Interview: George Williams, Jr. Considers the Male Nude
Mar. 19, 2009
After moving to Wisconsin nine years ago the oil painter and Beloit College Art Professor George Williams, Jr. exhibits in his second state show, the Haggerty Museum of Art's "Current Tendencies: Ten Artists from Wisconsin." First observed at Madison's Triennial Exhibition, Williams drew interest from the Haggerty for this recent show by focusing on his new work, grand scale black male nudes. The monumental figures confront the viewer in unusual positions while never offering a face-to-face connection with them. Williams connects with his college students by teaching painting, drawing, illustration, graphic design and computer art, which combines his years of advertising experience with fine art. At the museum's opening reception, Williams explains why he recently began painting these male portraits, and smiles when he reveals that his oils are too large to hang on the walls in his own home.
Q: How did you discover this new style of painting?
A: This is very recent for me, within the last year. After undergraduate school, I was working in photorealism. Then I went back to graduate school at Claremont Graduate University in California where they taught abstraction, they were very abstract. Eventually I put together realism and abstractions with elements of the figurative, but these [new paintings] are more expressive.
Q: How does this process apply to your male nudes?
A: The body is so sculpted in the paintings it looks like a symbol. But that's exactly what it is supposed to be. These bodies are a representation, so their interpretation changes. This merges together my interest in photorealism and abstraction. My interest in the male nude continues to confront the viewer abstractly but goes back to an element of realism.
Q: Do you use a model for your paintings?
A: I do but they are composites. I pose a model but than add the features that speak to directly to me. Usually it takes about three to four weeks to complete one painting.
Q: Do you choose your color palette before beginning the painting?
A: I arrive at a color palette when the painting speaks to me, but it changes as I continue to paint. I never know exactly what the final colors will be. I start with one, and if that doesn't work, I change it. It often changes considerably from the beginning to the final painting. There's a freedom in oils that allows you to do that.
Q: As a painter, how do you relate to these figures?
A: I'm always learning from the work⎯I position myself as a vessel⎯to start the dialogue with the painting as I work on it and respond to it. I'm moving from realism to representation. It's challenging because it speaks to me as I create this visual language
Q: How do you think the viewer will relate to these paintings?
A: I try to create work that's ambiguous enough where one person will see one thing and another person will view it differently. There's a spirituality to this visual language and I hope they [the viewers] can see a part of themselves in the paintings.