He's shown in countless solo and group exhibitions, but his creatures have also transended into the real world to become larger-than-life. He now holds a long list of locations — public parks, galleries, small businesses — around Australia where his characters adorn huge walls, bringing their otherworldly elements to the community.
And it is especially refreshing to see original work that displays an authentic self, with their honest freedom of expression radiating from within the world they created. Visual arts holds his focus as of now, but he has also been the lead singer of a band, a writer of short stories, an actor of sorts. He literally has a tattoo of Bart Simpson in high heels from the episode where Lisa is in the beauty pageant. There is a very unique energy and sense of self that Wills exudes. So, to gain a sense of who the real Martin E. Wills is, I asked him more about the Gayliens.
Do you remember the first reference that led you to thinking up these characters?
The kernel of the characters came when I started sketching really rudimentary, abstract figures that formed a sort of coded journal of my early sexual experiences. It wouldn't have made sense to anyone but me and I was super private about it all, but really wanted to document what I was feeling. That stuff was really wrapped up in a lot of shame and excitement and I felt like I had no one to talk to about any of it. I'm over that now but my paintings still allude to those experiences, but it's all pretty tenuous and abstracted now.
One day I looked through all my sketchbooks and a common thread was this kind of effeminate body language and nonsensical anatomy and bodies being sliced, so it was my third exhibition was when I started to get a little more overt with the idea of an androgynous harem of aliens. Literally one of the works was a large scale painting of a six shirtless effeminate figures with elaborate pompadours. Now they move between looking relatively human to having six pairs of eyeballs and impossible bodies.
Is there a name for them?
Well, they're twinky, hairless, disaffected humanoids with great hair bathing in tepid (but exotic) extraterrestrial waters, so I've settled on 'gayliens' as a short-hand description. If you named them individually they'd probably be called things like 'Terrance of Regulus IV' or 'Jim.’
Gayliens. That's a mood. So basically, they're a hodgepodge of various species both in and out of our world?
I feel like my subjects are from human stock, but from, say, 900 years in the future after being bio-engineered and interbred to thrive on other planets.
How many of these characters have you created since being an artist?
So many. But I don't really paint the same character more than once, though all the characters I paint look similar...if that makes sense. I used to paint figures that were much more human looking, or much more abstract. These characters kind of sit somewhere in the middle.
What are these objects they are holding?
Talismans, unknown technologies, artifacts and jazz cigarettes, because we'll still be smoking in a thousand years. They're all objects that have meaning within the context of that work, but not necessarily to me, or you, or anyone else. Is this too cryptic? I mean, it's all deliberately cryptic, I don't want any of my works to read as having a message as such, but I do encode meaning in to my work even if it's only for me.
We need oxygen, food and water. They need:
A new planet to build another bathhouse on. Or just novelty in general. Part of the head canon is that they're incurably bored and exhausted by everything they've ever seen, so they roam the stars looking for new experiences to blog about.
How do you come up with the titles for each piece?
I feel like each of my paintings is a single frame from a larger story, so I try to author titles that allude to a larger framework that the painting sits inside of. This absolutely relates to my problematic inside-out knowledge of Star Trek, of which I am both proud and ashamed.
Who would win in a fight: the Gayliens or humans?
These guys wouldn't fight; they'd just regard us with a blank stare, light another cigarette and casually lean on the big red button that detonates the Earth.