Following the acclaimed exhibition of historical works from 1997 – 1998 in New York, Skarstedt in London is presenting Sue Williams: New Paintings. Treveals continued interest in exploring the fluid boundary between figuration and abstraction and her pursuance of the transformation of one into the other.
In this body of work, the paintings have an increasing ethereality. They use the lightness of exposed ground to create areas of watery color that combine with the elements of mark making, doodling, lining and smudging seen in her previous works. In them, as ever, gender roles and politics are alluded to while she also explores memory and personal experience.
Emerging from the East Village, New York, art scene in the late 1980s, Sue Williams’ work soon gained recognition for its focus on issues of violence against women and the deeply gendered art world. Graphic and text-heavy works gave way to color and toward the end of the 1990s, her works employed a more abstract lyrical style, featuring colorful cartoonish compositions that remained charged with sexual and political meaning. Becoming ever-more nonrepresentational, figuration seemed progressively to disappear entirely, and the essence of the paintings came less through narrative and more through pictorial means. The concealed language of Williams’ abstract work, however, remained consistent.
In this group of paintings, the scenes conveyed are familiar in their fragments, which remain disturbing in their contiguity. The bright colors are at once sweet and unsettling, the pretty colors of perhaps an ugly world. In These, small houses – markers of domesticity – dot the canvas. There are paths that lead up to them and staircases that seem to lead nowhere; they float with tables and chairs and the small childlike representation of a goat or a girl in pigtails. External and internal spaces combine, and the swirling lines and tumbling forms that seem to disassemble suggest a world in disarray.
Sue Williams is often playful with purpose. A sense of domestic disquiet and sociopolitical anxiety pervade these paintings. As she has said (“The Sum of Its Parts: An Interview with Sue Williams” by Carly Gaebe. Art in America, January 15, 2014):
“I want to draw attention to issues: I want people to be informed. It’s a scary time. Everything gets integrated into the art, not always consciously. If I have visibility, I have the responsibility to try and change things.”
Sue Williams: New Paintings is on view through November 24, 2018. Skarstedt is located at 8 Bennet Street, St. James’s, SW1A 1RP, London, UK.