AUBREY WILLIAMS: MAJOR WORKS
7 December 2006 - 17 February 2007
October Gallery presents an exhibition of major works by one of the UK's most important and original artists. Today considered a key figure of post-war painting in Britain, Aubrey Williams brought together a spectrum of visual and cultural influences in his paintings that ranged from astronomy and ecology to pre-Columbian iconography and music.
By 1952, when he returned to Georgetown at the age of twenty-six, Guyana was nearing the end of its time as a British colony and Williams sailed to London, initially on six months paid leave, to become a painter and began life drawing at St Martins School of Art. As a painter with detailed knowledge of flora and fauna, with personal experience of momentous political change, and with a growing interest in pre-Columbian cultures, he arrived in London with a unique visual and intellectual vocabulary. Over the following years he took the opportunity to travel extensively around Europe, returning to London and to opportunities to exhibit his work. He was also part in the spectacular explosion of creativity, optimism and productivity generated by the influx of Caribbean writers, artists and intellectuals to London at the time. This cultural foment was exemplified in the Caribbean Artists Movement, founded in 1966 by Kamau Brathwaite, poet and historian, John La Rose, poet and activist, and Andrew Salkey, novelist and journalist. Aubrey Williams was a founder member and participated fully in CAM’s activities, as did Ronald Moody, sculptor. Within this mutually supportive network, Williams found, and contributed to, an enriching framework of ideas and discussion, including debates on visual sources, strategies for change, and the stifling effects of being categorised as either a quintessentially Caribbean or British artist.From the early 1960s, Williams exhibited widely, winning awards and garnering high acclaim from a London art circuit enchanted by what Guy Brett calls “the heady interface between artistic innovation and trans-nationalism”2.
When he had arrived, London was a city with few apparent signs of black presence, and as such, the visibility of Williams’ work represented one of the first challenges to the white dominance in the British art establishment. Over the years that followed however, Williams found himself increasingly confronted by ‘institutional indifference’, his work framed and discussed solely in terms of ‘otherness’.
Williams’ paintings have always resisted classification, evolving through many distinct phases over the course of his career. From immaculately accomplished depictions of birds, to figurations, to explosive, vibrant abstracts, Williams drew influence from abstract expressionism, from Olmec, Maya, and Warrau imagery, from science fiction, from the symphonies and quartets of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and from artists such as Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Diego Rivera, Yves Klein and Rufino Tamayo.
The October Gallery has championed Williams’ work since the 80s. But it was not until after his death in 1990 that a major retrospective of his work was held in 1998 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, so serving to confirm his unique place in British art history. His work is represented in major public and private collections throughout the world.
This exhibition draws together an exclusive selection of large-scale canvases representing highlights in his remarkable career.To see available works and biographical details