To be constantly working in the realm of ideas, one must open themselves to an internal process that subconsciously connects abstract dots, which must then be made sense of in order to bring an idea into being. This is the realm in which William Wilding operates. An inveterate thinker, dreamer and optimist, William reaches deep into his own imagination and subconscious, pulling out myriad creative ideas before collaborating with designers and artists to bring them into tactile fruition for his custom wallpaper and interior objects studio, Wilding Wallpaper.
A great insight into how people see themselves professionally is to ask them what occupation they put on their customs form when leaving the country. This is a particularly difficult question for William Wilding, as he is loath to find a single label for what he does. “It’s a question I really don’t know the answer to, because the minute I call myself something or define myself, I cease being what I am,” he muses. “This is the paradox that I live in. I don’t think I fit into any category. If I was to say that I’m a designer, I’d be insulting a lot of designers. If I was to say I’m an artist, I’d be insulting a lot of artists. And the same goes for craftsmen. That’s why I try to let the work stand by itself and step out of it as much as I can.”
His work takes the form of his creative studio, Wilding Wallpaper Design & Production, which designs custom-print wallpaper, fabric and interior objects. But rather than being the physical creator of such objects, William acts as the inspiration behind them, working with designers, artists and craftspeople to put his own abstract imaginings into tangible form.
William’s first exposure to a sense of design was through his parents’ building company, which also did interior design. “They had a little factory with a screen printer and a graphic designer and I used to go there after school and when I was at uni and just do work,” he recalls. “Back then, design wasn’t such a popular thing – more just something you needed with manufacturing.”
But it wasn’t until his mid-twenties, when William and his wife Esther made the move from Melbourne to Hamburg, Germany, that he really became serious about working in the design world professionally. “Along with Berlin, Hamburg is the most liberal city in Germany,” William explains. “My creative interests lie more in literature, theatre and poetry, which is what I was working on there. But what we saw in Hamburg is that they were way in front of Australia in terms of the artistic and design mood. I realised I could go back to Australia and set up a studio and really engage with people here.”
He was also enamoured by the opportunities that design presented to make real change in the world. “I guess I got interested in design because it touched on art, craft and manufacturing, but also because I liked the ethic,” he says. “It was promising change, and to produce a more positive type of society. Those were all things that were important to me.”
It was then that William and Esther decided to take stock and get serious about life, committing to setting up their own studio. “My interest and inspiration are ideas,” he explains of the philosophy behind the studio. “My purpose right from the beginning was to meet and be engaged with more people because I was really isolated when I was growing up – I was really different from other people and generally quite unhappy. When I was away in Germany, I really started getting deeply into ideas and I found that abstract ideas were really alive, and I started to get a kind of spiritual connection to that. I wanted to learn more about feelings and how to feel more, because I felt really cold.”
The couple returned to Melbourne seven years ago to establish their studio in Australia. Admittedly having drifted into design, they found themselves being drawn further into the industry as they began to create projects involving different artists, designers and craftspeople. “We founded the studio really as an artistic tool – one that required graphic design and screen printing in order to produce products and ideas that I could then project into the world. So in that way, the ideas could take the form of wallpaper and material. And as our studio and our relationships with other similarly minded people developed, the studio would just morph and change with the development of us as people and society at large.”
Collaborating with like-minded people to drive change in the world, and challenge mediocrity, is what drives William. “I think the really big problem that the world has is that business and bureaucracy are such that they really don’t want to take any chances and they really look to eliminate risk,” he laments. “So everything becomes increasingly standardised and motorised and decreasingly organic. People have become conditioned to that averageness and they’re willing to accept mediocrity and often can’t recognise things that are exceptional. There are lots of us out there who are working against that, but we just need to get together.”
He admits that this task is not always easy to achieve and that one of his greatest challenges has been dealing with his own self-doubt. “When you’re right on the edge of yourself and you’re abstractly working beyond your limits, you’re being sucked into the effervescence of life. But then when you come back to general society and industry, people don’t have that same feel for it and can’t recognise what you’re doing. I really want to take the life coursing through me to the wider public, and I want to show them that life’s not all about getting something and being someone.”
Facing such challenges, and seeing other people do the same, is part of what inspires William most. “I’m enormously proud of my wife and daughter and the fact that they are able to confront their difficulties, whether they be professional or personal, and really just overcome them,” he says. “And what I would say I am most proud of generally is when I see anybody doing that – when it’s small and when it’s large – just when somebody really has the courage to overcome something that has the potential to debilitate them. I think that’s just amazing.”
Having experienced plenty of dark moments of doubt himself, WIlliam’s wisdom to the world –and to creative people in particular – is simply to believe in yourself, no matter what may come. “Have the courage to fail,” he says. “With creative people it’s very hard, because you’ve really got to put yourself on the line. Everyone around you is ready to knock you and tell you that you can’t do it. And because creative people are sensitive, it’s easy to just cop it and then just go and hide in the corner, and they lose contact with themselves and with life because of fear. But if you can learn to get out there, it doesn’t matter what other people think or how they value you, as long as you value what you’re doing; then you can experience freedom. It’s really about having the courage to transcend yourself again and again – the courage to transcend the fear of failure is what propels you forward.”