Willie Stewart incorporates a broad range of complex, mundane, strange, and dark subject matter and cultural references into his work. His interests and references include extraterrestrials, biker gangs and punk rock groups, German artist Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau (1931–33), Mike Kelley’s book The Uncanny, and cult films such as Lloyd Kaufman’s Toxic Avenger (1984).
Stewart’s sculptures, installations, videos, photographs, and photocollages are all individual works, but each piece is often part of a complex and whimsical, yet bizarre, constructed environment that spans multiple rooms and gallery spaces. Each installation feels like a film or theater set.
Stewart’s 2014 exhibition The Love You Withhold is the Pain that You Carry at kijidome (a gallery and project space in Boston) began with the image of a family posing for a portrait, the kind used for a greeting card. In the picture, an infant girl, a boy around five, and a girl of about ten are shown with their father and mother. The father has a thin beard and is wearing a ragged baseball cap over his long straight hair; the mother has a hint of a smile below the frames of her large circular glasses. As a group, they seem to be sincere in their emotions and behaviors; they appear to enact a true image of themselves as individuals and as a family.