saves him time and a run-in with the cops as he self declared that he’s “too old and slow to be running from [them].” With his alternative material for street art he can create more in less time. Most of the attention his art generates comes from social media so it’s important for him to continuously put out content. And though he’s never tried the whole spray paint route before…who knows, one day he just might!

Depending on the size of the object or landmark that inspires Willingham’s creative vision, he decides whether to make a sticker or a hand held cutout. One of his famous cutouts involved his take on a very large Seattle landmark, the Space Needle. He transformed the spire in the sky into a UFO on his Instagram. He printed out a green beam and covered the stem of the structure to make a play at his creativity, reminiscent of childhood-like imagination.

However, if the object of inspiration is scaled smaller than say 605 feet in the air, he’ll take the sticker route. From the initial idea he then prepares his design on Photoshop, prints on a Canon-Pro-1000, and then cuts it out with a Cricut cutting machine. In doing so, he produces “little Easter eggs around the city to cheer people up,” said Willingham.

He prefers stickers to the handheld cutouts because stickers have the opportunity to last at their designated location. Willingham likes the idea that passersby might smile upon their discovery, even though at times he gets less than a grin and more like a glare when people see him mysteriously measuring the widths and lengths of public pipes around the city. 

After the agencies…

His unmatched take on street art heavily reflects in his fun, imaginative ads. After spending 10 years working at different ad agencies, Willingham grew annoyed with how much approval ads required, not to mention the boundaries agencies never crossed, always choosing to play it safe. “Ads should be what people want to see, not what they have to see,” thinks Willingham.

“Ads should be what people want to see, not what they have to see”

Rudy Willingham

Thus, he built his own agency with the philosophy to “make something cool, then customers will think you’re cool, and they’ll buy your stuff.” And as of today, there is no marketer out there cooler than Willingham. He is changing the construct of marketing as an industry–just as he’s doing with street art–into an enjoyable outlet rather than a burden to consumer eyes. 

As the world can appear fairly negative in these times, Willingham just wants to bring positivity to people whether that be in regards to his music, ads, or street art. He wants to create enjoyable art for everyone and maybe get them to see their everyday surroundings in a different light. Finding it easier to communicate through his art rather than words, he said “art is my way of expressing my views to the world.” Therefore, he lets most pieces represent a current trend or reference to pop culture. 

As someone who seems to have continuously gone above and beyond, it’s hard to imagine how Willingham will continue to out-do himself. This creator has thought so far out of the box he’s working in spheres at this point. Though he mentions it can be challenging to continue his momentum, traveling to new cities–which he can’t wait to do after the pandemic–has always helped ignite and inspire new and refreshing ideas for his art. He’s found it best to study other great work in order to keep things fresh and to avoid repeating himself. It’s important to uncover what makes great art so capturing and try to “incorporate some of that thinking into your own craft,” says Willingham. 

This man is truly a jack of all trades. If you care to see more of his work you can check out his Instagram and website!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *