I’ve been thinking about the traveling exhibition Soul of a Nation and the artists, particularly the abstract painters from this era and how they approached their work during the tumultuous societal and economic shifts that took place between the 1960s and 1970s in New York. One common thread among many of the artists in the Black Arts movement involved the Great Migration, where many artists’ families migrated the north to and the west between 1916 and 1970.
My curiosity was driven by imagining the ways an artist’s southern roots visually influenced abstract work. The strong graphic lines and bold colors in William T. Williams work play with dimension and perception, but what I didn’t know was that he is originally from North Carolina, and his memories of the patterns created by the quilters in and around his family influenced the shapes that he repeats in his paintings. That one small detail about his historical roots, sheds an entirely new light on his work for me.
This post is a short one, because today I’d like the words of William T. Williams to speak for themselves:
“If you are an abstract painter, you’re struggling with 2 things constantly: the first struggle is with the idea; there’s no road map in terms of what it should look like and where you’re going, so the question becomes does it have purpose and does it have content? Content has to come out of a commitment on your part that art is important, that art can transform lives and art is the one thing that allows us to communicate across cultures.”
This quote came from a video on Williams that was produced for the Tate’s Soul of a Nation. To see the diversity in his work, I highly recommend watching it.