For more than 40 years Williams has chronicled current and historical events, interspersing pictorial narratives with personal anecdotes and fictional characters in order to create paintings about the diverse experiences of Black Americans. With boldness and humor, he tackles the darkest of subjects including, but not limited to, police brutality, lynching, slavery, mass incarceration, and other realms of racial oppression. Williams uses cultural criticism to form new creation myths, retelling the history of America from fresh and cosmic perspectives.
Peter Williams lives in Wilmington, DE and is Senior Professor in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Delaware. He earned his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; Howard University, Washington DC; Davis Museum at Wellesley College, MA; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; the Mott-Warsh Collection in Flint, MI; and The Bunker/Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection, Palm Beach; Jorge Perez Collection, Miami; and the McEvoy Foundation, San Francisco, among others.
Peter Williams doesn’t make things easy for the viewer, and why should he? Peter Williams is a painter who paints both abstractly and figuratively, with a jaunty, cake frosting palette as the main connection between the two approaches. I first saw his work in the 2002 Whitney Biennial (March 7–May 26, 2002), curated by Lawrence R. Rinder, Chrissie Iles, Christian Paul, and Debra Singer.
If comedy equals tragedy plus time, artist Peter Williams is defying the mathematics of the aphorism in his newest paintings. In his works, Williams compresses time and expands painterly space to extract a subversive sense of humor from acts of violence and oppression, even in the midst of their perpetuation. “Peter Williams: Incarceration,” a show of his work on view at the Cressman Center, tackles themes of black incarceration — both historical and contemporary — through paintings that sing with exuberant form and hyperbolic color. The overall effect is, by turns, shocking, joyful and unnerving.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds (2018) is subdivided by a tree whose branches spread across the canvas, filling it with foliage painted by means of closely packed green dots, patches of sky denoted by blue dots, and passages of red dots interspersed throughout. Among the branches are six birds and three human faces, two of the faces in profile are barely evident, the third, fully articulated face, looks out from the trunk’s base.
Peter Williams’ pointillist painting technique, crowding thousands of tiny dots of enamel color within pencil-drawn contours of people, places and things, is not the same as the celebrated one pioneered more than a century ago by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. His look yields a very different feel from the measured, careful tone of those French Postimpressionists. Brash color is plainly important to the 14 Williams paintings in his Los Angeles debut at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, most (though not all) of which explode with pointillist dots.
We carried onward with excitement to Luis De Jesus gallery where we were met by the work of Peter Williams for his opening, River of Styx. The show’s array of colorful, multi-figurative, narrative pieces was seemingly bright and cheery, yet it alluded to a heavier history. With the political climate so out of wack, Williams’s images address topics quiet poignantly. I had the treat of talking to the delightful artist as he explained that his paintings composed of many marks, were in fact not pointillism.
News media, despite respective biases, seem to agree in the description of contemporary politics as “complicated” and “divided.” While accurate, this semantic admission fails to demonstrate the accountability of the status quo. Soul Recordings, a group exhibition currently on view at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, examines ideas around representation and meaning amid the persisting trauma of colonial histories.
The opening movement of “Soul Recordings” is a polka-dot revelry, a bedazzled wake-up call, a cymbal-clap altarpiece, a plastic-bead trumpet blast, and a monster of a skull-ringed, glitter-bombed orchestral chord breaking in fuchsia major. This is Ebony G. Patterson’s heartbreaking and eminently Instagrammable mixed media installation work, and the poignant grandeur of its regal and folkloric memento mori is alert and ineffable.
Soul Recordings, at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. A group exhibition featuring works by artists such as Lisa C. Soto, Deborah Roberts, Caitlin Cherry and Lex Brown shines a spotlight on our state of political unease. This includes work that examines neocolonial architecture, painting that toys with the nature of stereotype and textile work that takes on issues of gender. Accompanying the exhibition will be an essay written by independent curator Jill Moniz, who organized the very compelling show of sculpture by African American female artists at the Landing last year.