4 – 27 November
‘I can’t paint nothing,’ Charles Williams says, and he goes on: ‘I would like to, but I cannot. My recent series of still life paintings started as an attempt to escape the tyranny of meaning and narrative by painting things and not people, but quickly fell into a meditation on mortality that led to my getting the horrors when I painted them. I cannot escape the figure because painting is a means of dragging out things about my own existence from my mind and making them ‘real’ in front of me, and hoping for validation from other people.’ Elsewhere he tells us about, and paints and repaints, the Russian Protestor seen in a tv documentary, making a public demonstration in the only legal way in Russia today, as a person on his own holding a placard on which nothing is written. Making, of course, a perfectly clear statement.
Certainly, the objects in the still lives he refers to haven’t been selected from the flea market and the greengrocer and the butcher and set up as Chardin might have done, to observe, and demonstrate to us, how the light falls on the different textures of glass and peachskin and eviscerated rabbit. Their image conveys a meaning, even if it sidesteps the visual/tactile one of texture and shadow. By default, almost, Williams’ objects are objectified, showing us the notion of a person, or a political idea, or a memento mori. In this they have been, almost by accident, decommodified. That orange isn’t one we particularly want to own, and eat. Though we might want to buy the painting.
We tell each other stories, we paint pictures to share something of our world, an impossibility of course. So we approximate and hope for the best. Your reality probably doesn’t look like mine and ‘I gotta use words when I talk to you’: here’s an apple, a skull, a Russian gay rights protester…
No, the source material for our painterly inventions doesn’t have to be the greengrocer it can be the memory or the film memory pieces together for us in the dark projection house of our brains. But memory can play tricks and that can come in handy. Après tout, as Louise might remind us ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’.
Charles Williams was born in Evanston, Illinois. He lives and paints in Faversham, Kent. What he tells or shows you exists, as Auden put it, ‘in the valley of its saying’.