Identity, experience on canvas | UDaily
Peter Williams has explored questions of African-American identity and experiences in his paintings for the half-century he spent as an artist.
Now, as the University of Delaware art professor prepares to retire from the faculty in August, he says his artistic journey will only continue and expand as he receives the additional support. of a recently awarded Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts. Williams is one of 184 American and Canadian scientists, scholars, artists and writers to receive a 2021 award from the Guggenheim Foundation.
“Mine is not for a specific project; it’s for whatever I want to do with it, ”Williams said of the prestigious scholarship. “I want to explore the medium in different ways – to try to make sense of what I’ve learned in my 69 years of life.”
The specific Guggenheim attributed to Williams was created this year by actor Robert De Niro, who collaborated with the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to endorse the fine art award. It pays homage to De Niro’s late father, artist Robert De Niro Sr., who himself received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, providing professional and financial support which his son said “made all the difference” and marked a turning point in his father’s career.
“As I understand it, Robert De Niro wanted to pay off the Guggenheim and honor his father at the same time, and my work was selected,” said Williams, who did not meet De Niro, being the inaugural winner. “I was the happy recipient of this award.”
Williams uses storytelling and storytelling in his art, which features vivid colors and cartoonish caricatures that challenge viewers to think more deeply about the dark issues they often represent. He said he had always included themes of cultural identity and depictions of African Americans in his paintings, often inserting black figures and racial images.
In recent years, and particularly since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, many of his paintings have focused on issues of systemic racism, including violence against African Americans, slavery, and mass incarceration. He said he had always “believed in bearing witness to the times in which you live”.
Williams’ current work, he said, incorporates the emergence of environmental factors into “this greater project” that he explores throughout his career – that of the black experience.
He has a solo exhibition, until May 15, in the Freight + Volume gallery in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. The paintings of “Black Exodus” portray his Afrofuturist vision in which a race of people escapes into outer space to seek new planets where they can live without oppression.
The characters in the paintings “fight against their environment to achieve their destiny,” according to the gallery. “Although his personal take on Afrofuturism often comes across as childish and humorous, the viewer can read in his otherworldly perspectives the work that will be required to achieve a new collective identity and new freedom.
To take a virtual tour of “Black Exodus”, visit the gallery website.
The Guggenheim is just the latest in a career filled with honors. Williams has won numerous awards, including the Whitney Biennial in 2002, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in 2018, the Joan Mitchell Award in 2004 and 2007, a Ford Foundation Fellowship in 1985-87 and the Wynn Newhouse Award in 2012. In 2018, he was inducted into the National Academy of Design.
He has had numerous exhibitions across the United States and his work is included in permanent collections such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Howard University. In 2019, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired his 2018 painting “A Foolish Trick,” making him the third Delaware artist listed in the museum’s collection.
Williams, who earned a BA and MA in Fine Arts, joined UD faculty as a full professor in 2004 after teaching for 17 years at Wayne State University, where he has been described as a mainstay from the Detroit arts community. At UD, he gave painting and drawing lessons.