Waller Austin talks about the series of works:
On the morning of September 6th, 2018 my wife, Whitney was shot at close range by a complete stranger – a delusional, unstable man suffering from a myriad of mental psychoses, as she pushed her body into a revolving door at the lobby entrance to the skyscraper where she worked in Cincinnati, Ohio. Police officers arrived within seconds, firing through the glass clad façade, instantly killing the shooter, ending the unpredictable rampage.
Within minutes an officer had moved Whitney to safety and called my cellphone to inform me that she had been involved in an “active shooting and also shot multiple times in the chest.” I dropped the phone and raced to the hospital over 100 miles from our home while those words played on repeat in my head. Time stood still after arriving in Cincinnati, going through security checkpoints, and requesting special clearances before I was allowed back to see her after she was admitted under an alias to protect her privacy. It was then that I was told she had been shot twelve times by both standard and hollow-point bullets.
Although critical, miraculously Whitney was given positive prognoses by University of Cincinnati’s team of medical caregivers from the neuro, thoracic, and orthopedic trauma surgeons. We were shocked and confused by our unique situation, our thoughts overwhelmed by the pain and pleasure of life – our absurd happenstance, survivor’s guilt, coming to terms with how to move forward from such a life-altering event. While my wife and one other man survived the attack, four people died – qualifying the event as a ‘mass shooting.’ Our luck registered immediately and sharing our appreciation for life became our new priority.
National media outlets swarmed to tell our story. Family, friends, and strangers alike, even internationally reached out over the web, sharing love and support with the most generosity. People wanted to help us personally. Recognizing that it would be a misuse of this platform for our family to profit when so many others only have loss, we turned focus on societal growth. Right then, sitting in her hospital room, we founded Whitney/ Strong Organization in order to realize fewer lives impacted by gun violence by advocating for and executing responsible gun ownership practices.
negligence is an ongoing body of work in response to my acquired post-traumatic stress disorder. In the wake of the shooting, I have been producing tens of thousands of flesh-tone crayons in the form of 9mm bullets. I have also been busy casting dozens of Taurus PT-809E pistols from uniquely catalogued mixtures of Crayola crayon, such that each pistol has its own serial number and specific color mixture, so as never to be duplicated. Each wax replica is ritually broken, as a sign of my complicated relationship with this device that has sent my life on a new course. Ultimately, I hope this work compels the viewer to dissect their own relationship with firearms. Every box of crayons is sold in the interest of preserving lives, rather than taking them.
Waller Austin is a US based interdisciplinary artist working exclusively with Crayola brand crayon. Austin began his career as a traditional oil and acrylic painter; however, he returned to school in 2014 at the Art Institute of Chicago where he sought to establish an alternative, non-toxic material practice. Since earning professional credentials at Washington University in St. Louis he has taught studio courses as well as art history at Jefferson Community and Technical College in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Currently, Austin’s art making process oscillates between “encaustic painting and wax sculpture.” His work, influenced by the “subversive seriality” in the art of Elaine Sturtevant and Richard Prince and the “overindulgence” of Mike Kelley among others often explores “the charged, opposing forces of fluid contemporary identity,” he says, of “narcissism and self-abasement, labor and leisure, superficiality and sincerity, indulgence and restraint.”