Michael Williams’ new paintings look as though they were made on house walls. These huge canvases, which measure around two and a half by four meters start as collages composed primarily of Williams’ drawings, but also found photographs and magazine clippings. These collages are fully arranged in the computer and then printed out on paper and mounted onto canvases. Instead of making one painting directly from one drawing as Williams has often done in the past, he is printing gridded combinations of his drawings and using the act of painting to extrapolate his forms and figures finding a way for them live together on the canvas. These disparate components open up immense possibilities on the pictorial plane—all of which seem to represent a certain space, such as a landscape, artist’s studio, or living room, but none of them follow any physical laws, nor do they narrow down the perspective. They lead the gaze here and there, cleaving and confusing it in an almost cubist fashion—a chaotic whirl in which the realistic aspects of painting take on an abstract dimension.
Looking at one picture in this series means letting your eyes wander over many—in the process forging links between the different rooms and motifs, which on closer inspection no longer prove all that oddly matched. In one painting, the surface decoration of a cast-iron garden table (clipped from one of the Polish magazines Williams cut up) pops up again a little further to the right in a drawing of a filled cereal bowl. Both somehow connect to the sketch of the White House, in front of which a green scribbled area extends to a urinating man and a picket fence at the lower edge of the canvas. There, a cartoonesque duck stretches its long black neck into the frame—matching the photograph of a dog and a duck meeting in front of a body of water. It would take many pages to fully describe this one painting. Yet, the lines that can be drawn to connect these elements already show the degree to which the different impressions constitute a whole. It is as if the surface of the work was covered by some sort of webbing that orga- nically connects each part. Like footnotes that reference each other and simultaneously relate to the bigger picture, together they achieve a great density—only for that to explode into a thousand pieces at the very next glance, like looking into a kaleidoscope. As variegated as the images are on closer inspection, they appear perfectly calibrated from afar. Calibrated, but somehow in motion: reaching out and drawing you in at the same time. Williams’ work constantly challenges you to get close to its surface and then back away again—thus involving your whole body.
Though vaguely reminiscent of hidden-object picture books like Where’s Waldo?, it was Diego Rivera’s murals that partially inspired Williams to create this series – works that can be thought of as social landscape paintings. In general murals have a history as a form for offering political com- mentary on social affairs. We are in a period of time now in which society is clearly presenting itself as a precarious affair. Williams, however, does not provide any direct commentary—not on social episodes, nor his own. Still, these paintings do convey a dynamic that expresses our general state of upheaval. Though formally Williams’ paintings may look chaotic, they are underpinned by an internal logic and a holistic composition. Perhaps the same is true of our improvised society.
KUNSTMUSEUM ST. GALLEN, LOKREMISE
Museumsstrasse 32, 9000 St. Gallen
August 28 - November 7, 2021
The exhibiton has been made possible with the support of Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Barbara Gladstone Gallery and David Kordansky Gallery.
Additional information here