PETER WILLIAMS: BLACK UNIVERSE
APRIL 3 – JUNE 7, 2020
CURATED BY LARRY OSSEI-MENSAH, GUEST CURATOR AND REBECCA MAZZEI, GUEST CURATOR
Trinosophes and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) Peter Williams: Black Universe, a joint exhibition that presents Williams’ figurative and abstract paintings. Williams’ visually compelling works intertwine art historical references, allegories, current events, and personal life experiences. In this two-part exhibition, which presents more than two dozen paintings, the artist addresses difficult social issues, such as racial discrimination and climate change, through symbolic imagery, grotesque figures, and vibrant compositions.
“Where do Black people go during times fraught with pain and sorrow?” Peter Williams asks. “What of our future consciousness?” Now a professor of painting at the University of Delaware, Williams taught for 17 years at Wayne State University in Detroit and was a well-established member of the arts community.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in collaboration with guest curators Larry Ossei-Mensah and Rebecca Mazzei, the exhibition highlights new figurative works from Williams’ "Black Exodus" series (on view at MOCAD) and "Narration and Transition", a survey of abstract paintings (on view at Trinosophes) that are an essential aspect of his dynamic oeuvre. Williams presents an uncensored picture of dominant contemporary culture, one in which our desires, our humor, our complicity and brutality are unsuppressed.
“Peter Williams is a master painter who I’m excited to collaborate with again after exhibiting his work at the CUE ART Foundation in 2018. His work is imaginative, moving, and candid. It is an honor and pleasure to reconnect him to Detroit via this exhibition, a city that has been truly instrumental in his personal and professional development,” says co-curator Ossei-Mensah.
“Detroit has seen a lot of changes in recent years,” adds co-curator Rebecca Mazzei. “It is important that new audiences get the opportunity to experience the contributions of those who have helped shape the creative character of the city. For those in the community who may already be familiar with Williams, we celebrate the trajectory of his career by showcasing his most recent work.”
Narration and Transition at Trinosophes features 14 pieces by Williams from 2012-2019. The survey of abstract painting highlights the unconscious, free-flowing meditative process during which Williams develops his coded visual language - the shapes, forms and experiments with color that become recurring tropes in his representational work, as if they are silent characters.
These paintings often convey multiple perceptual experiences at once, evoking potent imagery of both a physiological and psychological nature—totemic forms suggestive of sexuality and desire, ancient cultural significance, or even his own experience living in his body. Williams experienced great trauma as a young man, when he was involved in a car accident that left him disabled. Flesh, muscle, blood vessels, and cellular activity come to mind in the visceral forms he repetitively makes. These elements also become solutions for figuration, laying the groundwork for props that emerge in his narrative paintings, where they take on new meaning while carrying the 'DNA' of their origin.
“This two-part show is an evolving dialogue between myself and the viewer about the future of ‘Negritude,’ the ‘quality or fact of being of African origin,’” Williams explains. “So much of my recent work tells the story of the transportation of the Black body and mind -- the strength of an undefeated people. It is about an escape from slavery, from Jim Crow, from Civil Rights, and even from a post-racial planet.”
“As I go further into the backstory of my work, I feel that it is all about the strength to cross a middle passage, to endure centuries of slavery, and find some place to exist that is not just on the physical plane. I'm trying to find that world inside my painting.”