Soundwaves' New Exhibit Envisions 20 Austin Songs as Art Prints
Signed Spoon and Sue Foley pieces fundraise for the SIMS Foundation
Tim Wakefield creates his own wild synesthesia. In his 4,000-square-foot gallery and workshop just off of the main plaza in Lockhart, Wakefield's artworks pop off the walls in bright swirls and vibrant, impressionistic strings. Each canvas represents a song and, through his nonprofit Soundwaves Art Foundation, a cause.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the SIMS Foundation partners with Soundwaves for a limited-edition run of artworks based on songs from over 20 Austin songwriters and bands. The musician-signed works will be on display at Hotel Van Zandt throughout May, with live music by Quiet Company's Taylor Muse and a signing by Ruthie Foster on Monday, May 15, from 5 to 8pm.
All proceeds from the prints will benefit SIMS, with Spoon, the Black Angels, Sue Foley, Blackillac, Bob Schneider, and Arc Angels among the artists whose songs are represented. The Austin-based nonprofit SIMS provides low-cost mental health and substance use recovery services to local musicians, music industry professionals, and dependent family members.
Wakefield created Soundwaves in London in 2006 before moving to Austin in 2014. He manipulates the computer generated soundwaves of songs to bring them visually to life as his own artistic expression of the music. Soundwaves then partners with the songs' originators to benefit various charities, having raised over $7.5 million to date through work with over 500 artists.
Wakefield's background isn't as a visual artist, but rather as a fundraiser. In London, he often worked with athletes and celebrities to develop exclusive projects for charities. Seeking a way to involve musicians, he came upon the idea of creating artworks from the unique soundwave images produced by their songs.
"I started playing around with them with a friend of mine who was a graphic designer. We sat down and said, 'How do we turn these kind of dull images into something spectacular?'" remembers Wakefield. "It was just going to be four or five bands, and we did George Michael, got all of Pink Floyd to sign, Coldplay, and a British band called Texas, bizarrely. We raised money for a music therapy charity, and it just never stopped."
Although Wakefield developed proprietary software to create his artworks, he is quick to acknowledge that the concept could easily be copied. He feels confident however that Soundwaves has established a distinct enough reputation to protect the style and brand, especially among artists. Admirers range from Cyndi Lauper and Robert Smith to Brandi Carlile and Willie Nelson.
"I've been asked by probably a dozen entities in music if I could do this commercially, but as soon as I do that, it's done for me," he says. "We don't want to be commercial. It just doesn't sit right. It changes the message of Soundwaves, as well. We want bands to do this because they're doing something good."
Most limited-edition signed prints range from $220 to $600, with unsigned prints as low as $75 on the Soundwaves website. The originals often auction for thousands of dollars, with a recent collaboration between P!nk and Kelly Clarkson of "Broken & Beautiful" bringing in $50,000 to benefit No Kid Hungry. While artists sometimes have specific charities they want to support, Soundwaves focuses primarily on benefiting organizations promoting social justice, disaster relief, education, environmental sustainability, and mental health.
SIMS marks Soundwaves' first major local partnership since their work with Mosaic Sound Collective, which served as the original home for the foundation before Wakefield opened the Lockhart studio.
As Soundwaves continues to expand their roster, Wakefield looks to produce a coffeetable book of artworks and even collaborate with other visual artists in new mediums. The foundation now boasts seven employees around the world, often surprising their founder in uncovering new bands with fervent fandoms that will sell out print runs in hours. Wakefield, who was raised on the UK punk scene, personally values being able to connect fans with their treasured music in a new way.
"I know what music means to me, and the power of music is just incredible," he says. "Music is a song you fell in love to. It's your mom's favorite song that they played at her funeral. It's heartbreak, it's joy. It's headbanging and even losing your mind. It's everything and anything."