For Peter Williams's first solo exhibition at Foxy Production, he is showing work from two distinct but interconnected bodies of work:large figurative paintings depict fanciful, fractured narratives that mix cultural and personal histories with fields of pattern and color; and a set of smaller paintings that distil and intensify visual moments from the larger works, magnifying and expanding them. Williams's paintings tell entropic tales, with figures caught in moments that show their fragility -- scenes of everyday life, both seen and imagined.
Williams’s painting process begins with drawing. He focuses first on shape and then color to create depth and volume in seemingly flat spaces. Contrasting with the fields of the background, the figures he paints engage in surreal, humorous, and disturbing relationships. His open-ended visual stories combine a wide range of references: from photographs of lynchings and the death of Trayvon Martin, to Diego Velázquez, Robert Colescott, Andy Warhol, and Walt Disney. With the painting "Untitled" (2013) we might also add Pierre Matisse and Nicola Tyson; Williams depicts three figures against a sharply delineated ground of pure color. A man, wearing flowery pajamas, swoops down Chagall-style with a bouquet of flowers, perhaps presenting them to the two nude (except for stockings) female creatures who are wearing something akin to an Elizabethan collar/shield/helmet combination. Their faces bear a protruding snout or nozzle; one seems to be wearing strap-on tits, and the other either pisses or menstruates out of a purple-hued snoopie. In this painting, Williams manages to pull off an amazing amount in the parameters within which he works -- the beautiful color doesn’t fight against the weirdness, it melds with it; Matisse pulls off something similar in "Le Luxe" (1907–08).
Idyllic fantasies, nightmares, and the human comedy all have a place in Williams's fantastic narratives. In "Untitled" (2012), atree creature is lifting up a boy in red-and-white checkered overalls, with its branches in the center of the painting. The boy wears pale makeup à la Pierrot and seems resigned or relaxed and limp, despite the towering presence of the much larger creature. The two characters are in an ocher field, with abstract green foliage in the distance. Crosshatch marks bring to mind Munch’s "Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed" (1943) or Jasper Johns's paintings of the '70s. All around them are variously shaped fanciful beings, staring at this strange ritual. A woman smiles, revealing the word “geeez” carved into her front teeth. Others surround the little vignette, eating Doritos, carrying an “Obama 2012” sign; one, who also has a trunk with “gasoline” painted on it, watches intently, while another, more Cubist-inspired with a bifurcated face, stares out at us with themirada fuerte (strong glance) found in many Picasso portraits.
Though Williams handles crowd scenes with the skill of a Cecil B. DeMille, he can also do small, haunted, and claustrophobic like Samuel Beckett. In "Untitled" (2013) [above], which has a deep red ground, a naked pink figure with an oversized yellow head carries two guns, one with the word “soap” scratched into the paint; one of his legs is a wood two-by-four. He looks over his shoulder, his face a mask of fear or surprise. He is glancing up at an enormous pink head with turquoise nostrils, peering down from the painting’s top edge. Whether this is a benevolent god or malevolent giant is neither indicated nor even seems important, as, with Williams's best work, it isn’t the conclusions we draw that are important, it is the questions that it raises. Like Courbet, Picasso, or Bacon, he presents the body as both fact and fiction -- the body as a vehicle, an object whose physicality is often forgotten as we experience it through moments of excitement, fear, pleasure, pain, or dreaming. - Bradley Rubenstein
Foxy Production is at 623 W. 27th Street, New York, New York.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.