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Aubrey Williams

Born, 1926 in Georgetown, Guyana. Died, 1990

From the catalogue Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 (Commonwealth Art GalleryLondon, 1 June - 3 July 1977):

“Born in Guyana where he was educated and entered the Civil Service. During his service he spent two years in the north west jungle of the country with the Warrau, a primitive Indian tribe, but continued to paint and draw. After returning to Georgetown he studied with De Winter and, later, with Burrowes, both noted Guyanses painters, and took part in the Working People’s Art Group. For some years Williams has lived in London where he settled after a period of travel in Europe, He studied for two years at St Martin’s School of Art, London. he has lectured at a number of university colleges and arts centres.

Aubrey Williams is one of the most famous and influential Caribbean artists. He has exhibited in London regularly since 1954, elsewhere in Britain and Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean and in Africa, most recently at the Lagos Festival of Arts. He has carried out a number of murals, notably those at Timehri Airport, Guyana and other others in Jamaica and the United States of America. In 1964 he won the Commonwealth Prize for Painting (London) and in 1970 his country awarded him the Golden Arrow of Achievement.”

When Aubrey Williams, the Guyana-born British painter had a major exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery in the summer of 1998, it was, perhaps, belated recognition for this artist, who had died some eight years earlier, on 27 April, 1990. Williams was born in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, in 1926. After settling in London in his late 20s, he enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art and soon thereafter, established a career as a prolific and widely exhibited artist. An active member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, Williams came to be closely associated with the presence of Caribbean art/artists in London and his work was featured in a very significant number of Caribbean art exhibitions.

A passionate believer in humanity’s art and culture in its many and varied forms, Williams was responsible for a substantial body of work and his paintings have found their way into a number of important collections, including that of the Arts Council. It might in some ways be difficult to characterise Williams’ work, as the work for which he is perhaps most known and celebrated contains both figurative and non-figurative elements. On the one hand, his paintings reflected his interests in such things as aboriginal South American culture, cosmology, and the music of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. On the other hand, his work also declared an interest in form, shape, colour and composition. As Guy Brett has noted “Williams’ paintings fluctuates between representational references and abstraction.”

Alongside such paintings there exists Williams’ sensitive and faithful renderings of bird life. The art critic Guy Brett is a longstanding admirer of Williams’ painting. In his concluding remarks in one of his essays on Williams, Brett cautions against the instinct to typecast Williams’ practice. “It may be futile to try to explain painting. But it is also true that merely to name a motif in Williams’ painting as ‘pre-Columbian’ or Mayan does not suggest the complicated life it leads in its changed form within his work, where it moves between past and present, between natural and artificial beauty, between excitement and warning. To grant Aubrey Williams’ paintings their enigma only awakens one to their links with the actual, contemporary world.”

In 1986, UK filmmaker Imruh Caesar made Mark of the Hand, a documentary that looks at the life and work of Williams, who as mentioned was a major force amongst Caribbean artists living and working in the UK during the second half of the 20th century. The film follows Williams as he leaves his home in London and returns to his native Guyana to restore one of his murals, located on an outside wall of the airport terminal building, be honoured for his contributions to art and culture by the Guyanese government, and make a journey deep into the country’s interior, to revisit the places and the people he knew before he left Guyana. As much as anything else, the film is a look at the consequences of relocation, migration, memory, return and the difficulties and disappointments that can come from these things. Further to this, Mark of the Hand gives us insights into Williams’ strikingly original practice as a painter whose work was frequently, but by no means exclusively, characterised by the range of figurative and non-figurative elements referred to earlier. The film was a pioneering work and to this day, sympathetic and sensitive documentary film studies of Black British artists, such as Mark of the Hand, remain a rarity. One hugely important aspect of the film is the exploration of Williams’ respect and fondness for the indigenous peoples of the Guyana interior. In this regard, the film positively complicates and challenges assumed notions of Caribbean identity.

Williams’ posthumous Whitechapel exhibition was organised in collaboration with inIVA, the institute of International Visual Arts. Notwithstanding the substantial nature of this bringing together of paintings produced over several decades, Williams arguably still does not occupy a significant position in the declared history of British post-war painting. Williams himself recounted the despondency he felt upon realizing that his position in the British art world was perhaps more marginal than he would have liked. “But then, after two years all my shows were ignored. I began to ask myself what was wrong with me, what was wrong with my work. For the next five years I was in a terrible confusion. You know, I thought I had hit the level which would see me through both economically and respectably as a recognised artist in the British community.”

A substantial obituary on Aubrey Williams, appeared in The Independent, Tuesday 1 May 1999. In it, Brett revisited a number of the sentiments and ideas he has expressed, about Williams and his art, in other texts that were previously published.  Though the piece was written some two-plus decades ago, the extent to which Williams has posthumously been incorporated into the British art world is striking. Wrote Brett, “There is as yet no work by Williams in the Tate Gallery. Historical and artistic changes we have been living through in the past 40 years have still not sunk into the national psyche. There has never yet been the opportunity to compare directly the abstract paintings produced by Williams with those of his fellow “English” artists working at the same time and in the same place, like Victor Pasmore, Alan Davie, Peter Lanyon or Patrick Heron.”

Since Brett wrote those words, the Tate has acquired several works by Williams, and he has been the subject of several major exhibitions.

Brett concluded his obituary with, “The global ecological crisis was something he felt deeply. It was always coming up in his conversation: he would often take off and describe a bird, or the quality of the air in the rain forest, with inimitable precision and poetry. But he was not a doom merchant.  He had, equally strongly, a sense of possibility and of danger. In this the painting and the person were one.”

In marked contrast to texts about Williams written during his lifetime, posthumous texts on the artist have grown ever more bulky. (See for example, Leon Wainwright’s Aubrey Williams: A Painter in the Aftermath of Painting, Wasafiri, issue no. 59, Autumn 2009, pp. 65 – 79,)

The first Guy Brett quote comes from his essay in the Whitechapel catalogue. The second quote, from his Introduction, in the catalogue, Aubrey Williams, exhibition at Shibuya Tokyu Plaza, Japan, 1988, unpaginated. The Williams quote is from the entry on him in The Other Story catalogue and was in turn taken from Rasheed Araeen, Conversation with Aubrey Williams, Third Text, No. 2, London, Winter 1987-88.

Aubrey Williams’ work was included in the landmark exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian artists in post-war Britain, Hayward Gallery, London, 1989. His work was included in the book Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. A detail of a painting by Williams, Shostakovich Series: Quartet No. 15, Opus 144, 1981, oil on canvas, 132 x 208 cm,  adorned the cover of Discrepant Abstraction, copublished by inIVA and MIT Press, 2006. A reproduction of the whole painting appeared on the back cover of the same volume. Inside, Williams was one of two Guyana-born artists discussed by Kobena Mercer in his essay, Black Atlantic Abstraction: Aubrey Williams and Frank Bowling. Williams’ work is extensively discussed and illustrated in this text. A reproduction of one of Williams’ paintings - Maya Sun (II), 1984 also embellished Quantum Ghosts: An Interview With Wilson Harris, by Nathaniel Mackey,in this publication.

Williams’s work, Supernova, 1975, was reproduced and discussed in Art in the Caribbean: an introduction, by Anne Walmsley and Stanley Greaves, in collaboration with Christopher Cozier, New Beacon Books, 2011.

Related items - view 5

click to show details of 1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

»  1st Commonwealth Biennale of Abstract Art

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963

click to show details of Amazon Nights - Aubrey Williams

»  Amazon Nights - Aubrey Williams

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 1994

click to show details of Appointment With Six

»  Appointment With Six

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1966

click to show details of Art in the Caribbean: An introduction

»  Art in the Caribbean: An introduction

Book relating to a publication, 2011

click to show details of Aubrey Williams

»  Aubrey Williams

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Aubrey Williams (2010) edited by Reyahn King

»  Aubrey Williams (2010) edited by Reyahn King

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2010

click to show details of Aubrey Williams - obituary, Art Monthly

»  Aubrey Williams - obituary, Art Monthly

Obituary relating to an individual, 1990

click to show details of Aubrey Williams - Shostakovich - postcard

»  Aubrey Williams - Shostakovich - postcard

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 1984

click to show details of Aubrey Williams - Whitechapel 1998 catalogue

»  Aubrey Williams - Whitechapel 1998 catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Aubrey Williams - Whitechapel press release

»  Aubrey Williams - Whitechapel press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Aubrey Williams/Creation for Liberation seminar transcript

»  Aubrey Williams/Creation for Liberation seminar transcript

Transcript relating to a conference, 1987

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: A Painter in the Aftermath of Painting

»  Aubrey Williams: A Painter in the Aftermath of Painting

Article relating to an individual, 2009

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire - flyer

»  Aubrey Williams: Atlantic Fire - flyer

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2010

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions  - October Gallery 2004 card

»  Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions - October Gallery 2004 card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2004

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions  - October Gallery 2004 flyer

»  Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions - October Gallery 2004 flyer

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2004

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions  - October Gallery 2004 press release

»  Aubrey Williams: Dreams and Visions - October Gallery 2004 press release

Press release relating to a conference, 2004

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Major Works, October Gallery 2006 card

»  Aubrey Williams: Major Works, October Gallery 2006 card

Announcement relating to a conference, 2006

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Major Works, October Gallery 2006 press release

»  Aubrey Williams: Major Works, October Gallery 2006 press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 2006

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Now and Coming Time, October Gallery 2010 card

»  Aubrey Williams: Now and Coming Time, October Gallery 2010 card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2010

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Now and Coming Time, October Gallery 2010 flyer

»  Aubrey Williams: Now and Coming Time, October Gallery 2010 flyer

Announcement relating to a conference, 2010

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Selected Works, October Gallery 1998 card

»  Aubrey Williams: Selected Works, October Gallery 1998 card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Aubrey Williams: Selected Works, October Gallery 1998 press release

»  Aubrey Williams: Selected Works, October Gallery 1998 press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Aubrey Williams “Cosmos” Series 1996

»  Aubrey Williams “Cosmos” Series 1996

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 1996

click to show details of Aubrey Williams “Cosmos” Series opening view card

»  Aubrey Williams “Cosmos” Series opening view card

Announcement relating to a conference, 1995

click to show details of Aubrey Williams Exhibition - Japan

»  Aubrey Williams Exhibition - Japan

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1988

click to show details of Aubrey Williams obituary, Guardian newspaper

»  Aubrey Williams obituary, Guardian newspaper

Obituary relating to an individual, 1990

click to show details of Aubrey Williams Obituary The Independent

»  Aubrey Williams Obituary The Independent

Obituary relating to an individual, 1990

click to show details of Aubrey Williams October Gallery 2002

»  Aubrey Williams October Gallery 2002

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2002

click to show details of Aubrey Williams October Gallery 2002 - press release

»  Aubrey Williams October Gallery 2002 - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 2002

click to show details of Aubrey Williams October Gallery postcard

»  Aubrey Williams October Gallery postcard

Postcard relating to an individual, 2002

click to show details of Aubrey Williams review - Wasafiri

»  Aubrey Williams review - Wasafiri

Review relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Aubrey Williams “The Cosmos Series” 1996, Seminar schedule

»  Aubrey Williams “The Cosmos Series” 1996, Seminar schedule

Announcement relating to a conference, 1996

click to show details of Aubrey Williams The Cosmos Series press release

»  Aubrey Williams The Cosmos Series press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1996

click to show details of Aubrey Williams | A Celebration

»  Aubrey Williams | A Celebration

Announcement relating to an individual, 1990

click to show details of Aubrey Williams | Grabowski Gallery

»  Aubrey Williams | Grabowski Gallery

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1963

click to show details of Aubrey Williams | Paintings

»  Aubrey Williams | Paintings

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1969

click to show details of Aubrey Williams | Selected Oils and Recent Acrylics

»  Aubrey Williams | Selected Oils and Recent Acrylics

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Bird Paintings - Aubrey Williams Artist’s Statement

»  Bird Paintings - Aubrey Williams Artist’s Statement

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

»  Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

Book relating to a publication, 1997

click to show details of Black Visual Culture - book

»  Black Visual Culture - book

Book relating to a publication, 2000

click to show details of Caribbean Art - book

»  Caribbean Art - book

Book relating to a publication, 1998

click to show details of The Caribbean Connection

»  The Caribbean Connection

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1995

click to show details of CARIBBEAN EXPRESSIONS IN BRITAIN - catalogue

»  CARIBBEAN EXPRESSIONS IN BRITAIN - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 - catalogue

»  Commonwealth Artists of Fame 1952 - 1977 - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1977

click to show details of Continuum

»  Continuum

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 1960

click to show details of Conversation with Aubrey Williams

»  Conversation with Aubrey Williams

Article relating to an individual, 1987

click to show details of Creation for Liberation Open Exhibition Art by Black Artists 1987

»  Creation for Liberation Open Exhibition Art by Black Artists 1987

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of Crossing the Waters

»  Crossing the Waters

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2007

click to show details of Discrepant Abstraction

»  Discrepant Abstraction

Book relating to a publication, 2006

click to show details of Festac ‘77

»  Festac ‘77

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1977

click to show details of Great West Indians | Aubrey Williams

»  Great West Indians | Aubrey Williams

Book relating to a publication, 1973

click to show details of Great West Indians | Life Stories for Young Readers

»  Great West Indians | Life Stories for Young Readers

Book relating to a publication, 1973

click to show details of Guyana Dreaming: The Art of Aubrey Williams

»  Guyana Dreaming: The Art of Aubrey Williams

Book relating to an individual, 1990

click to show details of Guyana Dreamings (sic) brochure/order form

»  Guyana Dreamings (sic) brochure/order form

Announcement relating to an individual

click to show details of Migrations: Journeys into British Art - catalogue

»  Migrations: Journeys into British Art - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2012

click to show details of The Olmec-Maya and Now - Aubrey Williams Artist’s Statement

»  The Olmec-Maya and Now - Aubrey Williams Artist’s Statement

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of The Other Story - catalogue

»  The Other Story - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - City Limits

»  The Other Story - City Limits

Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - exhibition guide

»  The Other Story - exhibition guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - gallery listing

»  The Other Story - gallery listing

Gallery Listings relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of The Other Story - guide

»  The Other Story - guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - Manchester invitation

»  The Other Story - Manchester invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

»  The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Preview: From Another World

»  Preview: From Another World

Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Pride and prejudice

»  Pride and prejudice

Review relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Return to the Source

»  Return to the Source

Review relating to a film, 1987

click to show details of Savacou 9/10

»  Savacou 9/10

Magazine relating to a publication, 1974

click to show details of Seeking a Black Aesthetic

»  Seeking a Black Aesthetic

Announcement relating to a conference, 1987

click to show details of Shades of Black (book)

»  Shades of Black (book)

Book relating to a publication, 2005

click to show details of Shades of Black book review (Art Monthly)

»  Shades of Black book review (Art Monthly)

Review relating to a publication, 2005

click to show details of Third Text: The Other Story

»  Third Text: The Other Story

Journal relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Transforming the Crown

»  Transforming the Crown

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Whitechapel agenda - Aubrey Williams

»  Whitechapel agenda - Aubrey Williams

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 1998

Related exhibitions + view all 24

»  Appointment With Six

Group show at Arun Art Centre. 1966

Related venues + view all 23

»  Cornerhouse

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  Hayward Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Manchester City Art Gallery

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  The New Art Gallery Walsall

Walsall, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom