Will Zwey on rebelling against creative constraints through digital art

Michael Newkirk
March 14, 2023
“My artistic career pretty much started with blockchain” — Will Zwey

Former architect and death metal musician Will Zwey can show you a place you’ve always known and yet have somehow never been. She tells Michael Newkirk about breaking free from creative constraints on the blockchain and building worlds where past meets future.

Venturing into Chicago’s art and music scene, one might come across Will Zwey. Inspired by innate creativity and propelled by web3, her work has already been auctioned by Sotheby’s and featured in Times Square in New York City — the young creative has certainly had an impressive start out of the gate. Although constantly creating digital otherworlds, Will might not always approach strangers in this one: “I’m a really shy person!” she divulges.

Whilst Will is shy — Windy City melodic death metal shy — her work is bold, flaunting a colourful, futuristic style, delivered with an electric subtlety. A death metal musician, her visual art perfectly captures limitless futures and an unbounded self with a bluesy, surreal feel, free of the reticence most would have about blending metal with the blues. In doing so, she taps into one of the most compelling aspects of the human experience, namely, that art never seems to muster up the strength to end its relationship with place — and Chicago has an immensely rich history of the blues.

Sunshower, by Will Zwey.

Clearing her mind to construct her pieces, Will follows a simple formula. “Make a cappuccino, pet my cat, turn on my vacuum robot. That’s 90% of the routine,” she explains, chuckling at its simplicity.

Stimulated by Chicago’s architectural history, underground scene, and a wide range of artists from traditional media to NFTs, Will is grateful for the blockchain, which has allowed — and prompted — her to share her art with the world; she’s been pleasantly surprised at the response from both visual artists and musicians ever since.

Will commenced her creative journey in the same way that many musicians will recall: obligatory lessons. Super-glued to a piano bench, Will was compelled to practise for two hours a day. Facing creative constraints rivalling Beowulf’s grip, Will grew to despise her studies, dreaming of a time when she could “explore things.” That day came not too long after, when she first encountered her beloved melodic death metal. Will was utterly transposed by what she had heard, prizing the music of Children of Bodom, Wintersun, Metallica, and Dream Theater, amongst others.

Over the next few years, Will consolidated herself in the genre without paying much attention to the visual arts. Studying architecture at university changed all of that, offering another means of artistic output. It was this practice that developed into a career, though she encountered the same creative constraints as in her piano-playing youth. “I felt this huge disconnect between school and the actual field,” she reflects. “In school, you’re allowed to do all this stuff. But when you’re actually working, there are building codes, client budgets, and all that; it’s constraining. That’s how I started playing around with digital art.” 

From her early days of being introduced to death metal to making the decision to leave architecture in favour of more creative pursuits, there lies a common theme: tech has always been there for Will, clearing away the debris and unveiling the path that she will venture down next.

Still from Present, by Will Zwey.

What inspires her is difficult to pin down, even for Will. Given her architectural background, she relies on defining the space and scale of her pieces first, only then adding layers of detail to create “a little world for people to be in.” From there, she visually narrates a story rhizomatic in its entry and exit points, teasing out a wide variety of interpretations. Although she enjoys “facing some sort of given constraint,” her work always delivers an unbridled rebellion against limitations, exemplifying the same courage that gave her the impetus to plunge into web3 in the first place — her sweet “revenge.”

After finalising all visual layers, Will begins composing music to accompany her NFTs. Her musical compositions flow from her visual foundations, however, when writing or in band rehearsals, characters for her art may, at times, begin to take shape in Will’s mind. Keeping the level of visual detail and stimulation in mind, she consistently gravitates towards writing classical music accompaniments, concerned that her detailed NFTs combined with melodic death metal might be too “overpowering” for some of those who engage with her works.

“My artistic career pretty much started with blockchain.”

— Will Zwey

The theme of time runs through the veins of Will’s pieces, ranging from the explicit — such as a clock — to more unique, abstract temporal relics: clothes drying on a line (Sleeping Sun Trilogy), rain on a summer’s day (Sunshower), or carefree adolescents swinging their legs (Present). Her Sleeping Sun Trilogy: Act II — Last Ride of the Day features rocking horses, one of which is still moving, prompting the viewer to wonder when they played on one for the last time. Even though Will believes that we “can never go back in time,” she views art as a tangible opportunity to connect with moments that have passed. That nostalgia, set in futuristic scenes that simultaneously evoke familiar temporal elements, allows the viewer to convene with what is behind us, as well as consider a future of infinite possibilities.

The impact of the future of technology in art cannot be understated, and Will credits her successful acceleration into the art scene to web3. “My artistic career pretty much started with blockchain,” she states. Without it, and the meaningful relationships she’s forged in the web3 community, her path to the level she occupies now “would probably take longer.” Much like in her pursuit of digital art and death metal, there is no hierarchy in web3 to constrain her.

“When you’re actually working, it’s constraining. That’s how I started playing around with digital art.” 

— Will Zwey

The exhilaration of hitting one’s stride and finding success typically intensifies one’s focus, and while Will is honing in on “pushing her limits” in art, she is not merely concentrating on individual accomplishment. Recognising the potential of the web3 space, she is also an advocate for the talents of others; in particular, she is an influential voice within the NFT Asia community, helping to raise the profiles of fellow creatives. 

Optimistic about the future of art and technology, Will hopes that more and more people will continue to embrace art on the blockchain, though she acknowledges the resistance, apprehension, and scepticism that accompany waves of technological development. To those viewing tech as a delegitimising infiltration in art — or perhaps a threat that could undermine traditional mediums — Will underscores that how we implement technological tools will always outweigh the influence of their mere presence.

Sleeping Sun Trilogy: Act II — Last Ride of the Day, by Will Zwey.
Sleeping Sun Trilogy: Act II — Last Ride of the Day, by Will Zwey.
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Written by
Michael Newkirk
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Michael is a writer and poet from North Carolina. Currently based in British Columbia, Canada, he is a Software Consultant and an Account Executive at Virtual Team. With 17 years of editing experience, he is also the Chief Editor at Words rU. Outside of work, Michael plays football, writes songs, watches birds, and studies Black history.