Art With a Twist

By Jeff Falk • Photo Courtesy of Billy Twist

Art isn’t some guy who lived down the street in the old neighborhood.
Art is patient.
Art is kind.
Art does not envy.
Are does not boast.
Art is not proud.
Art is not rude.
Art always trusts.
Art always hopes.
Art never fails.
Art is love. And art imitates life.

Billy Twist is an artist. He uses his mind to create something from nothing. It’s not what he does. It’s who he is.

Twist really had no choice in the matter. He was born that way. Art is as much a part of his life as breathing is to ours.

“That is a pretty big question,” says Twist. “At the end of the day, I put it up there as the forgotten trilogy of mankind—food and water and art. It is a necessity because of the human experience. Artists should be humble. We’re feeding the soul. It’s something artists need, but don’t know they need. It’s therapeutic for me. It’s certainly a necessity in my life.

“When I meet people, art isn’t the first thing I talk about,” continues Twist. “It’s the second thing I talk about. When they look at me I hope they see this reflection of the possibilities I bring into the world. I hope people see value in art. It’s made me a better person. It’s taught me a lot. It’s humbled me.”

Art is Twist’s constant companion. It has been there during the best of times and it’s been there when he’s needed it the most.

Two years ago, Twist was involved in a horrific car accident involving his work vehicle and a tractor trailer. He was laid up for three months, in a back brace and a neck brace, and the worst thing about the nightmare was that it took it away from his art.

“At first, it was pretty terminal. But in the end it was like making lemonade out of lemons,” explains Twist. “With something that horrible, I didn’t want to think about art. I didn’t want to talk about art. I was just miserable and in a really dark place. But when I came out of it, I wanted to draw and draw and draw. The one piece I did reflected what I was going through.

“I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but it really does give you a new lease on life,” says Twist. “Now I’m the obnoxiously positive one. ‘We’re all here. We’re all alive.’ It has changed me for the better. Bad car accidents happen every day, and I was pretty darn lucky to walk away from it.”

Born in Lebanon, Twist is the product of a broken home. He graduated from high school in York and now lives in Harrisburg.

Not only has Twist’s past affected the person he has become, it has also influenced his illustrations.

“It was me and my brother, and we moved around a lot,” says Twist, who never really had any formal training in art. “We were always given crayons and paper to draw with. From that point, it was where I went to deal with stressful situations. It’s really gestated from a young age. I was always drawing in something or on something.

“I was accepted in art schools two or three times, but because of life circumstances, I couldn’t afford to go,” Twist continues. “But I continued my love of learning, and I’ve always had in my mind that I am an artist. It’s a lifestyle. It really is. I never got a traditional college education, and I never set out to be a rich, famous artist. I’ve always taken the approach that an artist has to create. I’ve built my life around it. But there’s always something to learn.”

Twist’s illustrations are very detail-oriented and incorporate a wide range of colors, shadows and subjects. They rarely don’t reflect his particular mood at the time—from introverted to extraverted to fun-loving.

His past experiences as a tattoo artist and a political cartoonist have also influence his current work. Capital Watch, a monthly publication, now defunct, relied on Twist’s political cartooning skills on a regular basis.

“I think at this point of my life, with everything I’ve gone through, art has become therapy for me,” says Twist. “What I’m doing with my art now isn’t different than what some people go through with therapists. I like bright colors. My art is sometimes a reflection of a feeling, but I want it to be something people recognize. I’m a visual artist. I’m always absorbing everything.

“It’s funny, because I don’t hang out with a lot of visual artists,” Twist adds. “I’ve grown up around performers who are into collaboration. Every time I’ve ever met someone with genuine passion, that connection is innate. The common factor is we always want to contribute. Art, in some respects—no matter what it is—is important. As anti-social as visual artists are, I always feel comfortable around creative people.”

Twist was undoubtedly born with a gift, a talent for art. But over time, he has tweaked, toned, and perfected it through repetition and hard work. It certainly involves a process.

“Absolutely, art reflects life,” says Twist. “But for a very long time it didn’t for me. The younger years for artists can be chaos, and all over the place. My art starts complicated in my head. Once it’s on paper, it becomes more specific. It’s virtual art and it’s meant to be consumed by the eye. I try to make images people like to look at. Art itself certainly reflects life. They sort of inspire each other.

“In my adult years, I’ve gotten more focused and prioritized,” continues Twist. “Me and my art have changed simultaneously over the years. It doesn’t frustrate me not to create. I’ve made it known in every situation in life that to be good at anything, you’ve got to prioritize. I’m always going to make time for it. I think I’ve changed as a person for the better, because I am an artist, because I have art.”

Twist works at the Harrisburg Hilton Hotel downtown. For now, his art is a means of supplementing his income, and while that may change in the future, it will have to be on his terms.

“Kind of, sort of. That’s the long-term plan,” says Twist. “What I’ve learned is how stressful art can be if you do it on an everyday basis. It’s really about picking the right project. The more you try to make money at it, the more you’re competing with a tremendous amount of people.

“It’s a way to deal with stress, but ultimately I’d like to share it with people,” Twist continues. “It looks very simple, but I’ve put a great amount of effort and time into it. I would say it’s a form of self-expression first. I know there’s a certain amount of selling quality you’ve got to have. I never want to create something that goes over someone’s head.”

And it may be that art is Twist’s best friend.