William Toney, a local multimedia artist, now has his “Grayscale” exhibit on display at UMKC’s Gallery of Art. The display reflects on his life experience and allows viewers to interpret his art from their own perspective.
Using what he found in his surroundings, Toney included still lifes, photographs and installations that observe contemporary Black culture as part of this exhibit.
“We’re at a place in time where people are interested in Black culture and stories, but not from a stereotypical lens and from an actual nuanced perspective,” Toney said.
Toney was born in Raytown and graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia in 2012, earning a BFA in photography.
Art and photography became interests of Toney’s at a young age, and while attending the after-school program MyARTS in Kansas City, he learned a range of artistic skills and realized his passion could become his career.
Being inspired by the careers of other artists, Toney said he felt that his dream was possible.
With residencies at The Drugstore and being a recipient of the 2020 Charlotte Street Studio Residency, Toney said that access to other artists and different forms of art was an important part of challenging himself.
Toney’s first show was his exhibit “Social Fabric” at Kiosk in 2019. Now, “Greyscale” has allowed Toney to measure his impact and growth as an artist.
“Having people review and interact with your work always feels like a success,” Toney said. “Being able to represent yourself and your culture from your own perspective is really important.”
Toney works within the Kansas City community to mentor young artists and teach them that they can reach self-expression using a figure, but objects and places to represent concepts. He is also lead preparator at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Local artists like Will have better attendance because they have cultivated a local following and have strong ties to the community,” said Davin Watne, head director and curator at the UMKC Gallery of Art. “I like that the UMKC Gallery of Art can be a platform for an artist like Will to explore their ideas more fully with financial support and academic legitimacy.”
Toney split “Grayscale” into two different sections, one part being black and white photographs and the other being full of color, making for a noticeable shift in the gallery.
The decision of this shift was deliberate, as Toney was reflecting on something being in between or a shift in value.
“I am looking at things for their inherent value or lack of value and combining them to make a new composition that still speaks to or hints at a Black experience,” Toney said.
The act of taking an intimate object and expanding it gives audiences the opportunity to look at it for its cultural context and formal elements.
“Will is exploring the limits of art’s ability to communicate an experience of race through visual ephemera,” Watne said. “Art does a good job of creating a visceral response in the viewer and creating a different form of knowledge. It stimulates dialog and brings people together.”
While his work may highlight his experience as a Black man, Toney relied on how the work fit into the audience’s perception of life.
The sharing of these intimate experiences and objects is an exchange between artist and audience because the art leads viewers to reflect on their relationship with the situations.
“I hope people see how they can look at some of the ways they might view a Black experience,” Toney said. “I would hope they would have the opportunity to reflect on something without feeling like they are getting the entirety of the story in one photograph.”
One of Toney’s long-term goals is to make a book out of his black and white still-lifes. He also said he was excited to continue working on more sculptural elements and installation experiments.