Studio Visits: William Heath (aka Billy Beasty)
In an Eastside home, a consummate collaborator lives with the detritus of spectacular gestures
William Heath is an event-based producer of installations and stage sets. A constant collaborator, teacher, and friend of nonprofit art and queer institutions alike, Heath is also a curator, as well as a budding children's book illustrator. Oh, and he co-founded and operates a "3-way artist/curator/designer talent agency," Busy Town LLC, the title of which is cribbed from Richard Scarry's famous books. To know him is to recognize the dexterity with which he manages to move among such varied roles. Only three years into his time in Austin, Heath has had a strong hand in creating some of the most memorable visuals of the fests and parades that litter Austin's calendar: Psych Fest, QueerBomb, GayBiGayGay. And yet, although it may seem that Heath has his thumb in every pie, his own work is quiet, domestic, vulnerable, and lovely: "Always," Heath says, "in search of community and comfort." The hybrid's the thing ...
William Heath: In talking about hybrid practices, I have to talk about both of the personae I use. William Heath is a curator, and Billy Beasty, the second-in-command persona, is an artist. Billy is more sexually provocative, and William is ... not. Billy is who I wish I could be sometimes [laughs].
Austin Chronicle: When did the personae arrive?
WH: They arrived as I moved to town three years ago. Angeliska Polacheck [of Gadjo Disko fame] told me I needed a persona. So I initially invented a character called the GlitterBeast – who was a really aggressive character. For example, GlitterBeast had a 9/11 dance party. It was too much – people shut it down and weren't feeling it. But it was probably one of the most beautiful installations I made. I had Faith Gay DJ that event, and I was working with Sym Prole [of Liberty or Death Industries], who has also been a constant collaborator.
AC: How would you define your own studio space?
WH: My studio space is my living space, my bedroom, my house. My own work is typically about romantic longing. Part of my drive to work with other people is to get away from my own limitations around this subject matter; it's a method of getting away from that narcissistic space.
AC: What do you get from having your studio space as your home space?
WH: Well, it makes sense with my practice. I like to make objects that fit in the space of everyday life – objects that sit oddly in the home. For example, this [pointing at a centerpiece on his dining room table] takes the place of an object in the home such as a bowl of fruit, which signifies that a space is decorated. For my own centerpiece, I'm bringing objects together from past shows, residue from other projects, and putting it all together. In this way, I carry a whole history of installation work.
AC: I saw you out at Austin's Twelfth Night parade. What did you do for that?
WH: Well, outside is a big paper moon, which I got off Craigslist. It was from a wedding. For some reason I often end up with leftovers from weddings.
AC: There's so much excess and debris from weddings.
WH: Yes, a lot of temporary objects. That paper moon was from a wedding, which then went to the Hotel San Jose for a New Year's Eve party, which then was a DJ Booth cover for the Shame dance party ... it's been making the rounds. It's having a life right now.
AC: When do you know it's time to retire an object like the big paper moon?
WH: I think something like the moon has a shelf-life that keeps halving itself. So, soon. I have no attachment to the physicality of it – take it apart, put wheels on it, cut it up. I like having these objects because they're often an access to collaboration, and it fuels conversations with other artists.