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Peter Williams in the studio.

For more than 45 years Williams has chronicled current and historical events, interspersing pictorial narratives with personal anecdotes and fictional characters in order to create vibrant paintings about the diverse experiences of Black Americans. With boldness and humor, he tackles the darkest of subjects including, but not limited to, police brutality, lynching, slavery, mass incarceration, and other realms of racial oppression.  Williams uses cultural criticism to form new creation myths, retelling the history of America from fresh and cosmic perspectives.

Williams’ more recent paintings address a range of subjects including oppressive social structures, white supremacy, police brutality, abuse of power, and political activism. In his on-going series, Black Exodus, Williams tells an Afrofuturist tale of a brown-skinned race that escapes to outer space in search of new planet homes and an end to the cycles of oppression from which they have been subjected. The tale that Williams has envisioned is a journey of consciousness and conscience, a metaphor for the inner and outer travels that all of us must undertake to confront the truth about race and ourselves. 

Peter Williams (1952 - 2021) was born in Suffern, NY and raised in Nyack, NY.  He earned his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and his BFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2021 he was the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship Award, 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he received the Artists’ Legacy Foundation Artist Award.  In 2018 he was inducted into the National Academy of Design. Other awards include the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2018), Joan Mitchell Awards (2004, 2007), Ford Foundation Fellowships (1985, 1987), and McKnight Foundation Fellowship (1983). He was to retire in September, 2021 from his position as Senior Professor, Fine Arts Department, University of Delaware and taught at Wayne State University for 17 years prior.   

Williams’ many exhibitions include Black Universe (2020) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, MI; Trinosophes, Detroit, MI; and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Men of Steel, Women of Wonder (2019), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; River of Styx (2018), Luis De Jesus Los Angeles; With So Little To Be Sure Of (2018), CUE Art Foundation, New York; Prospect.4: The Lotus In Spite Of The Swamp (2017-18), Prospect Triennial, New Orleans, LA; Dark Humor: Peter Williams (2017), Allcott Gallery, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC; The N-Word: Common and Proper Nouns (2017), Ruffin Gallery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA; Me, My, Mine: Commanding Subjectivity in Painting (2016), DC Moore Gallery, New York, NY.

Peter Williams’ paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Nasher Museum of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Davis Museum of Art/Wellesley College, Ft. Wayne Museum of Art, Howard University in Washington DC; Wayne State University, Detroit; as well as numerous private collections including Jorge M. Perez/El Espacio 23, Miami, FL; Pizzuti Collection, Columbus, OH; McEvoy Family Collection, San Francisco, CA; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, MI; Beth Rudin DeWoody Collection/The Bunker, Palm Beach, FL; Bill and Christy Gautreaux, Kansas City, MO; CCH Pounder, New Orleans, LA; Rev. Al Shands, Louisville, KY; Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth, Palm Beach, FL; Burger Collection Hong Kong; among others.  

In 2014 Peter Williams began a series of paintings in response to the succession of reported killings and murders of unarmed African Americans at the hands of American law enforcement. The growing list includes the high-profile cases of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Walter Scott in South Carolina, Tamor Rice in Cleveland, Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philandro Castlile in Minnesota.  Williams began with three paintngs that make reference to the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a norhern suberb of St. Louis.  The three pieces also cite the paintings of Philip Guston, who was an artist-in-residence at Washington Uinversity in St. Louis from 1945-1947, and who returned to figuration in the late 1960s after an illustrous period of abstract painting, with work that contained cartoon depictions of the Ku Klux Klan. Guston had famously said of his transition frm abstraction to cartoon figuration, as a gesture of revolt: "What kind of man am I, sitting at home, getting into a frutrated fury about everything an then going into y studio to adjust a red to a blue?"  William's Ferguson pieces are noted for their intense red and blue palette. - Ryan Standfest for The N-Word catalog, A Rotland Press Original

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