words mary von aue || images @whatwillyouleavebehind
where do you live – Outer space
favorite neighborhood dinner – Summers in Williamsburg
luggage - Guitar case
gadgets - iPhone
favorite accessory – ?
favorite charity - WWF
favorite hotel – Never been
favorite apps – Insta
favorite airport – Denver
favorite airline - JetBlue
home is…Where my feet meet the ground
where would you like to live? In the woods
where & when were you happiest? In the woods
what do you consider your greatest achievement? Being happy
what is your current state of mind? Restless
how many trips do you take a year? Not enough
how many of those are vacations? All
without traveling, you relax by? Creating
won’t board the plane without - My guitar in a safe place
indispensable in your carry-on - Headphones, music
take off routine - Breath
first thing you do after landing – Rejoice
travel is…Where you find your true self in this beautiful world
His work is all over New York City. Making temporary appearances on statues and monuments, traveling alongside the wall of a tractor trailer, and lingering overhead on the edges of condos. The “What will you...leave behind?” series finds idyllic and often eerie appearances throughout the city, sparking an inward reflection in each New Yorker that passes by. I got to speak with the street artist known on Instagram as @whatwillyouleavebehind on this project, and how it reminds us of the transience of material, prompting passersby to reflect on what we possess while moving through our lives.
mary: When did the idea of “What will you... leave behind” begin for you? Were there any influential experiences that led up to you creating it?
@whatwillyouleavebehind : The idea of "What will you... leave behind?" came to me in college. I went to an environmental liberal arts college in Vermont where it was ingrained into my psyche to create green sustainable artwork that could benefit people as well as the environment. So I began by photographing and creating “earthwork” sculptures using only what I could find in the natural environment, i.e., leaves, stones, dead branches, ice, etc. Soon after I found my niche creating concept-based sculptures, made of sculpted clay, wood, stone, and metal. All the while making it my mission to make artwork with materials that were taken sustainably from the earth.
Meticulously incorporating discarded secondhand wood, metal, and found objects into my works, I could honestly say that all of my artwork was made up entirely of things that Mother Nature and mankind had discarded and left behind. My senior exhibition was then rightfully titled, "The Things We've Left Behind" and was made of exactly that. Also around that time, right before graduation, I had a sculpture on exhibition of a figure with a chalkboard hanging from his tongue, and lo and behold, a secret admirer left the words "I Will Miss You..." written in cursive on it.
Fast-forward to a few years later and I came to the realization that I needed to share my mission with the world and leave those words behind for others just as they had been left behind for me. Then only after writing the words "I will miss you..." and "What will you... leave behind?" on random city walls, I realized the true weight these words carried.
Now by using my surroundings in the city, just as I did when living in the woods of VT, I am creating a new chapter in my life by creating original concept-based street art that can hopefully inspire and benefit people as well as the environment.
mary: Much of your art includes a view: the words you use catch the individual’s eye and then there is the context of its location. How do you choose these “windows,” and why do you choose them?
@whatwillyouleavebehind : I choose these "windows" with a photographer’s mindset. It's just how my brain is hardwired I guess. I see a possible location and automatically asses if it will photograph well, whether I can reach it, how busy the location is, whether there's a lot of foot traffic, whether it is worth the risk. Though in the end, when it comes down to it, I'll take any blank wall or location as long as I can reach people and hopefully have them relate to and be inspired by the words I leave behind.
mary: Are there any specific sentiments that you hold for these places, or do you choose them more for aesthetic purposes?
@whatwillyouleavebehind: It's mainly for artistic and aesthetic purposes. As a street artist, you can't hold much sentiment for the places you leave your work in because it all gets jealously buffed, tagged, and angrily painted over at some point. Or if you tag found wood and trash from the city like I do, then it's usually either stolen, removed, or thrown back in the trash the second you walk away from it.
mary: Has your musical background inspired what you create on New York’s streets?
@whatwillyouleavebehind: Without a doubt my songwriting inspires everything I do. Every different endeavor in my life inspires the other. My work as a carpenter inspires my sculpture, and my mindset for sculpture and photography inspires my street art, and all of the above inspires and is inspired by my music. In the end it all seems to come from and be about learning from the past to positively inspire the present and ensure a better future.
mary: New York City’s street-art community: Do you find it competitive or supportive?
@whatwillyouleavebehind : NYC street-art community? I'm not so sure that exists. If it does I guess I just haven't gotten the memo yet. I'll tell you this much: I haven't gotten punched in the face yet, and I've found that all I have gotten is positive feedback and support from the people that see and hear about my work in the streets.
mary: How do you think street art contributes to New York City? Is it just as necessary as what sits in galleries?
@whatwillyouleavebehind: I think street art is a crucial element of the emotional and cultural fabric that covers NYC, keeping it warm on cold nights. Galleries are necessary to the culture of NYC as well, but the everyday citizens of NYC are walking the streets looking for inspiration, direction, and something positive to hold on to. Without interesting and thought- provoking, concept-based street art, then a vast majority of that beauty in the streets will never be realized, or will just be lost and forgotten. Not everyone has the time or money to go to museums, and not everyone feels the love when gallery-hopping in Chelsea, but almost anyone can relate to a beautiful street mural or a well-written, meaningful tag.
mary: How does your art interact with New York City’s diverse setting?
@whatwillyouleavebehind : There is a series that I have installed a few times, consisting of three bulletin boards made of found secondhand discarded wood from the streets, and on each of which I tagged a question. They are as follows: “Who are you?” “Where are you going?” and, “What will you leave behind?” I attach a black marker to each, hang them on a wall, and walk away. The responses and answers that participants leave behind are as diverse as they come and it's truly a beautiful thing. If you were to sit by one of these installations and watch the diversity of all those who walk by and take a second to interact and participate, it would bring a smile to your face, because no matter who you are or where you come from, we all have the same questions, and are in search of meaningful answers. Go to my website and let the images speak for themselves.
mary: When someone sees your art on the street, what do you hope is internalized?
@whatwillyouleavebehind: When someone sees my work on the street it is my hope that they will just take a second to self-reflect and appreciate what they have in their lives. We are all moving so fast and forgetting so easily about the things that we leave behind in our wake. If we were to all just take a second and think about what we have left behind throughout the course of our lives, then the next logical step is to think about what we have and appreciate it now at this very moment in time, before we jump the gun and let it all go to waste. To the people viewing my work, it's all for you...Though the direction is unknown, I hope to help you find a way. Just ask yourself this: Who are you? Where are you going? What will you leave behind? With this in mind, keep moving forward.
mary: Many street artists establish their own style by using either words and phrases or images in their work. What made you choose words over images in your art?
@whatwillyouleavebehind: Leaving behind heartfelt, thought-provoking words is just where my street art is at this moment. Images are soon to follow...The goal is to evolve and continue making work that people can recognize, relate to, and be inspired by.
mary: One could say that streets are like canvasses. What are your hopes for the directions street art will take?
@whatwillyouleavebehind : My hope is that everyone will take to the streets and leave their mark in a positive way. Let's all paint this town red with positivity.